Category Archives: work

In which there are swings and roundabouts

And it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, blah di blah di blah blah. Rhubarb rhubarb.

I’ve got a new job. It’s an internal move, so I’m not sure when it will start, but on Friday I drafted the job spec for my current role because I’m sticking around to help recruit my replacement. It’s an odd thing, writing a description of the job you do. The weeks mostly go by in a blur of meetings and emails, but you know what? I do a lot. At the same time, a cool reappraisal shows there are skills I don’t have that this role needs now. So it’s a good thing that I’ll be moving out of the way.

The new job is big and scary, beyond my experience and out of my comfort zone. That’s why it appealed to me and why I’m taking it. Hurrah for age and experience, because I may fall flat on my face and when I was younger, I wouldn’t have risked that.

This morning I got my car serviced, and as I’ve almost hit the mileage with about 18 months to go on the lease, I asked about changing it. Well. The story was not the one I wanted to hear. Turns out that there’s not a whole lot of an interest in a high performance car with 50k miles on the clock in under three years. I’m downgrading and I still have to put in a reasonable deposit to contribute towards depreciation and the gap between what I owe and what the current car is worth.

But. I can cover the deposit, and there were plenty of times in my life when that wouldn’t have been the case. Yes, it’ll be a hit on my savings but no one marched me into a Mercedes dealership three years ago and put a gun at my head to make me lease an extravagant car. I didn’t know then I’d be clocking roughly 20,000 miles a year.

So I write this on Saturday evening, sitting in the kitchen sink… Oops, I mean at the kitchen table, with a glass of wine. There’s a vase of flowers in front of me, bought for me because of a perception that I had a tough morning. I’ve got Thursday’s country music show playing while I cook dinner and I spent the afternoon reading a novel.

I’m a fortunate woman.

In which I’m getting educated again

One of the main problems I have with work, other than it makes you leave the house and talk to other people and sit there all day long, is that it’s a bit dull. Busy does not equate to intellectually challenged, it just means more to do in the same amount of time. My job is busy, but it’s not hard, so I consistently have all this mental capacity going to waste, and fuck me, I’m 45 this year and I can hear the high pitched whistling noise of years passing by in which I’m achieving bugger all. I’m too lazy to be an autodidact and I need some kind of framework to make me put the effort in. Periodically this general sense of ‘Oh my god, my brain is going to mush’, hits a peak and I buy textbooks and dig out my PhD application, and then realise it’s a house deposit or PhD fees and



(Because it turns out free WordPress is a pain in the ass with gifs)

But then the country went mad one week (Brexit) and nothing made sense, plus work is an ongoing emotional maelstrom (which I’m observing in the way that some people chase tornadoes) and I suddenly wanted very much to have something that was cold and practical and fact based to hang on to. Then I realised also that really quite a lot of the population is largely either batshit (Brexit, Trump) or incomprehensible, and thought some way of explaining that might be good.

Thus, as a neglected girlfriend to her former lover,  I have fled back to the welcoming arms of the Open University and registered for a BSc in Psychology & Law. This makes no sense whatsoever against my learning profile, and that’s kind of the point. It’s way off base for me, so it should be more of a challenge. Unfortunately, the first year’s module is all online (what, no box of reading materials?) and because it’s only undergraduate I think I might have to talk to some of the other people on the course (what for?) but still. The old grey cells should get something of a workout for a change and I’ll have access to JSTOR again. Get in.

Re ‘direct’

‘Direct’ is a description that’s come my way a few times over the last year or so. It’s a new one on me, and I guess that what was ‘articulate’ when I worked in publishing, is ‘direct’ in an organization beset by business jargon. I’m tempted to create a Business Jargon Bingo card that we could all take to meetings, just to liven things up a bit. Mind you, it would hardly be difficult to win. Sorry, did I say ‘difficult’? I meant ‘a challenge’. (Yes. Precisely that sort of thing. And may the gods have mercy on us all.)

I hadn’t particularly minded being ‘direct’. Lord knows there’s enough bullshit around offices without me needing to add to it, and so I aim to be clear and objective. But you know how it goes when something gets said a couple of times, and suddenly develops its own, unchallengeable truth.  You find yourself slapped with a bloody great label that no one can see round and you aren’t allowed to change.  I’m also aware that ‘direct’, at least in the current context, is not something that is viewed entirely positively.

What I’m genuinely uncertain about is how much the label is influenced by gender perceptions. It is, seemingly, considered an admirable business skill to be straight talking, to cut the crap, to cut to the chase, to see to the heart of the matter. But you don’t get those descriptions applied to women very much.

So what does ‘direct’ actually mean? Well, there’s only one way to find out: the next time that adjective gets applied to me, I’ll ask. And then I’ll ask if my interlocutor would describe a man in the same way. And if they wouldn’t, they’ll get a very direct response.

‘There is no truth. There is only perception.’

So, I’m helping out with a grievance procedure at work, taking the notes while my colleague asks the questions. It started off as a seemingly straightforward issue, but, I suppose inevitably, once one strand was pulled the whole tangle revealed itself. What we thought would be one interview has increased to five. There are now pages of notes typed up into thousands of words, all describing the same day’s events from multiple perspectives.

The variance, the different interpretations of the same conversations, the backstory, motivations and inter-personal relationships that have been revealed are fascinating. Because, basically, you go to work, talk to people, do your job and come home, with generally no idea of the complexity behind it all. Now I’m seeing a portion of that laid bare. I don’t know any of those involved, so they come into the room as strangers. They talk openly and honestly and in as much detail as they can remember. It feels oddly like a privilege to hear their stories.

I had a sudden flash of sympathy for police interviewing witnesses about a crime. Good lord, it’s a wonder they ever get anywhere. One person’s throw away comment is another’s dire insult; someone’s central drama passes unnoticed by several others. I can’t help envisioning scenes being played out in much the same way as I do when I’m reading. So far I’ve seen this one four different ways, with different emphases and highlights. There are commonalities, where detail is gradually filling in; there’s overlap of some parts of the scenes; and there are perspectives that are so different, for perfectly understandable reasons, that it could be another day entirely. I can easily see how, the more people one talks to, the further away consensus moves.

Every time I look at the information we have so far, the pattern in the kaleidoscope changes. If I start asking ‘Why?’, then a labyrinth of possible answers opens up in front of me. The tough part is going to be to decide on a version of the truth at the end of it all, which is the point, but still seems like coming to a mundane ending. I’m glad it’s not my decision.

On getting organised

Just in from seeing Tom Conti in Rough Justice at the Oxford Playhouse. There’s much food for thought there and I’ll probably come back to it (hell, by the end of NaBloPoMo I’ll be extracting mental matter from the back of the cereal packet), but right now it’s 11.30pm and this is a race against the clock. Will I turn into a pumpkin before I post today’s post?

When I’m not gallivanting at the theatre, I’ve got this feeling that there’s a lot I ought to be doing. It’s definitely a feeling more than a reflection of reality but that doesn’t really matter. Perception is all, right? I’m not exactly busy at work, but I have a lot of small, inter-related tasks to keep track of at the moment; and with moving house coming up pretty quickly too, there’s much the same scenario at home. Partly out of control freakery, and partly because experience suggests that the best way for me not to obsess about minor chores is to write them down, I’m creating lists. I already know I’ve got multiple versions of mostly the same list, but as I can’t stop, I need a master list.

I use TeuxDeux to manage my ‘To Do’ list (shout out to TracieDesigns for that one). Other than paper it’s the only tool I’ve found that works for me and it works because it’s really, really simple. You add a task to a day; you cross it off when you’ve done it (or, of course, if you do something that wasn’t on your list you then add it for the sheer pleasure of crossing that bitch off); if you don’t complete it, the task is automatically carried forward to the next day. You can drag and drop to move things around and there’s also a handy ‘Someday’ section for that stuff that isn’t time sensitive but can’t drop off the radar entirely.

But still, I looked at my list and it had items on it like ‘Wireframes’. Sigh. So I hopped over to 43 Folders for a quick refresher course on creating an effective ‘To do’ list. In total it took me about 15 minutes to read, remind myself of the principles and turn the line items on my list into individual tasks. Overall result: longer list, but spread out over more time and with each task more readily achievable. Bird by bird, y’all.

Whither publishing?

So I was idly browsing LinkedIn, as you do when you’ve had one of those weeks. Or, in my case, several of those weeks. By this stage in life, I’m quite prepared to accept that, when it comes to working for a living, the problem is with me, not them. I don’t like work; but then again, as a former colleague shrewdly pointed out to me, that’s why it’s called ‘work’, and also why no one gets up in the morning and bounces cheerily out of the house saying ‘I’m off to fun!’

Anyway, because I have absolutely no idea of what I might want to do instead of what I currently do, and because I’m sick of banging my own thoughts again the solid wall of my own ignorance, I’ve started browsing sideways on LinkedIn. I do this by simply clicking on a job that looks vaguely possible, then clicking on the ‘other jobs like this’ link. In a few clicks, that can get me to an interesting content/technology intersection, but away from publishing as we know it, Jim.

What I noticed is that everyone traffics in content these days. Of course they do, because everyone has a website and websites host content . No matter who the company is, or whether the website is internally or externally facing, I can guarantee you that the content pretty much consists of some combination of words and images. There might be multi-media and social networking stuff too,  it might be user-generated or editorially curated, but the fundamentals are the same.

What that means is that a whole slew of companies is edging its way into being content creators, curators and distributors, whether they, not to mention the publishing industry, recognise it or not. Content is not spontaneously created out of the ether and it does not miraculously reveal itself online. Thus that same slew of companies is installing content management systems and steadily building up a body of staff with primarily digital publishing skills to generate and deploy content.

So what happens when, say, Sainsbury’s, realises it has all this ability plus a ready-made distribution channel and a well recognised brand? Taking e-books out of the equation for the moment (I know, I’m a heretic, so burn me. No, wait. Bite me.), why wouldn’t they start publishing beyond their magazine? They could go with born digital content and start a bit of brand extension in a whole raft of ways.  This is the dirty secret of publishing, after all: when you really break it down, anyone can do it. And they are already are.

Update: Today I was in Waitrose. In key POS position, a Christmas stocking-filler book; publisher, Waitrose. I rest my case.

On the deadliness of routine

The problem with being inherently lazy and having a boredom threshold roughly on a level with that of the cats (‘Oh, that’s interes… never mind, I’m doing something else now’) is that in order to do pretty much anything in a day, I need some structure.

The problem with the 9-5.30, 5 days a week in the office structure, is that it makes my soul itch and breeds foul rebellion in my dark heart. I dislike even the necessity of setting an alarm clock to make sure that my regimented day gets off to its timely start. It’s that measuring out one’s life in coffee spoons feeling that I kick against, like a surly teen at a bus shelter. Give me back my time, you bastards, I can manage it far more efficiently and pleasantly.

I’ve been working consistently for too, too many years already and I get my  job done. Ultimately, no matter how boring, however much I really don’t want to edit that manuscript, write that email or decipher that fucking Excel spreadsheet, the work happens near enough on time. The few interesting things happen sooner, of course, but I’ve got some annoying completeness gene that won’t allow me to let stuff slide too much.

This is in no way related to any silly goals that have been set, or alleged SMART objectives, or bonus schemes, because all of that HR crap is just so much pointless form-filling. Three points here: (1) I’ll do what needs to be done, regardless of what your funny bits of paper say; (2) bonuses are bullshit, hire competent staff and then pay them well to start with:  if you need to incentivise with more money then let me refer you back to the beginning of point (2);  (3) Netflix? If that ‘Freedom & Responsibility Culture’ stuff is true, call me, ‘kay?

Getting stuff done is also not related to whether I’m in the office, at home, out for lunch or wandering round the shops. I can think anywhere, I can handle email from most places and I can write at 8 in the morning or 10 at night. Generally I think more clearly and work better between about 6am and 9am. Which is why, of course, it makes sense that I spend that time getting up, showered, dressed, eating breakfast and sitting in traffic, so I can arrive at an arbitrarily designated building just in time to start winding down for a bit.

Sing ho! for the industrial day in the post-industrial age.