Fewer than five seconds had passed and already a major decision was required. I’d just stumbled to the chest of drawers to silence my alarm, and I stood a short while to regain my balance and review my options: soap and hot water to keep me going for several hours; or back to the comfort of my duvet?
In the 1980s a simple, “I’m unwell”, message required no further explanation – as bosses did not see the point in forcing employees to choose between the truth (“I’m hungover”, “At Wimbledon”, or, “Being interviewed for a new job”) and a lie (“I was summoned to court as a witness”, “I injured myself saving a small child from a run-away truck”, or, “My two friends in the lead canoe were captured by mountain men and made to squeal like pigs”).
But thirty years later personnel departments (now called Human Resources) arrange back-to-work interviews to ensure employees are well enough to return to work, which which would be comforting for the employees were it not for the terror they inspire.
In the end I decided, whatever was wrong with me, I was not sick – and so I headed for the shower.
My breakfast routine had been the result of critical path analysis. I filled a large coffee mug with skimmed milk and placed it in the microwave for three minutes. I then used that time to switch on the espresso machine, get the coffee capsules out, and weigh porridge and milk into a bowl.
I readied myself with the bowl in my right hand; and at the ping leapt into action. With my left hand I opened the door and removed the coffee mug; and with my right I inserted the porridge, closed the door and started the microwave for a further three minutes. Phew – pressure off! I worked the espresso machine and even had time for a couple of sips of coffee before the porridge was ready.
The television news tells me that polling has opened in North Korea, and that Kim Jong-un is expected to win. I wondered if my journey to work would be as pointless as a North Korean’s visit to a polling station.
Elections in North Korea are held every five years and all votes are are cast in secret, which is both true and misleading at the same time. Candidates to ‘contest’ the 687 seats are chosen in a mass meeting of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, who agree on one candidate for each seat, which means that each ballot paper shows only one name.
Everyone over 17 is obliged to vote and in a private voting booth may either tick their ballot paper to approve; or cross out the candidate’s name to object.
With a population of 25 million counting needs to be efficient and accurate, and to help this along approvals and objections are placed into separate ballot boxes. Obviously, it is vital that voters cannot confuse the approvals box with the objections box, and to they are placed some distance aparts; and polling station staff, with cameras and machine guns, are on hand to help voters who might still be confused as to which box is which.
I went through my checklist for leaving the house. Wallet, Phone, Keys, Pass, Kindle, Glasses. Actually, there was no longer a kindle as the joys of reading during the day had vanished when my South West Trains commute to Westminster had given way to a car-bound journey to Milton Keynes. It had been replaced by an iPad with which I could read if I wanted, but which would more likely be used for emails and internet research.
I get to my car on time, but there’s ice on my windscreen to be scraped off. The pressure is back on, as for each one minute of delay, my ETA is pushed back by two.
I don’t know why Mondays are the worst morning of the week for traffic. Perhaps the number of commuters is decimated during the course of the week due to stress induced illness? Anyway, I was not surprised to arrive at work forty minutes later than my SatNav had promised.
I’m lucky to have a career I enjoy. I’m a business analyst working alongside team of software developers. I learn as much as I can about how my customers work and discuss with them ways in which their processes can be improved, with the help of technology. And I share this information with software developers so that we can build a system that will be well received. Information also flows in the opposite direction, mostly when the software developers explain that I have either set them an impossible goal, or missed a more obvious solution.
My customers at that time worked in the greyhound racing community. Good people who cared about the welfare of the greyhounds and regarded their industry as a sport. But at times the voices of animal rights activists, as well as some of the less appealing aspects of gambling, were difficult to ignore. Nevertheless, I had a full and promising task list, and as I looked forward to a day of problem solving and discussion, I counted myself lucky to be there.
The morning went pretty well. I dealt with a number of new issues and managed to clarify some things to the development team. I had enjoyed myself, and people seemed pleased with me, but by lunchtime I had yet to make much progress on my task list. Still, enjoying my job is more than enough compensation for failing in it, and I headed off for a large skinny latte and tuna melt panini, with a spring in my step.
My lunch-time port-of-call had been chosen not just for the coffee, but for the opportunity to catch up with personal emails. But as I logged onto their WiFi I heard two alert tones, each telling me of an email that must have been sent during my ten-minute walk from the office. They were both work related. The first started, “Dave, I know you’re at lunch, but…”, and the second started, “Dave, I don’t want to worry you, but…”. My personal emails had just dropped a couple of places on my priority list – which was fine because, as I said, I enjoy my work. Honest.
I returned to the office to find that there was now a 90-minute meeting in my calendar that had not been there before lunch. My project manager wanted us to meet with the lead developer, to discuss some enhancements the customer had requested. In the meeting I clashed with Project Manager on whether we should accommodate these requests; I clashed with the lead developer on how we should accommodate these requests; and they clashed with each other whenever one or other of them agreed with me. We were all just doing our jobs, but it seemed that we had conflicting objectives. I finished the meeting with a sense of frustration that would not go away, and contributed little to the project for the rest of the day. I excused myself early in the hope of getting past some of the more serious bottlenecks before too much traffic had built up.
But traffic was slow and soporific, and in the interests of road safety I pulled into a Motorway service station for my third coffee of the day; and to save time I bought a sandwich and some goodies so that I could eat dinner in the car. The caffeine, coffee, protein and sugar-coated carbohydrates did what they were supposed to do and staying awake at the wheel ceased to be a problem.
On the car radio I listened to The News Quiz, a BBC Radio 4 comedy panel show that provides an outlet for funny, articulate, witty and intelligent people not only to make the audience laugh but also to make each other laugh. Now they really are lucky to have those jobs, I thought.
I arrived home with another of my headaches. I did not know if it was due to the stress of the afternoon’s meeting or the lengthy car journey. But whatever the cause, it also seemed to be present in my neck.
My osteopath had given me a set of neck exercises and stretches that are at their most effective when performed under a hot shower. And so I headed to the shower for the second time of the day and emerged fifteen minutes later without any neck pain or headache. I then, again for the second time of the day, contemplated my duvet. I knew it made sense to go to sleep right away. It would make tomorrow’s work/duvet decision so much easier. But the day was incomplete. Why? Because I had yet to do something of my own free will. Everything I had done had been necessary for work or, in the case of the motorway service station coffee, to guard against a potentially fatal car crash. And so I headed downstairs to watch an an episode of Revenge.
But as well as being restless for some leisure I was also exhausted; and I found it difficult to concentrate. I regularly paused the programme for one reason or another: to check mails; to play a game on my smart phone; or to jot down some notes for work, tomorrow. Switching off is difficult, but I accept it as an unavoidable consequence of enjoying my work so much. It takes me over two hours to watch a one hour show.
Eventually I climbed the stairs one last time and went through my routine: teeth; setting the alarm; ibuprofen; 20 minutes in the semi-seated position on my bed with the mattress set to vibration mode; and finally adjustable the leg and head risers for an optimum night’s sleep. At some time, probably around midnight, I fell asleep.
I woke up twice in the night. The first time I had only minimal back pain and managed to get back to sleep quickly. The second time, it felt like the night, but it was in fact the morning; and I was stumbling to turn the alarm off and then take my first decision of the new day.
Watch out for further episodes to find out what other pressures were on me; how long I could continue to believe I was enjoying my work; and whether my morning routine could be made more efficient by peeing in the shower.