Right now we’re in the hotel. Yesterday was such a long travel day that the kids didn’t get to sleep much and were constantly on the go. I’ve been trying to get them to go swimming…at the hotel pool, at a nearby lake…but no one’s biting. While Rhonda is helping prep food for the festivities tonight, we’re doing a Sponge Bob marathon at the Drury Inn next to the town’s only mall. And me? I’m thinking about how bored I am and reflecting on just how that came to be.
I’ve always been a crammer. Why? Because it’s worked for me, that’s why. I got near perfect grades through college and graduate school by cramming. (Note: I am only counting the second half of college, not the first half…when I got kicked out. I was a business major then. That shouldn’t be allowed to bring down my average, all things considered). Because cramming always worked for me during school, the motivation to change my last-minute ways was persistently low, even though it caused me a ton of stress. Now flash forward fifteen years. Do that because my cramming didn’t stop when school ended. No, no no. It followed me out into the real world, chased me really.
Today, cramming has made me an effective professional in a very high impact line of work – campaigns and elections. Having finite deadlines (Election Day) fits nicely with my favorite core pathology. Paired with another one of my interpersonal vices, extreme competitiveness, it’s allowed me to advance rather nicely in the grown-up work world. But then there’s the rub: It’s not going to work forever. And I accept that. I’m not managing campaigns right now; I’m managing national operations in 18 states. I am firmly aware and of the opinion that the way I operate, loosely referred as ‘my process’ isn’t going to cut it for the 2010 elections cycle. Grown-up cramming brings a whole new brand of stress and an entirely more serious set of consequences. It’s time for a change.
That’s why when, a few weeks ago, I heard that I had the opportunity to have my own management coach I jumped all over it. Did I think I needed one? Well, I don’t know. I wasn’t afraid of it, I’ll say that much. Certainly we can all do things a little better, we can all benefit from learning some new tricks of the trade…all that. I actually didn’t think I needed one. But what do I know, right? I decided I wanted one and that was that. I made contact with my coaches or consultants, whatever they are, and we decided that the best way to get started is for them to come observe me in my environment. What that meant was that they would come to DC where I was going to be running a meeting with staff from two states and all of our national staff. A nine hour meeting. After that, we’d have our first session and spend some time agenda setting then kick off our process of making me a better manager. It was going to be a full day. Nice. Hope they can keep up, I thought.
So here we are…a few weeks later. I wish I could say that I’ve begun an incredibly constructive journey towards being a better professional. I’d like to say that. And maybe that is what is happening. The truth is that I had the meeting, they were there and then we had our first session. But instead of feeling like I’m on the fast track to becoming a paragon of professionalism, my first session left me feeling absolutely insane. Absolutely-fucking-insane.
It went a little something like this:
Bubba, and management consultants Jerry and Rebecca, henceforth referred to as ‘Gerbecca’ gather around a small table in a Washington DC office, after a 9 hour meeting. Playing the role of ‘me’, allow me to introduce my alter ego – Me and My Crazy Self (MAMCS).
MAMCS: You betcha. I take lots of notes.
Gerbecca: Do you mind sharing that process with us?
MAMCS: Of writing? Sure. I go like this….
I mimic writing. They do nothing, stare blankly.
MAMCS: Just kidding. Basically I keep everything in a composition book.
Gerbecca: Great. Do you mind if we see your book?.
MAMCS: Not at all. Here you go.
I reach inside my bag.
Gerbecca: I notice you have another composition book in your bag. Is that work related?
MAMCS: Where? Hey…so there is. Good eye Tuck. Right. This one.
I thumb through it.
Gerbecca: Got it. And then you stop using the other one?
MAMCS: Uh, no. Not usually.
Gerbecca: So you might have two active sets of notes in two different books?
MAMCS: I guess you could say that.
Gerbecca: Can we see the other composition book too?
I reluctantly hand it over, feel less cute.
Gerbecca: Great. Thanks. (writing) Question though – In the meeting today you were using a legal pad.
MAMCS: What’s the question?
Gerbecca: It wasn’t a composition book?
Gerbecca: Can we see that legal pad? Is it in your bag?
MAMCS: Pretty sure.
Gerbecca: Is there more than one?
Beat of silence, just one, but it’s enough to telegraph my answer.
MAMCS: You can look at them both.
I hand over the ‘other’ legal pad in my bag. They scan the table, now covered with two legal pads and two composition books. Gerbecca looks them over then follows up with some key questions.
MAMCS: Those are things I want to say.
Gerbecca: Like in the meeting?
MAMCS: Or maybe somewhere else some time. Like in the future.
Confused looks. Yeah I don’t know.
Gerbecca: And I notice in several places you skip some pages and then start writing again. What does that mean?
MAMCS: That’s when I want to do some other work, usually because I’m having a hard time paying attention in the meeting, but I think I still need more room to take notes. I’ll do what I call in my head ‘flash-forwarding’ and start another project but leave myself room to still take notes on the meeting I’m in. It’s multi-tasking in a way. Kind of.
MAMCS: It’s where I have a break in a current thought.
Gerbecca: Can you tell me more?
MAMCS: That’s pretty much it. Like I’ll be writing, then think of something else, so I’ll make a dotted line to tell myself “Hey, I’m thinking of something else now.”
Gerbecca accidentally sighs, showing her hand, then tries for a quick recovery.
Gerbecca: So there is a lot of information in these two composition books and two legal pads. You’ve got things you want to say in the future, projects that you start while in meetings, things you think of and notes you write to yourself that may or may not have anything to do with what’s going on at the time. That sound close?
MAMCS: That sounds dead on.
Silence hangs. It just hangs.
Gerbecca: Ok. Let me just say that this is good Bubba. Really. It may feel weird, but this isn’t the worst we’ve seen.
MAMCS: Yeah that’s not making me feel any better.
Gerbecca: Don’t feel bad. This gives us a lot to work with. Now let me be clear here, between these four things – these two composition books and these two legal pads – this is where you keep all the important things you need to get done?
MAMCS: Get done? No. The things I need to get done are in my Outlook on a little electronic post-it note called “Things to get done.”
Gerbecca: Okaaay… Would you feel comfortable opening up your computer to us?
MAMCS: Yeah ok.
So now there is barely any room on the table to write. They peruse my computer for awhile, then thumb through a few pages in the other items until…
MAMCS: Well…not exactly. My daily to-do list is on my computer. Not in it. But on it…green post-its where I write what I need to do and then I stick them all over the monitor.
They glance at my computer, not seeing any.
MAMCS: Not that monitor. Another one. The one at home on the computer that I usually use. But that’s just daily stuff, you know. The important information is all in my head.
Ok, I’ll stop there. I need to stop there because that was the point where I realized that I am 100% certifiably fucking insane. We talked for another hour about my managerial ‘needs’ eventually agreeing to start with ‘systems’ – note taking, email management, list making, etc – and then moving in to the part of ‘managing’ that actually involves other people.
Now I’m two weeks into this process and I’ve given Gerbecca carte blanche to my life including attending all my meetings, being on all my calls and having full, unabridged access to my email and calendar. It’s a lot of stress, but my recovery is coming along nicely. At least so far. In fact, I did such a good job of taking care of work and personal things before I left that I really don’t know what to do with myself – that’s why I’m bored. I keep compulsively checking my email…nothing. Then I throw my blackberry across the room. I’m on top of everything and I hate it. Fuck.