Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hardly working...

One of the most disconcerting problems that has popped up in my life is the adjustment from the nature of farm work to working with words and ideas (writing, TV, speaking). In fact, Jan and I both notice how much more fun farm work seems to be simply in contrast to our other jobs.

For example, take something as straightforward as planting. There is a start and a finish, clear objective standards of good and bad results, and you can tell how close you are to being done easily. None of these apply to writing this blog entry, on the other hand. Much of the time, I seem to be spinning my wheels, staring blankly at the screen.

Worse still, when my brain grinds to a halt, I usually start surfing. Oh sure, I call it "research", but who am I kidding?

At the end of the day, have I worked hard?
It has taken me years to make tentative peace with my stops and starts during work. Every morning I vow to become a morning person, starting full speed out of the gate. And every morning I daydream, shuffle papers, read e-mail messages and visit blogs, and somehow it is time for lunch. Then, at about 2 p.m., a sense of urgency kicks in, and I write steadily, until about 5 or 6, when I revert to the little-of-this, some-of-that style of the morning.

Over the years I have come to see that the hours away from the writing are the time when the real work gets done. When a paragraph turns itself this way and that in a corner of my brain even while my fingers are buying books on Amazon.com. What appears to be wasted time is really jell time. This redefinition only makes me feel a little less guilty.

Mr. Kustka assures me that the problem is not the three to four hours of concentrated work I do each day, but rather the outmoded paradigm against which I measure that work. Productivity was directly related to time back when Mr. Gilbreth was measuring things, he said, but the connection is less direct today.

“We are in a knowledge-worker world,” he says. “If you were building me a building, I could measure the number of bricks. If you were loading a truck, I could measure the number of boxes. But I can’t simply count your words. That doesn’t measure quality.” [More of an oddly comforting article]
I like that - we just don't know how to measure how hard I am working. But why do we even care?
A few companies are taking the concept of “watch what I produce, not how I produce it” even further. At the headquarters of Best Buy in Minneapolis, for instance, the hot policy of the moment is called ROWE, short for Results Only Work Environment.

There workers can come in at four or leave at noon, or head for the movies in the middle of the day, or not even show up at all. It’s the work that matters, not the method. And, not incidentally, both output and job satisfaction have jumped wherever ROWE is tried.
As our work in agriculture looks less and less like what our fathers did, and more and more like desk work, our job satisfaction will depend on being able to see value in how we spend our time. We were strongly indoctrinated to the idea of hard work - we just have lost the ability to discern what hard work is, perhaps.

So the next time you see a post about an ocarina quartet, please believe me - I'm working hard for you.

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