Friday, September 10, 2010

Gainful Employment

This past week I started a new job, just a week shy of the eight-month anniversary of my having been "downsized" from my previous gig of nearly a decade.

The new job continues a pattern that runs through my entire employment history: Only once have I landed a job that I saw advertised and then pursued; the rest have all been the result of the phone ringing and my answering it.

It's not what you know, and, it turns out, it's not who you know, either. It's who knows you.

I am back on the religion beat, and back among my Lutheran chums. After being thrown down the stairs in my previous position, I commented that I would not be in too big a hurry to work for a religious organization again. It was true eight or nine months ago, and I'd be kidding if I didn't say I approached what is now my current position with some wariness. Once bitten, and so on.

But it was nice to be thought of, and the interview went very well (you can always tell they're going well when you get offered the job on the spot), and the old exchequer acted like it could use some positive cash flow again, so...

The week has been exhausting, as I always find the first couple of weeks in a new job to be. But the people I am working with all seem very nice--more to the point, genuinely nice, since "nice" is a pretty cheap commodity, I've discovered, and although the week was colossally hectic (everyone kept telling me it isn't usually like that; sure hope so), I never had the feeling that I was in the crosshairs, which was a pretty constant feeling in the old job.

There is, of course, a great satisfaction in gainful employment, especially in an area in which one is experiences, which one likes, and which one can do reasonably well (specifically, communication: Publications and website, mostly). But there is a deeper satisfaction, it develops, in being in a setting in which one's contribution seems to be valued, where one's co-workers appear to respect and appreciate whatever expertise and experience one may bring to the table--even though one is still a virtual stranger to them. I'm only four days into the job, yes, but I have gotten the feeling from every single one of my colleagues--the top guns as well as my fellow staffers--that they are glad to have me on board and appreciate my contribution.

I felt that occasionally, and from certain individuals, in my previous assignment, but for the most part I felt that my role was viewed as merely another interchangeable cog in the machine, just some quasi-anonymous someone pulling one of the oars. That feeling was driven home rather keenly when I was informed that my reward for nearly a decade of loyal service would be the privilege of being the first to be thrown overboard when revenue grew tight. Nothing personal, of course, but we've decided we can get along nicely without your invaluable contribution. This way to the plank...

So it is refreshing--and, I must say, surprising--to feel that my work actually counts for something, actually has value in the eyes of someone other than myself alone, and to have that sentiment expressed in attitudes and demeanor rather than in platitudes that ring hollow since they come while one is simultaneously being given the bum's rush.

Yes, I realize that I am still in that golden "honeymoon" phase. But that hardly diminishes the pleasantness of it all.

Work should be about more than just a paycheck. This feels like work that could be that. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'm very glad that my phone rang. Glad I answered it. And glad that, despite my recent sour experience, I did not dismiss the current opportunity out of hand.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Email: A Love-Hate Relationship?

I just got through glancing at yet another article that purports to tell me how to Get More Stuff Done, and which, as seems to be de rigueur these days, includes the advice to check e-mail only once a day.

Without question, e-mail can be a huge time-sink, but I am surprised by the number of people who still treat it as some sort of outside influence, a thief whose only purpose is to steal time. One may also waste a great deal of time on the telephone—in fact, it’s my opinion that e-mail is a more efficient way of communicating that telephone, in most instances— but I have yet to see anyone advise that telephone messages should be returned only once per day. It would be bad advice indeed to say that one should begin his or her workday by returning any messages that may be found in voicemail and then unplug the phone for the duration of the day. Seems pretty unlikely that customers, clients, co-workers, or employers would appreciate much all of the time I’m “saving” by having only one set time during the day in which I “do” telephone.

Why would anyone think that e-mail is any different?

The beauty of e-mail, in my experience, is that I can e-mail you when it’s convenient for me and you can reply when it’s convenient for you. There’s no pas de deux in which we play telephone tag while trying, perhaps in vain, to connect in real time. Talk about time-wasters!

Naturally, there’s a lot of junk and distraction to be found in e-mail, but anyone with a lick of sense quickly learns how to filter that out as he or she scans the inbox list, deleting that which clearly is unworthy and leaving for later that which may be interesting or noteworthy, but not important at the moment.

And anyone without a lick of sense will find other distractions to waste time with.

The other efficiency that e-mail offers is to allow both the sender and recipient to get to the point! For instance, I returned to my home office the other week to a phone message from an acquaintance. His message basically told me who he was and that he wished to talk to me, and his office number. No idea what he wanted to talk about, so no way to prepare for the conversation, if preparation was indicated. I returned his call and left a message; he called back and we connected. We discussed the reason for his call, and set up a time to meet. All of which could have been handled in two e-mail messages.

But that requires that one monitors his or her e-mail just as one monitors his or her phone messages. I would never return from lunch, or a meeting, or any other adventure away from my desk without checking for messages; why would I not do the same with my e-mail messages? The idea is absurd to me.

Yet I am aware of some people’s love-hate relationship with e-mail. Sometimes it has to do with a greater technophobia, but just as often it seems rooted in that attitude I referred to above, in which e-mail— perhaps the computer itself— is still viewed as some kind of “outsider” in the workplace. These people, I find, tend to put off “doing” e-mail for as long as possible, which only means that it is a bigger and more daunting chore when finally they undertake it.

Which is another reason I think the once-per-day “rule” is bad advice: It only means that the inbox will be teeming with messages the next time you check it. To visit it periodically throughout the day and weed out the debris is much more efficient.

Some time back I worked with a woman who, well, hated e-mail. It was a chore, a burden, a distraction. She viewed it as something that took her away from her work rather than a communication medium that was as much a part of her work as the telephone or a written letter. She tended to avoid “doing” e-mail, with the result indicated above: When she forced herself to look at it, she had literally hundreds of messages! Worse, many of the were messages that required action— yet another reason the once-per-day advocates are steering you wrong. Which made the process an even bigger chore, which meant she avoided it all the more, and on and on. The snowball effect.

I recall one day in which she complained— partly in jest, but of course partly in seriousness— that she had spent the entire morning “doing” e-mail. She had replied to one particular message, and then moved down the list...until she got a reply from the person she had just replied to! And she was a little put out by that. “Don’t people have anything better to do than e-mail all day?” she railed— again, only partly in jest.

To me, that attitude was and is bizarre. Would she have felt the same about a telephone exchange? Let’s say she came in to work and had voicemail from a person. She returns the call, gets his voicemail, and leaves a reply. Two minutes later the guy calls her back with a follow-up question or comment. Would she complain that people have nothing better to do than telephone all day? Seems unlikely.

It occurs to me as well that “wasting” time is largely in the eye of the beholder. What you may view as my waste of time may be to me a legitimate undertaking— indeed, even a time-saving undertaking, since we all know that there are many instances in which an investment in time is required now in the hope of streamlining a process later.

Almost everyone agrees that the best way to tackle a large chore is to break it down into smaller pieces than can be handled one at a time. Why, then, would anyone advise one to let e-mail pile up until it becomes a large and onerous chore? I suggest it’s because the would-be adviser has issues with e-mail; and my advice would be to ignore that advice!

Let It Be Said

I see that it's been a good while since I last pieced together a selection of the quotations I like to collect, which is kind of a bad thing in that I've been collecting even more than before since I've been following (and am being followed by) a bunch of folks on Twitter who are into quotations as well. So here's a small batch from my file, amassed from a variety of sources and covering a variety of subjects:

“The gov’t of the US is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. The United States of America should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy.” —George Washington

“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” –George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
“I am neither bitter nor cynical but I do wish there was less immaturity in political thinking.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” —Albert Einstein

“The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth.” —Edith Sitwell (1887–1964)

“Literature is the language of society, as speech is the language of man.” —Louis de Bonald, philosopher and politician (1754-1840)

“Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.” —Mark Twain

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” —Bertrand Russell

“I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.” —John Stuart Mill

“A conservative believes nothing should be done for the first time.” —Lynwood L. Giacomini

“The yearning to be heard is a yearning to escape our isolation and bridge the space that separates us.” —Michael P. Nichols

“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.” —Arnold Glasow

“If cash comes with fame, come fame; if cash comes without fame, come cash.” —Jack London

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” —Jack London

“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” —Mark Twain

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” –Blaise Pascal

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.” —Oscar Wilde