Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The curious case of forced free time

It was announced at an office meeting last week that Design Associates would not be giving out raises again this year, plus we have to take six unpaid days off: the day after Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Year's (Xmas Eve + four days before Jan 1st). Also, we had to take all of our vacation days by the end of the year, and we couldn't take those days during the furlough day spans and use the furlough days elsewhere between now and December 31st--they had to be separate. Ouch. Audrey was the one who made the announcement, and as the words fell from her lips, the room got a little quieter, stiller, chillier. As we all stood up to leave the meeting, Liz murmured, "Y'know, being at 36 hours all year, we've been on furlough."

The mandatory time off leaves me with mixed emotions, mostly because I have a job to work on, and that job is for Howie. When the time comes that I have to take off my vacation time before the furlough starts, will Howie remember that it's mandatory and neither I nor anyone else is going to work for free? Remember folks--the majority of employees at DA are hourly, not salary, so we only get paid for time we work and conversely one is hard pressed to make us work hours that we're not paid for. As fees on projects have been compressed and we're all handed the typical white-collar cliches--worker smarter not harder, do more with less, optimize procedures, etc.--Howie has told us that "things have changed." Projects require that we find ways to maintain quality but don't use as much time (and therefore fee) as we used to use. Fair enough, but at some point we've squeezed out all the air. It takes what it takes to make a project solid, thorough, and well coordinated. There's no optimizing our strategic input--it takes what it takes to check four pages of interior elevations on a 20,000sf hospital expansion. But there's quality, and there's Howie quality. Quality is doing one or two sets of redlines; Howie quality is doing four or five sets of redlines that take up your entire eight-hour day working on a 6,000sf project with a super lowballed fee. We can do quality work, but if you want to fuck around with the floor plan for a whole day, it takes time...time that I have to be at the office but aren't supposed to be because I can only work 36 hours a day and have to take some of my vacation time soon. And that time translates into fee that we don't really have, do we? And we can't always be doing micromanaging maniac-style quality when we have $12.35 left in our budget. As you've said, Howie, things have changed.

I feel really bad for the interns that are left at DA. Interns Timmy and Kimmy, for example, are very fast at drawing and rendering and doing things in Photoshop and Illustrator and so on, and they bill cheaply to the client ($60-$70/hr, whereas I'm more like $100/hr). Hence, project managers are constantly keeping them busy and dragging them back into the office when they're supposed to be gone (to stay at 36 hours) to work on stuff for cheap, so then they have to keep a running tally of that time and take it later as comp time, but then yet another manager keeps them late one night and drags them in on another day they're supposed to be off, and they can never seem to take the comp time. So here these interns are with a bunch of comp time they can't take, along with a bunch of vacation time they have to take, and oh, yeah, they have some unpaid days coming up too.

The whole situation sucks. And yes, I know the city of Denver and many state employees as well have had furlough days this year, and I know that there are people who are still on unemployment after a year or more. But the fact that people have been starving in Cambodia for thirty years doesn't make the more-recently starving Somalians feel better. So it is with my colleagues and me. Guy and I are figuring out how to make the missing week's worth of pay work out for us, and I'm sure we'll get by fine. The real challenge in all of this for me is this: how do I make sure I use my forced free time for writing and working on my upcoming presentation and not spend it cleaning the grout in the bathroom floor tiles? That may be the biggest problem that I'm up against, even more so than the lack of fundage. If the guilt over my productivity doesn't kill me, the sudden unfamiliar rush of procrastination just might.

I think I have a few writers out there in teh interwebz--how do you avoid housecleaning and get your writing done instead?


bluearchitecture said...

I still remember back in the days of yore I worked at a car dealership as a lot attendant. The salespeople would throw my the keys to a recently sold car or truck and demand that I quickly make the car immaculate. I always told them you can have cleaned quickly or you can have it cleaned thoroughly. Quick takes fifteen minutes, thoroughly takes an hour. Or you can tell me how much time I have and when the time's up I will stop.

It sounds like Howie is being a hypocrite by telling you that time's have changed, yet he continues to approach projects in the same manner. Tasks take a certain amount of time to accomplish correctly, so if you try to complete them faster then most likely you'll lose some degree of quality.

As for writing (and not cleaning) I like to get everything ready for me to write, which includes cleaning off my computer desk, closing all internet browsers, making a big hot cup of chai, and turning on some good music. Then I look at the clock and give myself about two hours to finish what I want to finish. If you're in the groove for writing you'll discover that you'll blow past that two hour deadline and just keep writing. If the author of "Death Bed: The Bed that Eats People" can do it, dammit, so can you!

ms. kitty said...

Housework only gets done at my house if I have people coming over. And I rarely do more than the bare essentials. Of course, I live alone and don't pick up after anyone but myself and the cats. And I'm basically tidy, don't have stacks of newspapers or junk mail lying around, or collect things that collect dust. And I am in writing mode (except for blogging) only two weeks a month, not usually back to back weeks. This is my "off" week, and the only housework that will be done is laundry and dishes. I don't have anyone coming over till Thanksgiving.

mizscarlett said...

simple. you get ons the planes to vegas and stay at miz scarlett's pad. You'll be so bored after one morning, you'll write like gang bustas.

St. Blogwen said...

Never mind avoiding the housecleaning, I want to know how one avoids spending all one's free time on teh interwebz instead of housecleaning or writing or refinishing the hall floor!