Thursday, April 12, 2012


 I’ve been having those 10 of Wands days at work lately. Basically, there is just too much going on. When you work on a complex software system, there are a lot of moving parts. Coming down from Easter, that fun family wedding and that not-fun death in the family, I feel a bit like I got my skirt caught in the Wheel of Fortune and took a few unexpected spins, even hitting my head on the ground a couple of times on my way around.

I’m about ready for a few days of sitting in a corner, sucking my thumb and hugging my blankie. I don’t have to draw any cards to figure out that that particular refuge is not my destiny for a few weeks at least.

Usually I figure if I’m in a tornado, well, let’s make it a good tornado experience. So things like standing in line or sitting in slow traffic usually don’t bother me too much. I usually make friends in the line or to my further amusement don’t make friends. I’ll sing songs, consider the possibilities of driving a different car, try to say what I’m seeing in French or Spanish or German or maybe even Pig-Latin, none of which I speak fluently while stuck in traffic or any other time for that matter.

At a couple of recent tarot classes, we’ve discussed the concept, the possibility of clearing your mind and being still for minutes at a time. Generally I think I would want to try, say, 5 seconds and work my way up. And yet, when I read tarot, I’m somehow able to reach a clear spot in my head, like a meadow in the woods or a remote stretch of beach. Then I can read from there. But just doing the exercise? Stillness? It’s a goal.

Weird, I think, how I can have a seldom-still mind and yet sense the feeling of overload only rarely. I can do a lot of visual multi-tasking. I can’t hear more than one “track” at a time, however. I know one person who is amazing at being able to listen to multiple conversations at the same time, but in my opinion he is an anomaly.

 My workplace took a big uptick in volume recently. One of my directors assigned a particularly sticky project that was about to take a wrong turn. She also decided that it would be better to have all projects about new products and their impact on the systems in my area go through me. My immediate supervisor decided that it would be good if I was in charge of all the defects found in the software.

There is some extra administrative process that goes along with all of this and it translated to my workload expanding rapidly by about four times. Then an emergency project came up for another group and they gave me some of the items already in progress from that group, including one “hot potato” that is problematic. I know it sounds strange to say I got a problem that was itself a problem. I would explain, but as you can see, I don’t have time.

I asked my co-worker who had owned the hot potato I was relieving her of to meet with me for turnover. When you are handed something really exciting that is in danger of going south, it is essential to get the low-down, the skinny, the back story. Just a little bit of TLC in the handoff makes things go smoothly. We met.

“Hey, thanks for meeting with me. Can you catch me up on what’s up with this issue?”

She said yes and referenced an email thread.

“Right,” I said. “I read through it. It seems pretty convoluted.”

“Yes,” she said. “In that email thread, where you see my name, put your name. That’s the turnover.” And that was it.

I was dumbfounded. It was the most blatant case of Fling-It-Over-the-Fence-and-Run I had experienced in a long time. There was a meeting scheduled later that day. This “turnover” was supposed to have prepared me for that meeting. I decided to wait for that meeting. Maybe I have “one-track ears” but I learn a lot in meetings. In the context of that conversation, I expected I would be able to put at least some of the puzzle pieces together.

Naturally, the meeting later that day made things worse instead of better. I took notes. And I quickly shot off a note to my boss to let him know that the "turnover" I received was insufficient and quoted the instructions I had received that morning. He agreed another meeting was needed, to my relief. My co-worker was clearly irritated. She told me to submit my questions in advance.

“I have just one,” I said, gently as I could. “What would you want to know about this if you were in my place with no background about the issue, the project, the constraints, etc.?”

We met the next day. What a change! I was able to take notes that translated to a coherent description of the issue and the next steps. I asked questions for clarity. I wrote a summary of the meeting and shared it with my co-worker and boss. My co-worker added even more critical information than she had provided during either of our two meetings. I thanked her.

I added my new stick to the bundle on my back, juggled them as best I can. I made quite a bit of headway today on the hot potato, the projects I had before I was gifted with all the extras, the bug list, the products, the testing, the discussions with the business partners, even providing some unexpected emergency advice to another department in distress. I downloaded and tried two new utilities to view a very large file without much luck, then figured out some alternatives with the help of some more technical folks. I was able to do some in-depth analysis that pointed to, alas, a problem.

Bring in the torch and pitchfork people, the Teflon, the sleight of hand and even the finger-pointing between two technology areas. I provided as much information as I could and let them talk it through among themselves. I moved to other project tasks, another stick in the bundle, two sticks, five.

It’s a game of beat the clock. We’re screaming down the avalanche trail towards our release weekend. My sled has just a few too many sticks in it right now. I’m weighted down by my burden. I feel like the ant and the rubber tree plant. Sometimes that weight slows me down. Sometimes it keeps me on the trail as I trudge along. See, once the software release is complete, we will start this all over again. And, yes, I am happy I have a job.

I am also happy Readers Studio 2012 is very soon. I will be glad for the break.

Best wishes.


  1. This blog is absolutely on target for how I/ve been feeling lately. Fabulous insights.

    I love all your blog posts and this one was especially resonant.

  2. I'm not sure I could just sit and be still either, but I also find my stillness in certain activities I love. I guess wherever you can grab it and stay sane...

    Good luck with the big release weekend!