The war against time.

I think the war against time started the summer I stayed at college as a summer system administrator. (Interestingly, this is also the first time I was more or less on my own, with something like a full time job.) Casting my eyes about for a little more time, my gaze settled upon the hour or so (I’ve forgotten how much) I spent on a MUD everyday (Cheese boy having gotten me hooked a year or two earlier.)

The trend continued. Gradually, though less conscious, I bought fewer and fewer computer games. E-mail slowly piled up as conversations died of inattention. As the people I was role playing with moved farther and farther away, I eventually had to cut out that activity, trying to get back an evening and stabilize my sleep schedule along the way. For a while I went to a board gaming group, but the curiously frequent demand for Thursday night eventually felled even that.

Of course other things have filled in. Martial arts, having established a beached at one hour a week grew to eight (plus travel, cleanup, and seminars) I’ve also made a number of ‘slow’ lifestyle choices: I avoid fast food, often cook for myself, and ride or walk places when I can.

Whenever I cast my gaze about me these days, I come back to a few common themes: I chose, and continue to choose, the lifestyle mentioned above; any ‘efficiency expert’ would label me with poor time management (an ongoing battle); and I spend the greater portion of my waking hours trading time, that which I feel I lack, for money, something which, mortgage notwithstanding, far exceeds my needs on a month to month basis.

Several months ago, the final mental straw was laid, and I decided to renegotiate the terms of exchange for a four day week with reduced pay. However, to put it frankly, I was insecure. I went looking for information, guides, success stories, and pitfalls to avoid. So, for a while I read and gathered, found if there were any existing company policies, and wrote up something of a proposal. Ultimately I realized that it was irrelevant to my situation though; that would be appropriate for a bureaucracy, but I work at a small company, a single proprietorship where I talk to the owner on a semi-regular basis. Of course this is probably more a problem than anything: Imagine asking a workaholic to turn his attention away from a number of projects (all behind), with the continual threat of interruption by pressing concerns, to ask him about working less ;^) Which is a long winded way of saying a few more months rolled by. In the cumulative effect of it all, we went from relative idleness and makework to having a real project with a tight deadline (there’s a moral about procrastination for you.)

For any who would blame fortune, give it due credit as well: The Wednesday before christmas, the company put on a catered lunch and then most of the people went home. Myself, looking a long absence (I had more vacation days left than I had thought, and they evaporate at the end of the year. Given my feelings about time, I couldn’t not take them) and staring at a thorny problem stayed working on it for a while; indeed until I got locked in the building ;^) Here I cite the consolation prize for working weekends: a door key and security code ;^) But that seemed like a pretty song signal that it was time go home.

In my fluster, I forgot a tray of leftovers from the catering that I had grabbed when no one else wanted it. I had also heard my boss say that he would in catching up next day, and I had hardly left off in an ideal place in my work. So I came in the next day and spent a few hours cleaning things up and getting the code into a more reasonable stopping place. And then, at work on a company holiday, nobody around, nobody answering the phones, I had about the best opportunity I was ever going to have to broach the subject to my boss. He is open to the idea, but wants to put off further discussion until after the holidays.

My cynical side says he is hoping I’ll rethink it. I won’t, of course; I can’t. Baring significant new information, the best way I know to fight procrastination and improve confidence is to follow through and finish what I started. Which isn’t to say I don’t have some reservations, but sitting on the fence doesn’t make for forward progress.

It comes back to the deeper issues of the war against time. When I was hired (at which time, and for some time thereafter, there was a little more bureaucracy and I didn’t even know who the owner was) the expectation was stated (within flextime) as about 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. The contract was defined in terms of time, rain or shine, booming business or makework.

Not that it has been totally constraining; I’ve worked long hours, and I’ve worked weekends; I’ve also left in the middle of the day to run errands. But always the clock is king: If I don’t leave hours after I arrive, I’m losing; if I don’t stay that long, I’m cheating on my contract. My basic discomfort with the four day proposal is that it isn’t fundamentally different. Time is still the unit of measure. 32 instead of 40. It is progress; it is change, it is testing the waters. But for all that I try to adjust my thinking from time oriented to task oriented, the terms of the contract are still time based. Ultimately the problem may be in my own head: the time anxiety is win-lose thinking. Writing this down makes it seem more evident that I should try to bring this up when we get to discussing the details. Perhaps that is why I wrote it at all.

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