From smack-bang in the middle of the bell curve

Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Disengage autopilot

In blah, life, work on August 22, 2010 at 8:48 am

Work. Monday to Friday. Mostly within the brackets set out in the employee manual¬† under “Office hours”. The odd overrun into the late evenings or even a weekend or two. Weekends. Sleeping later, restocking of home supplies, visiting of parents and assorted relatives, movies, brunches, vegetating on the couch, scurrying around malls swiping plastic cards. Not necessarily in that order. Vacation. Couple of times a year, ok once a year. planned well in advance with lots of travel website surfing. Every couple of months, a new acquisition from a retail distribution channel. Technological, decorative, often shrink-wrapped, seldom a need.

How much of our schedule is regimented by convention? In this day and age of laptops, mobile internet access cards and ‘flexi-times’ how many of us manage our own schedules according to what makes sense versus what’s ‘conventional wisdom’? If we exclude blue-collar jobs or those involving responding in real-time (Customer service reps, Emergency room doctors), most jobs have very little to do with number of hours spent and even less with a specific set of them.

Just like one of those internet memes asks “how is that everyday’s news fits neatly into the same-sized newspaper”. How does our workload fit neatly into 10-12 hour workdays, everyday?

No, this post is not about time management, atleast not in the sense of maintaining daily planners and ‘eliminating distractions’ to be more productive.

It is about how most of us willingly write off a chunk of our day as “work hours” and then set about filling that time and then some, performing a variety of tasks from meeting deadlines to responding to email. Basically, juggling a combination of value-add activities with purely administrative tasks to rush through our day. I’ve seen multiple sets of colleagues across organisations slow down in the middle of the day and plod through activities, taking an hour when 15 mins would do, taking languid coffee breaks, then getting back to a frenetic pace towards the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of goofing off, I just have a problem with doing it on my employer’s terms; constrained to the office premises with the limited menu of aimless (and regulated) internet surfing and emailing.

This straitjacketed view seems to apply to what we call our “leisure” time as well. Friday nights, or maybe Thursday if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. We’re thankful for the privilege of spending between 2 and 3 hours with friends. Time barely enough to just to share life updates before its time to bundle into your respective cars to head home. Rinse. Repeat every 3-4 weeks. Now compare these interactions with the no-time-barred conversations that happened when in college over the solitary bottle of domestic booze and often short-in-supply accompaniments where everything from ‘the purpose of life’ to bodily functions were fair game for discussion. Not quite in the same league are they?

What if we actively monitor everything that calls for our time? Most of our jobs would afford us atleast week-long views of our workloads (note, not schedules) to be able to decide to cram in some extra hours when highly productive and to complete disengage when not so much. Maybe instead of taking a couple of extra-long nicotine/caffeine breaks, we just take off when the traffic isn’t ungodly and enjoy (not squeeze in) a game of squash or a few reps at the gym. Maybe even take off at 3pm without feeling the need for a dying relative to justify it, and meet the wife for a movie and dinner, or take parents out for one, or meet friends without traffic and time constraints, or even just go home, crack open a beer and chill to some Pink Floyd.

What if we disengage the autopilot?


To the original cool dude

In life on August 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

Nothing’s quite as sobering as learning about the death of a friend.¬† The fact that I hadn’t been in regular touch with the guy over the years since we separated geographically probably mean that I get off easier in the way the news affects me, than those who stayed in touch. I once read somewhere that the biggest proportion of what we feel on hearing of death outside of immediate family or friends is that of dread that it could just as easily happen to us. The remainder is actual sadness for the person and those impacted by the loss. If he’d left 10 mins later, or had arrived at that spot on the road 5 mins earlier, or if the other driver had cancelled his trip. When its people from our peer group, who go from being regular individuals to being mentioned in the past tense in the matter of a day or two, its disconcerting. And it tends to bring up thoughts that you frequently snigger at on hallmark cards and inspirational fridge magnets. I’m talking more than “call your parents” or “stop and listen to birds”

If you were told you had until your Xth birthday, would it change anything? If the answer is yes, then maybe its worth pausing to re-evaluate. What are we doing today that assumes immortality? What are the things I want to have done more of and by consequence, what are things I want to have done less of? It’s almost easier to answer the latter half of the question before arriving at the answer to the first half. Is it too frivolous to say, I want to have spent less time in traffic? I don’t think so. I’d also like to not have to worry about scrapes and dents on my perpetually ‘the one in the next price segment’ car. I want to not resign myself to being ridiculously leveraged in order to have a piece of property registered in my name, the consequence being to pass up on doing so many more interesting things. I’d like to not rely on getting my kicks by buying/consuming more. That’s already quite a list and it remains to be seen if I remember it a fortnight from now.

For now, to say goodbye to AD. An ever-willing tennis and gym partner. RIP buddy.

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