Thursday, April 1, 2010

I sleep less, I'm out of my Comfort Zone but it's kinda fun

Last week I spent more time on the phone with one of my Organizational Design teammates than I did with my mom, my sister, my friends, my boss and all of my vendors combined. I stayed up past 12:45 on the phone working on things on a weeknight twice last week. On Monday night I called it a night at one even though the paper we were working on (which was due on Tuesday) was not done. I knew I was going to have to do a lot of work on it-while at work the next day-never a good deal. But I couldn't do any more work that night. My eyes couldn't focus on the screen. Unlike my undergraduate career, none of this was due to Poor Planning on My Part or procrastination. If anything, it was due to me being a wimp and not forcing harder deadlines on my teammates.

We had a 10-page paper on our own team dynamics due on Tuesday. The previous Monday (not the day before it was due) we met and wrote the outline. We almost got into an argument that night because one of the three of us thought the thing was done and the other two of us were feeling a bit rushed. When I realized that the three of us were past the point of coming to any kind of agreement (we'd had a 20 minute discussion over whether or not we could work on it for 5 minutes more) I agreed with my teammate who said we were done for the evening-we weren't going to do anything more than get into another argument.

I Felt Bad about the situation for an hour and a half while waiting for the Commuter Rail and taking it home. When I got home, I sent a nice long Anna Karenina of an e-mail to both my teammates explaining my frustration and detailing a plan for fixing things. I made sure to add a few corny jokes to dispel any hostile note they might perceive and to phrase everything in terms of "I feel." I was going for "Guys, I have this problem-here's how you can help me out with it. Really it's just me being weird so just humor me." I said I was feeling concerned about the amount of work that we needed to do and that I personally was planning on starting this paper on Wednesday (we have class on Tuesday) so if they were cool with it, could they pick parts and start writing them as of then too?

I’m entitled to be concerned about this because the project at hand was a paper and I'm the editor, so I have to compile everything and make sure it's clearly written. I signed up to be editor not because I thought I had any great editorial skillz, but because given the options available (Team Leader-certainly not. Graphic Designer-please I know a 9 year old with better graphics on her blog) editing seemed the thing I could do best. I mean, there’s this blog I write and so it’s not like I’m uncomfortable expressing myself in print. I also care deeply about my words. I didn’t want anyone else to have final say over which of my carefully chosen and arranged words got cut.

However, I should also point out that I am good at Feeling Bad about things. There is some part of my brain (friends have suggested that it’s my inner German, as opposed to my inner Lithuanian) that genuinely likes feeling bad. When I catch myself doing something dumb or otherwise failing to meet the standards I set for myself, that part of my brain says “Ooh! Guilt! We can do that-we do that really well! Just watch!”

Neither of my team members responded directly to my suggestions. The team leader said that we needed to have a further discussion about meetings. As soon as he brought this up directly and in person, we had the argument that I was hoping to avoid the night before (and right before the three of us were due to give a presentation.) We didn't come to a resolution.

We didn't address any of the points I had brought up. We ended the argument by saying to ourselves repeatedly “We can’t argue anymore-we have to go to class now.” As we headed off to class I said “Great-conflict and speaking in front of other people-two of my favorite things!”

I had a telephone conversation the next day with one of my teammates about who was going to write which parts of the paper (the other one couldn’t meet because he had to work, so he got whatever we didn’t want.)

On Saturday, when we all were meeting up to interview people from the organization we were studying, one of my team members brought up the point that our outline was missing a few sections. I was against agreeing with him because we were in the middle of doing something else and it was way too late to be making changes in the outline. We discussed, but didn’t come to a conclusion. We went our separate ways.

I got home, called him and told him why I thought he was wrong. I had spent an hour and a half thinking about it while waiting for the train, which was unfortunate, because I had convinced myself that I was right based mostly on the fact that it would really suck if we had to incorporate more parts into the paper at this late date. I believe I called him and said "Hi-you're wrong." which is never a good way to start a conversation. What can I say-my people skills are terrible. That's part of why I enrolled in an MBA program.

He pointed out that I was full of it (politely.) I felt horrible about "climbing the ladder of assumptions" and being "solutions minded" or just plain pig-headed and believing things because I wanted them to be true, not because they had any factual base. But then again, as I mentioned earlier, Feeling Bad is one of my specialties.

The next morning, I finished my sections, posted them online for all to see and went off to breakfast at 9. I don’t think my breakfast conversation made a lot of sense that morning.

And then I got to the actual copy-editing. I got my first few drafts at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. I went to work and really enjoyed myself for the first few hours. Even though there were a lot of changes to make I was taking ideas and causing them to be better expressed, which is satisfying, if not as easy as plain old writing. I also had a few non-grade related challenges. One of my teammates who may have noticed that confidence is not my strong suit mentioned that I really needed to take care of editing the paper without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings-including his. So I needed to prove that I could be a competent editor. I also knew that I needed to pare back my own writing style. Alliteration and $.75 words are great for literary essays but they don’t belong in business school papers.

So I edited 4 pages worth of material and sent it back to the author, figuring (correctly) that he would call me and we could discuss why I made the changes I made. We discussed. He agreed (eventually) to almost all of my suggestions and we improved a few things together. That bit-co writing-is also kind of fun, in my opinion. It’s true that it’s more fun when you’re co writing stories about animate bulldozers and drunken dragons than it is if you’re writing about Task and Maintenance functions or affective and structural conflict, but it’s still a collaborative creative process and that makes it fun.

After a while, I was too caffeinated to be productive and I felt like I’d blown a circuit in my brain. I got the second set of pages from my other teammate, and wrote up another section we’d decided we needed. After slogging through other people’s concepts, straight-up writing was rather refreshing. But in one evening five hours was as much as I could do.

I was dismayed when I woke up the next morning and discovered that whatever circuit I had blown in my brain had not repaired itself over night. I felt like I had a “paper” hangover. The sight of Microsoft Word for Mac made me feel ill. It was distressing to feel so wiped out this early in the process. I made myself work for a while anyways.

I called my parents (it’s a good idea to check in and let them know I’m alive every once in a while and I needed to talk to someone about something other than Team Dynamics, Task and Maintenance functions, Affective Conflict and Solutions Mindedness. Also, Mom is a consultant for the NYC Writing Project, so I figured I could ask her a few writing/editing questions.) I finished the draft I was working on and e-mailed it back to the author and watched Strong Bad e-mails while waiting for him to call me back and discuss edits.

I started to work on my second teammate’s work. He had no citations from the book. Ugh. It’s not my job as editor to find citations for people. It’s not my job to teach them how to write. I told both of my teammates that I would be willing to discuss edits with them (I think you get a stronger paper that way-I can ask what each of them meant and work with them to express it better.) One of them accepted my offer. The other one just said “do what you need to do.” At the time I figured that was partly because English is not his first language and, as such, he’s not as attached to his written prose as some of us (*cough cough like me*) are.

I thought I knew something about the position he’s in, since I had to write most of my papers in college in my second language (French) and my grammar and spelling were awful. I would reluctantly avail myself of the native language TA to have my papers flayed. Even though he (the TA) was a good friend of mine, he had no problem ripping my written word up and saying things like “Well you could say it that way, but then you wouldn’t be saying it in French.” I took his suggestions and went on with my work. I didn’t hand my paper over to him and expect him to write it. And that’s what this team member has done.

So I e-mailed him and asked him if he could come up with some citations. He gave me a non-answer. I decided this meant it was time for a pedicure.

Friends of mine have who have already gone through the Grad School Process have advised me to take breaks in order to avoid burning your brain out and I did try to do this throughout editing this paper. But I hit diminishing marginal returns repeatedly. My team leader called me while my toes were drying and we talked for a bit. I ate dinner, went home and went back to editing. At this point my memory gets a bit fuzzy, because I had a wicked horrible headache and I was tired of thinking.

I took a walk around the block (even though it was pouring rain.) I eventually got a few more sections from the teammate who was uninterested in citations. I called the team lead and asked for editorial help (because the paper was still way too long. It was about 15 pages long and we could not exceed 12. I believe I called him and said “Help!”) We worked through stuff until 1 AM at which point it became apparent to me that I could do no more. So even though the process of cutting things out wasn’t done and I had to go to work tomorrow I had to stop. I didn’t know how I was going to manage to finish editing this paper while at work, but it was impossible for me to do so then. I couldn’t read the words on the screen anymore.

We agreed that there were a few things he was going to work on (because of course, just for fun, this wasn’t the only written document due that day) and there were a few things I was going to work on. We agreed to a check in time of 10 AM. I went to bed.

This feeling of being too tired to think is new to me. This is because it has been an awfully long time since I tried to do anything intellectually rigorous after 8:30 PM. This process of re-discovering my ability to think in the evenings has happened mostly through phone conversations with my teammates. I never would have learned to be mentally agile enough to talk about something more important than Firefly or the Beatles in the evenings without outsiders-if I had to (for example) write this paper myself, I would just arrange my time so that I could get all my work done in the mornings on weekends or between 6 and 8:30 on week nights.

The next morning I let myself sleep in until 7:15. If it hadn’t still been pouring rain I would have brought my laptop with me and continued editing while on the commuter rail. Instead I dozed a bit.

At 8:22 that morning my phone made a happy, iPhone text message noise. I figured it was just my teammate checking in early. It was not. Instead, it was one of my employers texting me to say that no one could access any files on our internal network. Panic! At least I could text him back and say that I and the technical contractor would be there momentarily. Insert an hour of me losing my mind. At the very least, I told myself, the initial burst of panic had woken me up well and I was now mentally alert and ready to edit things-just as soon as the network was functional and provided I didn’t need to do massive amounts of follow up work on the current crisis.

I hacked at the paper all day (while managing to do the things people pay me to do as well.) The team was due to meet up before class and compile material. But one of our teammates had a flooded basement, so it was just two of us at game time. When we met up and the team lead said “you did a good job of editing this paper” the pain and suffering of the last few days melted a bit (editing this paper was, on a personal misery level about on par with the server replacement project but below the whole “packing up and moving out of Cambridge" thing. Which is to say it I planned for it as best I could, I worked on it as hard as I could and it still wasn’t done on time.)

The two of us spent several minutes obsessing about style, font and sections and then we got to go to class and hand the thing in which means I got to stop worrying about it.

As I mentioned above, editing this paper was a miserable experience. But I had help from my team lead and he gave me pat-pats for a job well done. The two of us have discussed things I need to explain so that editing the final, 28-page paper (which is about 40% of our grade in the class) doesn’t send me to the ER. I brought some of these things up in our team meeting Saturday afternoon and I feel confident that I can bring the rest of them up once we have a paper with a grade and comments from the professor.

I can also see that the Professor knows that the three of us produce dynamite work--head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the class.

I have a solid working partnership with the team lead. We talk to each other on the phone and try out our shiny new MGT 650 phrases and concepts on each other. We learn things together by elucidating concepts to each other. It would be awesome if I could do this with both teammates, but I’ll settle for one since I have been pining for a solid work partnership of some sort for about 10 years.

And frankly, dealing with these guys and spending quality time thinking about communication has already improved my work life. I have started avoiding stepping in and screaming at people if the situation is not an emergency. But on top of that, I am doing something that is good for me. I am used to working hard and getting nothing for my efforts. Now I will get something for my efforts. In a few years I will get to add MBA to my name. And, despite what I thought a few months ago, I will know more than I did when I applied for the program. This in and of itself has made my work environment more tolerable and has given me the confidence to better explain myself to my boss or to my coworkers-even when they are playing “Gotcha” in a meeting in front of the entire staff.

Last week I was at work and I was taking a walk because I was falling asleep at my desk, because I had been up late doing MBA stuff for two nights in a row. I walked into one of the conference rooms and happened to yawn-really loudly. I had forgotten that one of the owners was interviewing someone in the adjacent conference room. After I yawned I heard him say “and we have a tendency to bore people here at Company Name.” I knew I was going to have to step in to the meeting and introduce myself and get my chops busted a bit in front of this complete stranger (I had no idea if he was a potential client, a potential summer hire or an informational interview.) So I looked into the conference room with a sheepish grin on my face and the owner gave me a gesture that said “yes please, come in” and a smile. He said “this is the yawner. This is Cantabridgienne who is head of technology here (wouldn’t it be nice if that was actually true)” and I shook the guy’s hand and said something to the effect of there was really nothing boring at all about working here. The other coworker of mine who was in on the interview said “she’s just tired because of all the work she’s doing for her MBA.” And while it is true that I would have smiled and nodded if I was just tired because I’d been out late drinking with my former college roommate, the fact that he said it and the fact that it was true gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. So yeah, I’m actually having fun.

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