Spillage, people

When you work alone at home, something as trifling as a spill can derail your whole day.

I was having one of those bumbling days recently, where I spill and drop things and walk into door jambs. Sometimes the gravity field feels screwed up around here. Not my fault that we live on the Cul de Sac of Gravitation Variation.

While mopping up a small lake of coffee, I felt the fizzle of my morning ambition. Another workday shot. A long comatose afternoon of ceiling-staring and CNN opened before me.

I know I'm crying over spilled milk here, and that many of you would give your eyeteeth to work at home all day and spill stuff on your pajamas. But this work-at-home lifestyle has its hazards: It's easy to get sidetracked when nobody's watching. Whole days can vanish. You spill a little coffee after breakfast; next thing you know, the family's home, wanting dinner. Poof.

When you work alone, a spill is an event. It bites half an hour out of the meat of your day. More if the spill results in emergency laundry. Much more if you manage to soak a deskful of invoices ready to go into the mail. (Allow bonus time for cursing and dancing in place.)

Because you can't just leave it there, can you? A spill must be remedied immediately. You must swab it up and get every little speck so it doesn't leave sticky freckles on the floor. Then you discard the paper towels and/or rinse and wring out the mop. Put everything away. Deep breathing to calm yourself, then back to your desk, where you were working on what, again? Plus, you still don't have any coffee. Which means another trip to the spill zone in the kitchen--

If you work in a regular office, with colleagues, a spill becomes a group event. But, generally, it's over quickly and everybody can have a nice chuckle and, whew, catch our breaths and go back to work.

In a small office, your workmates may help you clean up the mess or, at least, offer their sympathy -- "Oh, (insert your name here), you poor, clumsy thing!"

At a bigger company, you make a token effort to throw paper towels on the spill, then call the janitor.

Higher up the food chain, you have your secretary call the janitor. Then you square your shoulders and stand staring out the window until the mess is removed.

After a spill at a big corporation, you pick up the phone and have all the carpet replaced on the fourteenth floor immediately. Then you claim a tax write-off for hurricane damage.

When you work alone, there's no way to turn a spill into a moneymaker for the company. Just the opposite. You lose man-hours, productivity, concentration, the flow.

You may curse the interruption, but it's important to keep a spill in perspective. Don't give yourself a heart attack. After all, it's not the Exxon Valdez. It's a minor spill, a blip on the radar of your day. No big deal.

Even if you spilled the coffee in your lap, how hot was it, really? It had been cooling on your desk for minutes. You'll survive. A bigger cleanup, maybe a dry cleaning bill, but hey these things happen. Hardly worth mentioning to your spouse at the end of the day.

But if you spilled on those invoices . . .

Oh, you poor, clumsy thing!

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