Working on a Schedule

Making a plan and sticking to it.

I just made the 3-hour drive from Wickenburg to Howard Mesa. Once again, I was driving Mike’s big Chevy diesel truck and pulling the horse trailer with both horses inside. Alex the bird was riding up front with me (in his lucite box, of course) and Jack the dog had the whole back seat area to himself, with the seat pushed up out of his way.

My last trip up here was interrupted by some personal business down in the Phoenix area. Mike and I had to load all the critters up and bring them home. There was nothing pressing this past week at the office — I’m between computer books and don’t need to start my next one (a revision of an Excel for Windows book) for about a month. But in all honesty, I dreaded making that long trip again. Finally, today I could put it off no longer. Mike went to work and I loaded everything up again. (And believe me, it isn’t easy hooking up a horse trailer by yourself, with no one to help you get the ball right under the hitch. The trailer weighs about 3500 empty, so nudging it with your foot is not an option.) We left Wickenburg at 7:45 AM.

I made two stops along the way.

The first was at the Cornerstone Bakery in Yarnell. This is a great little family-owned bakery that’s generally open on weekdays until the fresh-baked goodies run out.There’s seating inside and out and it’s a really pleasant place, with good food. Today, I picked up four things: a slice of pumpkin roll to eat in the car, a huge cinnamon bun, an “energy bar,” and a piece of peach bread pudding for dessert tonight.

The second stop was at the Safeway Supermarket gas station in Chino Valley. There I paid only (read that word with sarcasm) $3.01 per gallon for diesel. That’s still at least 8 cents per gallon cheaper than Wickenburg.) The pump shuts off at $75 automatically and that’s a good thing. Next week, if I take the truck into Flagstaff, I’ll fill up at the Maverick station on the west side of town, near Home Depot. Last week I bought diesel there for less than $3.00 per gallon.

On the way, I listened to podcasts. I went through all the NPR Business Story of the Day stories on my iPod — about a week’s worth. One of the stories was about Best Buy, which is trying a new working schedule system. Rather than forcing their office workers to sit at a desk from nine to five every day, they established the amount of work each employee must finish in a week and let their employees work any time they want — even at home.

It’s about time someone figured it out.

I played the corporate game for eight years — first with the New York City Comptroller’s Office Bureau of Financial Audit (5 years) and then with Automatic Data Processing (3 years) as an Auditor and Financial Analyst. People would show up for work on time then sit in their cubes or offices most of the day, with breaks for coffee, lunch, and bull and gossip sessions. It was difficult to get much done if you were a popular person around the office. People would be constantly coming to your door to chat about the weekend or what whosherface in the whatsit department was saying behind her boss’s back or the latest company-wide rumor or “How about those Mets!” Then there were always the people who were at their desks at 5:30 or 6:00 PM so that the boss would see them “working hard” long after “quitting time.” I wasn’t one of those people. I worked 8 to 4 when I worked for the City of New York and when I wasn’t on an audit in the field, I worked 8 to 4 at ADP. The only reason I knew about those people is when I occasionally had to stay late for a meeting. (I had one boss at ADP who liked to call meetings that started at 4:30 PM. Sometimes on Fridays.)

When I left Corporate America for a freelance career, I didn’t have to work on a schedule. I could work whenever I wanted to. The trick, of course, was to get the work done. When you’re a freelancer, if you don’t work, you don’t make money.

I’m fortunate in that I can get most things done very quickly. I routinely start article assignments on the day they’re due and turn them in before 2 PM. If I could write and sell one article a day, I’d make a very nice living — that’s because I’d write a week’s worth in 3 days and spend the other 4 days doing something else.

(I used to write articles for Informit when I worked for Papillon at the Grand Canyon. Every day I was a spare pilot, I’d sit in the “training room” with my laptop and knock off a couple of articles between control holds and lunchtime flights. I made more money on the days I was a spare pilot than on the days I actually flew all day. Go figure.)

People who can’t get things done at a reasonable pace or can’t get started because they have some kind of discipline problem should not be freelancers. In fact, they’d starve if they didn’t have a regular job.

Of course a freelance career has other challenges — like getting the work to do. Some people can’t do that either. It’s not always as easy at it might seem to be your own boss.

This Best Buy thing is good — if managers can set reasonable goals and employees can get the work done on time. Imagine the benefit to a single parent with a child in half-day kindergarten. Mom (or Dad) can work her (or his) butt off while the kid’s in school, then spend the rest of the day doing things with the kid. And what about those folks who do their best work late in the day or at night? Or people who live 60 miles from the office (as I did for a short while) and are driving a gas-guzzling SUV? (Don’t look at me; my car got 30 MPG, even back in 1992.)

Imagine the savings to businesses that adopt programs like this. If employees can work at home, they can reduce the amount of office space needed. The cost savings are incredible. Employees would save on commuting costs if they came to the office less often. (My sister spends over $250/month to commute from Hackensack, NJ, to her office on lower Broadway in Manhattan.) They’d also save money by buying less work clothes. Employers could even hire new people at a slightly lower wage because the employee’s cost of living would decrease — and his or her lifestyle would improve.

In the Best Buy piece, the reporter said that people had actually turned down promotions because the new job wasn’t on the new work program. That’s saying something.

It’s a tough pill for some managers to swallow. Managers are accustomed to seeing their employees at work — or at least being in touch with them directly throughout the workday. Some managers assume that employees aren’t capable of getting the job done without being watched over. For some employees, they might be right. Employees who need a babysitter to watch them work at the office shouldn’t be on a program like this. Only good workers who can discipline themselves to work when they have to and get the job done should be rewarded with this ultimate grant of flexibility.

I’m all for flexible work programs and telecommuting. Anything to give families more time together, give people more time for healthful recreational activities, and reduce our use of fossil fuels and highway traffic. (You would not believe how bad traffic in the Phoenix area can get; and I thought New York was bad!)

I hope Best Buy succeeds in their efforts and makes itself a model for other businesses.

In the meantime, the story gave me some food for thought. While it’s true that I don’t have access to the Internet at Howard Mesa, I do have my laptop. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t produce something while I’m up here getting away from the heat. So I set a goal for myself to write a how-to piece or other blog entry for this site at least once a day. And at least two articles for publication per week. When I meet my quota, I can goof off.

I pulled though the gates to my place a little after noon today. I unloaded the horses and let them loose to graze on the 40 acres of high desert grass. I set up the hose to fill their water trough. I unloaded the car, put Alex in his cage, and gave Jack some water. Then I made lunch. As I sit at the table writing this, a thunderstorm is moving in. It’s only 75° outside, I’m the only one around for miles, and I’m at peace with the world.

Tomorrow I’ll get to work.

As for this and other blog entries…don’t’ expect to see them appear on the site the day they’re written. I have a 20-mile drive to the nearest wi-fi hotspot. I’ll come down off the mesa every few days to send in my daily dispatches.

So I guess I’ll be commuting once in a while after all.

[composed at the top of a mesa in the middle of nowhere with ecto]

One thought on “Working on a Schedule

  1. “Working on a schedule” really hit a cord with me.

    Although I never have been a true freelancer, I have a special spot in my heart for the people who have been able to pull it off as a living. The closest I have ever been to being in those shoes was to be able to, due to seniority in my local government job, select a particular shift to work, flex my work hours on short notice and schedule the majority of my overtime when it suits me.

    Because the majority of my work time is, or at least should be outside the office, my time in my cube is at a premium. Nothing drives me nuts more than to have an employee of questionable production value show up at my cube only to announce loudly what undeserved atrocity has recently besieged them, usually by the employer..

    I also hope that Best Buy’s work/production (social) experiment pays off but if it doesn’t it will be one of two reasons or both of them; If the people management wish would promote don’t due to the promoted position not being on the “program” and a large amount of employees being less than productive and not getting their work done. I would think it would be tough to fire a lot of people at one time.

    As a specific example to the first reason mentioned above, my wife, who is a police dispatcher of 13 years service with the same city I have 22 years with, recently decided to promote to a supervisor position. When she had her interview with the Chief of Police as the final step in the promotional process, he told her he was glad she finally decided to promote and asked her why it took her so long to do so. She then told him that until now she did not want to give up her dispatcher seniority which would mean that she could no longer pick her shift, her days offs or fourth pick for vacation time, which were very important to her at the time due to her family obligations. As a supervisor, she would not enjoy any of those choices because the supervisors don’t have a say in any of those things. The Chief’s response to her was that he was in the process of getting rid of those seniority choices for dispatchers as he saw them a blockade to the best employees wanting to promote. Great management style!

    Those same reason have made me want to be a Patrolman for 22 years rather than a Sergeant.

What do you think?