Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Stepford Wife

Some time ago, lady_anne described her approach to grocery shopping in an entry. I'm rather disappointed that I can't dig up the link to it right now. However, to summarize: she hadn't always liked shopping for groceries, but she'd adopted a new approach to the task: going into "Stepford Wives" mode,and treating the chore sort of like performance art. It's not a task: it's showtime!

She made a similar point, in a different way, talking about laundry. The idea isn't so much that Stepford Wives have more fun grocery shopping (though who knows? Maybe they do), but that it's possible to change your attitude about a job by changing the way you go about doing it.

Today was Monday, and the first work day of the month. With my current set of job duties, that means I had a whole raft of things I was supposed to do. To give myself time to do them, I shuffled off some of my normal work onto the people who'd filled in for me while I was on vacation.

In doing so, I realized something: I'd given away the work I like to do, and stuck myself with the work I dislike doing

So I was trying to figure out: what is it about the work I wasn't doing that I liked, and what is it about the work that I was doing that I hated.

Balancing accounts is my favorite task. It's like solving a puzzle to me: find the money! You check here, and you check there, and you dig through the other place, and if you can't find it anywhere, you can always resort to the hint book: go ask the person who ran the transaction, "What were you thinking?" (This is my last resort because usually they don't know, either. But I can make them search with me, and it's good practice for them not messing up the same way again.)

I like running payments, too. This is basically mindless, data-entry work. I open up the envelopes, rack out checks, then enter check amounts and loan numbers into the system. I actually cannot explain why I like this, except possibly that it's so much faster to do it this way than the way I had to do them on the system we used when I first started at the bank. There's a pleasing sense of efficiency to it, and there's a certain game-like quality to it: how fast can I get all of these numbers entered?

The work I kept was compiling reports. This whole process feels riddled with redundancies and inefficiencies. I spend a lot of time comparing this column of names and numbers to that column of names, then integrating the two, then entering these numbers to that list or those numbers to the other list. The whole thing always leaves with the nagging certainty that there mustbe a better way to do most of them. I've actually tried to improve on some of them, with varying results. The reports turn out to be far more complex to code than they have any right to be. We actually paid our software provider to improve one of them, and it took them months to produce a version that wasn't all that much better than what we started with. O.o


Writing this down, it feels as though a significant part of my enjoyment, or lack thereof, in the process comes from a sense of efficiency, and how well I'm doing it. When I feel like I'm doing the job in the best possible way, I'm happy. If I feel like the job ought to be done in some other, better way -- even if neither I nor anyone else can currently make a better way that works -- I'm not happy.

Now, my main goal in this thought-experiment isn't "how can I be a better employee?" but "how can I be a happier employee?" It turns out that these two goals look compatible -- if I could do my job in a way I thought was better, I'd be happier! But doing my job better is a long-term solution, and I'd like a short-term solution.

(Another long-term solution is getting someone else to do the tasks I don't like, and taking back the tasks I do like. I'm less enamored of this idea, though, because this set of tasks involves some potentially interesting complexities. Running the reports is boring and annoying. But having this task gives me the occassional shot at writing reports, which is sort of fun when it's not horribly frustrating.)

I don't always object to inefficient solutions. Often, it's not worth the time to create an elegant, efficient process for a job that rarely needs to be done. Other times, I just don't have the time to spend making the process better, which is the case right now.

So: is there a Stepford Wife approach that would work for me, right now? A way that could make me think, "Yay! I get to spend today comparing long columns of numbers to similar long columns of numbers and making corrections"? Maybe I could make a game of it. Like scoring points for each page I complete in less than a certain amount of time. Or bonus points for discovering irrelevant patterns (look, five numbers in a Fibonacci sequence!)


Well, at least it'll give me something to think about while I'm doing it tomorrow. :)
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