Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why Are We So Obsessed With

...getting things done? There are so very many blogs and sites devoted to productivity, work flow, efficiency and the like, and telecommuters seem particularly obsessed with reflecting on how they're working and seeking better ways to get more done.

Even I have fallen prey to the "make every minute count" mania that is gripping home-based workers. I eagerly follow sites like LifeHack and WWD, I seek out better ways of mapping and managing my projects. I'm a nut for this stuff. My problem extends out of the office and into the house. For example, I would never dream of vacuuming before I dust, because that is just inefficient, and will result in a less clean floor. I'm constantly tweaking my housekeeping routines and devices for optimal results in minimal time.

Let me tell you: I was not like this before I started telecommuting full time.

But I think I know why. Activities undertaken in the Real Office are, by definition, "working". You go there, and you're at work, so there is less of an imperative to justify what you're doing all day. If your day gets derailed by having to clean up after the file cabinets all fly open simultaneously, divulging their contents all over the floor, well, that's okay. You were at work, and it needed to be done.

In space, nobody can hear you scream, and in my home office, nobody can really see if I'm doing something mission-critical, something useless but still vaguely work-related, or if I'm knitting socks. My mania for tracking how I'm spending my time is, in part, an effort to have something to point to and say, "Look, I'm adding value to the process here, guys!"

It may also be like the recovering alcoholic who keeps a fifth of bourbon in the house, just to be able to know that he's resisting the evils of drink effectively. I think deep down, we're all a little worried that one day we'll wake up and find that our day's work plan includes two trips to the coffee shop, some office supply purchases, a nap, and then a few hours of ESPN before we call it a day. And that's the kind of thing that leaves bosses and clients nonplussed.

By spending some portion of our days actually thinking consciously about how we're working, we avoid spiralling into sloth.

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