Hurry blurry

Here's the daily tempo for the typical American worker:

You're late. Hurry. Get settled and get to work. Hurry up. The phones are ringing. You've got way too much to do for all these distractions. Hurry.

Now wait. No, wait. The rest of us aren't ready yet. OK, now go, hurry. Wait. Wait some more. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Wait.

Lunch. Eat quickly. Chewing's overrated.

Back to work and go faster. Hurry. Wait. Hurry. Wait. Hurry. No, wait a second. Nobody will return your calls. There's one. Hurry. Wait. Hurry, now, NOW. Go, go, go. Red light. Wait. Now go as fast as you can, faster than you've ever gone before. Wait. No, not yet. Wait for it. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Wait some more. Check the clock. Hurry, hurry. Wait.
Go home, you're late for dinner. Better hurry.

"Hurry up and wait" used to be something we'd say when we were trying to be funny. Now, with multi-tasking and high-speed communications and national productivity fever, it's become the rhythm of our workdays.

The pressure's on for us to jam as much work into each day as possible. There's always more where that came from. Finish one project and immediately launch into the next. Deadlines loom. The only answer is to go faster.

Even those of us who work alone at home are dependent on others. We need clients to return our calls. We wait on colleagues to finish their part of the project. They're always late, so we have to rush to make up the time. E-mail lets us communicate as fast as we can type, then our day is frozen while we wait for replies.

Speaking of computers, they're the best example of the "hurry up and wait" syndrome afflicting the modern worker. Type up a document as fast you can. Wait for the computer to save it. Hit more buttons. Wait. Run spell-checker. Wait. Read it over as fast as you can. Wait for another save. Wait while the machine dials up another machine so you can ship the document to wherever it needs to go. Go to Internet. Wait. Wait some more. Quickly type a Web address. Wait. Computer (finally) gives you message: "NOT FOUND," then locks up. Wait for the reboot, using the delay to mutter productive curses.

Workers nationwide are busy as bees, producing like never before, making a honey of an economy. We're on the team, ready to go fast. But the team has other members. Some are technological and some are real live human beings, more or less. It's hard to go fast when your teammates can't keep up. When your computer or co-worker or client is the metaphorical equivalent of a slow-witted waterboy with his foot stuck in a bucket, it's hard to keep the whole team moving.

So you wait. And wait some more, feeling the walls closing in. The deadline on one side, the bottleneck on the other. And you know it will all fall to you. You'll be working all night because your teammate's making you wait. Somebody has to make up the lost time.

It's like a relay race, where you're standing on the track, legs flexed, waiting for the baton. You're tensed, ready. If only that moron with his pants around his ankles would hurry up and get it to you.

No matter how organized you may be, "hurry up and wait" is out there lurking, ready to lock you into a holding pattern. You may think you can multi-task your way out of its clutches. Keep other tasks handy, so you can nimbly leap to another when one stalls. Successful people no doubt know how to do this; it's part of the reason for their success. But it's been my experience that if you have several projects going at once, they'll all meet critical meltdown status at the same time. Then you'll be up all night anyway, hurrying.

And then it's back to work, weary and bleary-eyed, as the new workload pours in. And you'll get started on it right away, fast as you can. And then you'll wait.

No comments: