Getting Used to Spending Time Alone

February 19, 2008

I’m not sure if it’s a function of my personality or just circumstances, but I am almost never alone. I wake up in the morning at the same time as my roommate. We drink coffee and chat about the news for an hour or so. At work, I’m surrounded by people. At lunch I go to the gym and workout with a partner. Most every day after work I have some kind of social event — dinner, party, happy hour, date, meeting, etc.

I almost never sit at home and watch TV and when I do, it’s usually with my roommate. When I’m by myself I have a hard time sitting and just watching TV. Yesterday, for example, I was by myself in the apartment. I wasn’t sure what to do so I sat down and turned on the TV. Instead of just watching the show, I was also flipping through Barron’s and reading emails on my cell phone. Obviously, you can’t do three things at once so this was largely a waste of time. I eventually managed to get some work done, but it took me a long time to get started and to get focused.

There was another time in my life where I experienced a similar issue. It was the summer of 2003 and I had just gotten back from a semester abroad in Hong Kong. With an internship at Citigroup, classes, living in close quarters with everyone and SARS, the trip was hugely stimulating and social. I arrived back home and decided to take a summer internship working for Clear Channel in Raleigh, NC. I sublet a huge apartment near the Duke campus – I had the whole place to myself and there was hardly anybody else in the building because it was summer.

I knew a few people there, but aside from work, I was by myself A LOT. At first, I went nuts. I would get home from work at 5 or so and have no idea what to do… I was wasting a ton of time on Instant Messenger and aimlessly browsing the Internet. After a few days of this I started going for long runs through the campus every day when I got home from work. I think running can be a very meditative and even spiritual thing. I’m not sure how many miles I would run, but I remember how hot and muggy it was. I really enjoyed breathing the thick air and sweating profusely in the 90+ degree heat. The last stretch of my route was a 200 yard straight path of well worn dirt and gravel road. I would run as fast as I could for that stretch until I crossed over the imaginary line set by a pillar on the rock wall which runs along the border of the campus. After the sprint my heart would be beating so fast… it felt like it would pop out of my chest. It was great.

After the run, I would come back to the apartment, drink a Coors Light and fix dinner. At night I would watch TV, talk on the phone or read. In about three weeks, I had adjusted well and ended up having a great summer.

The reason I’m thinking about all this now is because I may soon have lots of free time on my hands until school starts in the fall. I hope to have lots of client work to do, but there won’t be anybody hanging over my shoulder, yelling at me if I don’t do it on time. It’s going to be very hard to adjust to spending time alone and working from home.


Toxic Energy at Work

January 18, 2008


I normally don’t write about work because it could get me in trouble. But this rant is mostly harmless so I should be ok.


My job at the bank is mostly “back office”; everyone on my floor is in a similar capacity. On my floor, there aren’t many people who actually seem enthusiastic about their work. In fact, many people mope around and seem to be half asleep. I am very fortunate that my direct group is nothing like this, but I feel sorry for my colleagues who aren’t so lucky.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been observing how a “new hire” is being assimilated into one of the groups that sits near me. She has spent the entire week looking over people’s shoulders, presumably learning about systems and work she is supposed to assume. There is zero enthusiasm coming from the people in her group. It’s as if they are saying “here’s a nasty process that isn’t important but you will need to do it. Moreover, it’s so tedious that I can barely muster the energy to explain it to you.” Imagine starting a new job and experiencing this type of toxic and soporific energy from your new colleagues!!

Aside from the negativity of this approach, there is also a laziness and impracticality of training people this way – I suspect most people would agree. If you’re going to give me a process that needs to be done on a recurring basis, freaking sit down and type up documentation! It’s quite clear why the trainer wouldn’t want to do this… it’s hard work to document a process. It requires you to actually think about it. Worse, it requires you to be organized and think about the big picture. Instead of this method, I constantly see people being trained by watching someone else flip through Excel files.

What about this instead: when a person is given a process to own, hand them a detailed document which explains the necessary steps and where to find all source files, etc. Make sure you include an overview section that succinctly says what the process is supposed to accomplish. Then let the person spend a few hours going through the document and the associated files. The trainer should be available to enthusiastically answer any questions the person will have along the way. This way, the questions will be informed and pointed. I guarantee this would be a far, far more productive way of training someone.

So, as I gear up to leave my job for grad school this summer, I plan to hand documents to anybody I’m training on my processes. If I have to train someone on things which are tedious and dull, I will have a big cup of coffee beforehand so I sound enthusiastic and high-energy.

Bottom Line: if you are bored by your job, get a new one… or at least try your best to hide it!