Besides being a Middle Class Guy, I am also middle aged.
Although Jim Morrison died before I turned the age of one, his lyrics and songwriting while leading the Doors remains just about my favorite music of all-time. The only reason that I write “just about” is that, depending on my mood any given day, my favorite may be Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Depeche Mode, Jane’s Addiction, Louis Armstrong or any one of a wide variety of musical stars of yesteryear.
The Doors song “Take it As it Comes” has been running through my head of late considering the way things have been going during my second full week of working for a new department.
To quickly recap for any new readers, I have been transferred to another department at my place of work and assigned to a young, thirty-two-year-old boss after having been hired by a very wise and experienced boss who is turning sixty-four this fall.
My new department and boss move fast. We go from one thing to another, much like firemen or policemen responding to calls, although nothing that we do is actually as urgent as a fire or crime in progress.
We are mostly reacting to external stimuli such as requests or orders from elected officials, deadlines imposed by others for public meetings and responding to actual emergencies throughout our community. I now work within the Administration Department in my community, thus some actual emergencies actually do arise and require a response from my colleagues.
My specialty and job description revolves around economic development, the field that I have toiled in for the past seventeen years, since Y2K.
For those of us who have spent more than ten years surviving in this competitive business, we recognize that success is not necessarily accomplished by running from one petty thing to another, but by consistently pursuing excellence, consistency and ethics in one’s actions.
That is not the case in what we now do.
While identifying my daily work over the seventeen years that I have been in this field, I have identified three activities that you or I can be engaged in.
The first is doing predefined work, checking off tasks and accomplishments from your actions list and calendar. We are completing work that we had previously identified as needing to be done, or managing our workflow and managing our time well.
In my case, this involves preparing for and doing well in scheduled meetings, making phone calls, returning emails, writing reports, attending trade shows and Chamber of Commerce functions and the like.
Even if the calls, meetings and emails do not go great or accomplish what you want them to, you are still able to check them off your list.
The second method, which has also proven to be useful in my experience is to define your work. This entails placing things into their respective categories as they come in. For me, as it does for many a Middle Class Guy, this includes email messages pouring in, phone calls pouring in and people leaving me voice mails, would-be business owners dropping in unannounced who demand immediate and complete attention, elected and appointed officials calling or dropping in unannounced who also demand immediate and complete attention, actual mail showing up including many bills, colleagues requesting things of me, and my new, young and eager boss dropping in my office about a dozen times per day telling me to do something while I am knee-deep in something else.
I am not a complainer, but it can become difficult to juggle all these things.
Thus, defining your work has you break down things into actionable steps. Some requests can be put to the side for next week or some other day. If the Mayor wants something done, that takes precedent over any other activity. If a salesperson calls me when I am in the middle of something, I won’t even bother (sorry salespeople).
A good portion of this method of defining your work consists of identifying things that need to get done sometime, but not right away. You are constantly adding to all of your lists as you go along.
In my never-ending quest to become more organized both at home and at my place of work, I have used a combination of the above two methods for years. When people ask me how I keep track of all that I do and can jump from one thing to another at a moment’s notice, I like to say that “I just make this look easy, but it isn’t.”
Taking It As It Comes
These days, with my new department and new boss, it seems as if the planning and organizing aspects of our work might as well get tossed out the window.
Even though I still created a well-defined list of many things to accomplish this week, I had even more tasks that I could not have even imagined while driving to work on Monday morning thrown my way.
Being a person who is striving hard to be a “team player” in my new department and fit in and be adaptable, I am starting to adopt a new philosophy when it comes to my job.
Even though I have never actually worked in a restaurant in my entire life, I tell my wife in the morning that I am going into work with the same philosophy as a server at a local eatery. I do not know how many customers will come in that day, I do not know exactly what tables my boss will want me to cover, and I do not know who I will be dealing with any given day.
If I am at my place of work to serve others including commercial and industrial brokers, existing and prospective business owners, elected and appointed officials, other colleagues, my boss and a myriad of others, I might as well consider myself a waiter and them my customers.
I may make more money than most servers, maybe even two or three servers combined, but I do the same thing that they do. Customers and bosses order economic-development related services from me, and I serve up what they ordered.
My menu includes things like information on any and every property in my community, information on taxes and fees, Zoning information, the purchasing and creation of many advertisements, the creation of marketing materials, the writing of Memos and reports, providing the location of infrastructure, demographic and traffic information, managing social media, information on the availability or lack thereof of financial incentives, assistance with providing a workforce for companies, and so on and so forth. Any service that a good economic developer would put on a menu, I have it!
Every day that I am at my new department brings unsuspected and unforeseen surprises, and I have to either choose to engage in it immediately or put it off for later. Unfortunately for me, most of these surprises are directives from my new boss. Thus, since they are of the utmost importance to him, they must be for me, too, whether they serve the furtherance of economic development in our community or not. In most cases, they do not. When it comes to my performance review and job security, they do serve an important purpose.
When we jump from one imaginary crisis to another, we are deciding by default that these things are more important than whatever else it was that we were doing at the time.
I am going to try to fight it some, but in the meantime I am learning to do what Jim Morrison implores us to do in the song and “Go With the Flow” and “Take it easy, baby. Take it as it comes.”