Most of what we do at work – is not work.
Everyone knows that.
We surf the web. We chat in the hall. We attend endless unproductive meetings. So most of our time is spent doing things other than what we are paid to do.
Which means that an honest project estimate must accurately reflect time spent goofing off.
So before I retired, I handed my boss an honest project estimate.
He studied it – then shook his head. “This doesn’t make sense,” he said, “You claim it will take 500 hours to complete – but a year to do?”
“That’s right,” I told him.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
I explained it to him.
“Could you really do it in three months?”
“Not here,” I said.
“I’ll do it at home.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, “but I am willing to let you try.”
So the next day, I woke up before the sun and commuted downstairs to my office where I basked in the digital glow of my computer monitor until after the sun set and accomplished more in one day than I usually get done in a week.
The next day, the same thing.
It was glorious.
By the following week, the woman who assigns me chores began to assign me chores.
“Since you are home all day,” my wife said, “how about doing some laundry?”
So I did some laundry.
“And how about picking up a bit?”
So I picked up a bit.
“And please clean the cat box.”
“And when you fill the dishwasher – don’t forget to turn it on…”
I saw no problem with any of these chores. I did the laundry and I picked up a bit. I cleaned the cat box and when I filled the dishwasher, I didn’t forget to turn it on. Still, I got more done in a single day at home than I did in a week at work.
I finished the core of my project within two months (a full ten months ahead of my honest estimate). The result was an elegant, robust, extensible system that effectively and efficiently handled every business and technical requirement.
Then came the phase of my project that I don’t like so much: documenting what I did.
Don’t get me wrong, I love writing – but as anyone who has followed my blog knows – I hate being constrained by pesky details of reality.
It’s when I discovered a remarkable passion for picking up and cleaning the cat box – and loading the dishwasher ( even turning it on). Still I accomplished more in half a week at home than I did in a week at work.
About that time, my wife left to attend a week long conference.
“Gosh,” I told myself, “now I am really going to get stuff done.”
And all was going well until – THE INCIDENT.
It started innocently enough.
Finding the cupboard short a can of tuna, I drove to the supermarket.
Moments later, I snatched a can from the shelf and headed for the check-out counter where I looked forward to a little small talk and innocent flirting with the cashier.
As I approached the counter, she startled and raised a hand in alarm. When I asked what the problem was, she just scurried away. This concerned me greatly, so I quickly completed a self-survey to verify I was appropriately attired, groomed, zipped and buttoned.
There was nothing out of sorts.
The grocery manager came over and stood in for the clerk. He checked and bagged my single can of tuna then asked, “Are you okay?”
“Why?” I asked in reply.
That is when the realization stuck me – I had gone stir-crazy and the grocery store had become my sole point of human contact. This was my fourth trip of the day and it was creeping out the staff.
Mortified, I fled back to work.
But the thing is… now that I am retired – I am not the least bit bored, nor do I go stir-crazy. Maybe it is that since no one is paying me to do anything – I can do anything I want and nothing needs to be documented.
32 thoughts on “My Telecommute”
Finally, an honest post about how much time “at work” is spent not actually working. Working at home is so much more productive if you have the focus and no one asking you to do chores, but having to document your time? I would have made several trips to the grocery store too!
I didn’t so much have to document my time as I had to document the details of the system. It would be like writing a work of fiction then having to index every noun, pronoun, adverb and adjective – then fact-check every fantasy. 🙂
Dear Lord, no wonder you didn’t want to do that! Although I suppose if you were having trouble sleeping, that would have been a good cure!
I’ve heard that from many retirees, that they are busier than ever in retirement.
Only the ones who have to document what they do… (just kidding) 🙂
Ah, documentation. I guess I didn’t hate as much as some, but it wasn’t heaps of fun. And it may have ruined me for trying to write creatively in this venue. I guess that’s part of the challenge.
Back when I worked for the Minneapolis Department, I was required to produce about thirty pounds of documentation (I weighed it). When I finished, I slipped a $20 bill and a note in with The Table of Contents. The note read: if you find this, it is yours. Contact me and I will give you another.
No one has contacted me and after 20 years… they are still using my system.
Now I know what I’m doing wrong. If I didn’t keep assigning those chores to myself I’d get so much more done.
By the way, who empties the dishwasher? Just askin’.
I never assign myself chores. Life is so much more leisurely that way. I honestly don’t know who empties the dishwasher, perhaps the cats. They have to be good for something.
I’m just a week away from going back to work after my extended leave. I’m looking forward to it, actually. At least for the present, I’m perfectly happy to continue working — which probably is a good thing, since I can’t afford to retire. But of course I have no HR department to contend with, no meetings to attend, and no policy manuals to memorize. There’s just me, and the job, and a happy or unhappy customer. Sometimes it’s downright fun being a 19th century worker in a 21st century world, even if I can’t telecommute.
I’ve temporarily come out of retirement to help out on the family farm. Hopefully, if it rains, I will find the time to write a post about it, otherwise it is twelve hour days, seven days a week until the corn is in the bin.
Speaking of corn, I happened across a one million bushel pile of the stuff down in Kansas feedlot country today. I was so impressed, I stopped to talk to the people in the office who were weighing semis and so on. My gosh, what an operation this state is when harvest is in full swing. I’m sure it’s just the same up there — except the scale here beats anything I remember from Iowa. The corn is mostlly in now, and the milo — although they’re still harvesting milo in western Kansas. The soybeans are the big deal now, andthe cotton is waiting. People just don’t understand what a marvel it is that farmers pull off what they do.
It shouldn’t take long to do everything you want, except for the preemptive wants of the woman who assigns chores.
They need to warn you about such things in marriage class. I feel the church failed me in that regard. 🙂
Fun post. I retired four years ago and haven’t had a day off yet. One by one the chore list has been whittled down due to my lack of availability. We previously discussed losing my store privileges so there is little left. I don’t know how I found time to work (or not work as you pointed out)
If I lived full time in Port Aransas, I’d be hiding in the dunes when chores are assigned.
Good idea for sure. My tact has been to become increasingly less competent in the chore department.
Having been unable to find any “real” work for some time (and still a few years from retirement), I’m now doing a little freelance writing from home. Even so, I always schedule some “screwing off” time, just to keep that feeling of being at the office.
I’ve been thinking about having a water-cooler installed in the hall – just to have someplace to go when I don’t feel like sitting at my desk. Of course, I do have a dog and a long, gravel road leading south to occupy my time.
I’m still mulling over all those trips to the grocery store. My interruptions aside from the social media traps involve letting the dogs in and out and in and out.
Stores are great for hanging out in, I know several old guys who live at a table in the Super-Value.
I have always been able to make more progress on a single task while working at home, but I really don’t think I’m more productive. The “other” stuff I do in the office is hard to categorize. When I’m busy, it seems a waste of time, but usually, it’s benefiting someone. I look forward to retirement, but it’s a little too far in the distance for me.
Do you have enough tuna?
I hear what you say, I spent a great deal of time helping others out. They gave me the title of “System Architect” which translated into “Ask Greg”.
Ha ha – yep. I understand that title. Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to find a successor for that. I hired a guy ten years ago who is good and has a much better bedside manner than I do.
So true! I’m so much more friendly to shop owners and workmen, and have actually gotten to know the neighbors since I’m not chained to an office–
And it explains why every new work “task” I took over for someone else never had any documentation! Now, on hiatus, I only document what’s necessary for myself–not the volumes of non-intuitive drabble required for federal and state reporting.
shudder…. (it brings back horrible memories)
I retired a year ago, and it’s taken some time to get that place out of my head. But I feel as you do, and am glorying in the freedom from other people’s priorities, especially since, by the end, my main challenge was not laughing at some of them. I do miss external deadlines a little, I’ll admit; discipline was always a problem. Now, I have learned to switch off Facebook and email and all notifications for the “work day” which usually amounts to about 4 hours of actual writing. It’s like going back to school, but I’m learning again, and it feels as though I’m stitching together holes in myself that have been there too long.
I found that with time, I’ve fallen into bad, unproductive habits. It’s something to guard against.
Documentation has always been the worst part of any job – that, and manual writing. Working from home, as I’ve discovered, can really up the procrastination factor on any job – there’s always some other chore to do.
Whenever I got depressed about having to write a manual, I turned to the greatest manual writer of all time
I am really, really impressed that you seem to be able to work on your screen and not drift into displacement activity!
Huh? he says, drifting back from displacement activity.
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