Tag Archives: work

My Busy-ness Number

There ought to be a measurement, like the temperature, that we can use to easily indicate to family, friends, and colleagues how busy we are. It would be nice to be able to say, “Sorry, I can’t meet for lunch, my busy-ness number is at 8 today.” There are all kinds of tools and gadgets that try to measure this. You can look at a calendar for instance, to get s sense of busy-ness. Last month, our family calendar (not counting work-related events) looked like this:

Family calendar

There are other measurements, too, I’m sure, but none give a good sense of immediacy. How busy am I right now? That’s what I want to know.

It was sunny when I went for my morning walk, early today. The sun was right on the horizon as I walked east. When I went for my afternoon walk, the sky was completely overcast and the sun was nowhere to be seen. It got me thinking. Back when I was flying, I remember studying weather and there were different meanings for cloud cover. The clouds could obscure none of the sky, a quarter, of the sky, half of the sky, etc. It was a good, simple measurement that reflected reality in an accurate and useful way.

Upon arriving home, I returned to my office and looked at my desk. Ever since moving to the new house, I’ve had the fortune of having the u-shape I have always wanted for my working area.

My u-shaped desk

What I noticed about my desk, was that it was like the overcast clouds that had rolled in: much of it seemed to be covered, and in disarray. I tend to turn to the desk to my left to write things down, open books, read magazines, etc. but that part of my desk is hopeless at the moment. It is covered in to-do lists scribble on legal paper, with piles of books, and magazines and Post-Its and other stuff.

Desk in disarray

Whenever my desk is like this, I am usually overwhelmed. I start making lists. I begin to wonder if the critical things that I am working on are more important than clearing up some surface area. That’s when it occurred to me that I have the perfect measurement to gauge my own level of busy-ness: desk-coverage.

It works like cloud coverage and is measured in eighths. A completely empty surface is a “clear” desk and a sign that I’ve got some time on my hands. Next, there is 1/8th coverage, then 1/4, then 1/2. You get the idea. Between 1/4 and 1/2 might be called “partly covered,” and 5/8-7/8 would be “mostly covered.” 8/8th would be “overcast.” The closer to overcast I am, the busier I am. I’d estimate that right now, I’m somewhere between 3/4 – 7/8th covered, which puts me in the “mostly covered” category.

I think that from now on, when someone asks me for some of my time, I’m going to look at my desk, and say, “Sorry, can’t do it. my desk is partly covered today, but the forecast is calling for overcast tomorrow.”

25 Years and Counting

25 years ago today, I started my first job out of college. I’d graduated about three months earlier, and spent the summer after my graduation continuing to work in the dorm cafeteria office, where I did some computer work. Meanwhile, I looked for full-time job.

I graduated with a degree in political science and journalism, and really had no idea what I wanted to do for full time work. I was good with computers, having grown up learning to tame them, and when a job came up with a company looking for computer people to work at the corporate “helpdesk”, I applied. I was eventually called for an interview. That interview lasted all day. Then, nothing for several weeks.

Eventually, I got a call offering me a job. It came with a salary, and benefits, and I was really excited about it. I took it. My first day was on October 17, 1994.

Fast forward a quarter century. Today, I am still working for the same company. My role has changed over the years, as has my location (in 2002, I relocated from California to Virginia), but I still work for the same department as I did when I first started, although it has gone through a number of name changes in the 25 intervening years.

When I tell people I’ve been with the same company for 25 years, the response I get is a nearly universal, ” That’s unheard of these days.” All I can say is that I wouldn’t really know, never having worked anywhere else since graduating. I will say that longevity is fairly common where I work. In fact, I am not even in the top 100 in terms of longevity. Indeed, even within my own department, I am 16th overall in terms of how long I have been with the company.

My kids asked me this morning if I liked working there, given that I have been there so long. I smiled, and nodded, and said, “Yeah, I guess I do.” When I first started, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first year. Everyone else seemed so much smarter than me. Now, they still all seem smarter than me, but they tolerate me, and I’ve got to admit, I think I’ve finally warmed to the place.

I’ve always been the slow, but steady type, after all.

Finished with the slide decks (approaching 16 hours)

All of the slides I need to create for the training presentations are done.  The total count of presentation slides for the 3-day training session now stands at 501!  I have also now gotten so good with PowerPoint that I could probably produce a full-length feature film with it.

Still have lots to do.  Next up is going through all 501 slides and making sure they’ve got good notes.

I’m at a low energy point at the moment.  My knees ache.  My right wrist and thumb has been giving me some trouble the last few days (Kelly says its because of all the typing I’ve been doing–maybe so).  And bed is starting to sound really good right about now, but I’ve got to press on.

Coming up on twelve hours

I’m hoping to have the last of the training slides done by 9 pm, at which time I’ll take a break for an hour or so.  But I’m coming up on twelve hours for my day so far.  If all goes well overnight, twelve hours from now most of the work will be done and I’ll just be more or less waiting for the meeting in the early afternoon to turn stuff over to pubs.

Kelly and I headed out for a walk at 6 pm, my last fresh air for the evening.  Still gorgeous out, warm, breezy, I’ve got the windows open in the office.

And it was still light out until a little while ago!  Daylight Savings is back!

I feel like I need a shower.

Late afternoon (9 hours into my day)

Still going.  I’m more than 2/3rds of the way done with Day 3 slides and I expect to be complete done with the slides by 7 pm.  I left the office at about 1:30 and took a 2 hour break.  Sarah came over and Kelly and I went with her and her dog, Oliver, up to the dog park in Shirlington.  It’s really nice out again today.  Overcast, but still warm and breezy.  We spent about an hour at the dog park and then came home.  I had a late lunch and then headed upstairs to continue work.

Looks like the evening will be spent on putting together the exercise books and quick reference sheets, as well as a few other things like annotated screen shots and a procedures guide.  Then I break the slides down into their component slide desks, and make pass through each deck to make sure the slide notes are complete.  Finally (probably sometime early tomorrow morning), I put together two massive slide decks and convert them to PDFs.  These are what goes to our publications department to be produced.

Short break (4 hours into my day)

I took at short break at 11 am after wrapping up the Day 2 slide deck (209 slides!) finally! 

I headed over to the Apple store because after nearly 2 years, I’ve been having some problems with my iPhone (which I never bought Apple Care for).  Turns out the problems were caused by a small crack in glass on the front of the phone and moisture getting in.  (The touch screen, for instance, wasn’t detecting touches throughout the middle.)  As the cost of repairs was pretty high, I opted to get a new phone.  So I now have an iPhone 3G (16 GB), identical to Kelly’s phone except that mine is black and hers is white.  I got a screen glare protector for it as well, and had the Apple rep put it on the phone for me.  And of course, this time, I also bought Apple Care.  The phone is working and I’ve got it synced with my Google mail, contacts and calendars, but I’ll have to resync it when i get home to get everything else on it.

Okay, short break over.  Back to work on the Day 3 slide deck.

Start of a long workday (40 minutes into my day)

Up at 7:50 AM even though my clock said 6:50 AM (I forgot to move it forward last night).  Slept pretty well in preparation for what I expect will be a very long work day today (even though it’s Sunday).  I figure I’ll post updates throughout the day and night.  Getting back to the slide desks now, which are due to the Publications department tomorrow at about 2 pm my time.  I’m in the office now and ready to get started…

Work stress

After 10 consecutive days of cooking dinner, I didn’t cook tonight.  I didn’t even eat tonight.  I screwed up.  I had a teriyaki stir fry on the menu, which requires chicken, and we don’t have anymore chicken!  Kelly got away with leftovers, but I just skipped dinner.  I was busy working on a CSS style sheet for a new site design.

Another ridiculously busy day–one of those days that flies by because I’m so focused on my work.  The world around me fades away.  I didn’t even break for lunch today, but sucked down my sandwich during a meeting.  This type of work is mentally draining and I’ve been coming home and avoiding both reading and writing.  I want to do both, but I can’t get the focus I need.

I felt the baby kicking again last night, which always makes me feel better.  Kelly has been working on a wedding photo album and she’s done a terrific job.  Kelly and the baby are my happy thoughts during these hectic days.

NEW SCIENTIST arrived in the mail and I am once again 2 weeks behind.  Plus I’m still an issue behind on SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.

Another draining day is in the works for tomorrow.  Mentally, I’m not planning on getting up at 4 am, but we’ll see how things go. 

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Saturday

We slept in late this morning.  Actually, we got up for a while and then went back to bed.  I’d been working hard all week and I had to work more today but I needed some rest.  We finally got up and showered sometime around 11 AM.

Around noon I started to work.  Kelly headed off to the movies with Leanna and some other friends.  I worked for about 3-1/2 hours before calling it a day.  I decided to be lazy for the rest of the day and started watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD.

Kelly was home around 6 PM and I started dinner.   Tonight I made cheese quesadillas with Spanish rice, and I was particularly pleased with how well the rice came out.

No gym today once again.

Time dilation

My 9 hour workday seemed to pass by in 15 minutes or so.  I continued my work on the PowerPoint slide deck for the training session I’m leading in mid-March.  I started as soon as I got into the office, worked on it nonstop until lunchtime.  I paused at lunch to eat, read more of Steal Across the Sky, and nap.  Then it was back to work on the slide desk and suddenly my phone was ringing and it was 4 PM and time to head home!

For dinner tonight, I made strausmouse ‘s recipes for Thai Salad and Roasted, Spiced, Sweet Potatoes.  Both came out really well and we enjoyed the meal. 

Got the 400th issue (April/May 2009) of ASIMOV’S in the mail.  Also the latest issue of NEW SCIENTIST.