Tag Archives: task

Kids These Days


Real life example of someone thinking he is the shit.

Once upon a time there was a little movie called Back To The Future 2 – This Time It’s That Time. Ol’ Doc Brown lands his DeLorean out front, picks up Marty McFly, then takes him on a ride to the future because Marty’s as-yet unborn son is in some kind of trouble.

Doc’s plan is for Marty to imitate his progeny long enough to resolve the trouble. Brilliant. What could possibly go wrong?

The whole plot of BTTF 2 is predicated on a cutesy throw-a-way line at the end of BTTF 1 when Doc and Marty have this conversation:

Doc: Marty, you gotta come back with me!
Marty: Where?
Doc: Back to the future.

Marty: Wait a minute, Doc. What are you talking about? What happens to us in the future? What, do we become assholes or something?
Doc: No, no, no, no, no, Marty, both you and Jennifer turn out fine. It’s your kids, Marty, something has got to be done about your kids!

I call this type of phenomenon Star Wars Syndrome. It’s what happens when your movie is so successful that a sequel becomes mandatory but something you thought was a cute detail at the time actually paints you into a corner and now you’re committed because the fans will only tolerate so much hinky nonsense with the storytelling. (Unless you’re J.J. Abrams, of course, then you simply don’t give a shit. You just stuff it in your Mystery Box.)

Because of this, when they made the BTTF sequel, they had to have the storyline be about a trip to the future – no matter what. And then, because of disturbances to the timeline, Marty’s father and girlfriend both end up looking like completely different actors.

I know! That’s heavy.

My point is this: In the future Doc Brown tells Marty to pull his pants pockets inside-out, because that’s what the kids think looks cool and if he doesn’t, he’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
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Boss Response to Task Complete


For the boss: I’m here to help

Pinhead bosses, perhaps intelligent in other aspects of their of their lives, become cripplingly stupid in the workplace. I theorize it is because the greed and power centers of their brain become so enlarged and aroused that they squeeze the thinking part right out.

Even the most mundane tasks, ones that you and I take for granted, can loom like a Death Star in that wide open galaxy of space they call a brain.

Boss: (whining) We’re not sell any of the THX-1138 widgets!
Employee: That’s because you never listed them for sale on the website.

It’s not their fault, really. They’re too busy doing important stuff like telling you what to do, like micromanaging how many rubber bands or pieces of tape you use. They’re only human and can only do so much!

That’s where I come in. I’ve decided to do the mature thing. I’m going to take the high road and forgive their foibles. I’m going to try to help.
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Project estimating: You want it when?

My boss used to give me projects. Lots of them. That was his specialty. It was pretty much the entire basis of our relationship. Him telling me what he wanted all day long. Delicious.

As a web site programmer, I pretty much had to “invent” a solution for every single thing he asked. No two tasks were ever exactly the same. The process was simple. Imagineer a solution, plan it, then do it making any necessary adjustments along the way.

Of course, the boss wanted to know up front exactly how long it would take. And that is where estimating came in.

Bosses love estimates. They may not understand the magic of what you do or how to do it themselves, but estimates are something they can understand. Then they can make “management decisions” based on what their “gut” tells them. Again, this is done without the luxury of actually knowing how you do what you do.

Let’s take a look at a typical example:

Boss: I want the web site to email customers a different email depending on if they order product A, B, or C.

Programmer: That’s easy enough. We’ll replace the standard order confirmation email with one based on what they order.

B: Great. How long will that take?

P: Unknown. It depends on several things. You need to give me a detailed project specification sheet (AKA “spec”). What will the emails say? What happens if a customer orders two or more of those products?

That’s usually where the process breaks down because, of course, the boss isn’t going to give you any of those damn things. He just wants to know how long it will take. Asking follow-up questions regarding your understanding of the task just makes you a pain in the ass.

Then, once you do give him an estimate, comes the inevitable follow-up question: What day will it be done?

P: It’ll take about an hour.

B: So you’ll have it done by Friday then?

P: That I cannot say.

B: You just said it will take one hour! That’s plenty of time to have it done by Friday!

Sure, but that means absolutely nothing about what day it will be done. For some reason, bosses seem to have a real problem grasping such a simple concept.

It works like this. You, the boss, control my entire day. You pull me off task to produce reports, work on other tasks, answer phone calls, drive downtown to pick up your mail, work the retail counter, ship packages, and attend bullshit staff meetings where you expound on motivational topics like we can all be fired, you make no money, and how you browbeat a poor elderly couple who run a hotel into accepting half their normal rate because times are hard. (True story.)

The math is simple and works like this: A one hour project (assuming that’s a valid estimate) will take three months if I’m given five minutes a week to work on it. Actually, probably longer, since there is overhead associated with switching on and off tasks so much.

A good analogy for illustrating “task switching overhead” is painting a wall. You have to get the color of paint needed, open it, set up your equipment and grab a step ladder.

Which method of painting do you think is more efficient?

  1. Paint an entire wall one color then move on to the next.
  2. Paint 5% of a wall one color, then switch to another wall in a different color, paint 5%, then return to the original wall. Repeat ad infinitum. (Add about 10 minutes of “switching” time each time you relocate.) Bingo! A one hour project now takes 10 hours.

For some reason, bosses always seem to think option #2 is the best one. Then, at the end of the project, they always demand to know, “What the hell took so long? What the hell is the problem?”

Indeed. The only problem was you, goddamn Bossholio.

Update: Math at work

Here’s a quickie update.

First, the good news: I turned in this project – in full – a day early and half an hour before the end of my shift. Note: This is actually bad news in disguise. Since I was able to pull a rabbit out of my butt, the boss will naturally tell himself, “See? I just have to challenge my workers and they’ll surprise themselves. Next time I’ll have to ask for even more.” BULLSHIT!

Now, the bad news: Any task between manager and employee can be misunderstood. That’s why I, as the humble employee, always take proactive action to increase the odds of success. I don’t wait on the manager to do anything about it. That would be dumbass.

Since this was a BIG project, I did a sample for the boss and sent it to him for approval before continuing.

The boss signed off on the sample saying, “This is perfect.” I still have the email.

This morning the boss hunted me down and informed me that it turned out to be, in fact, a little short of perfect. In fact, two columns of data on all 29 reports were not what he wanted at all.

Naturally I’m sitting here wondering why he approved the mother fucker if it wasn’t what he wanted.

My Mr. Spock personality informs me, “There are only two possibility, Captain.”

  • The boss is too stupid to understand the report and/or what he is saying.
  • The boss never bothered to actually look at the sample before approving it.

For a guy who is oh-so-worried about “efficiency” and how I spend my time every day, you think it would behoove him to take such a small step to ensure I didn’t waste hours upon hours of effort simply so they could be flushed down the drain.

Highly illogical.

Math at work Remember in school when they forced those damn story problems down your throat? It made you angry, right? Because you just knew shit like that would never apply to your life. What a monumental waste of time. Maybe not. I woke up this week and somehow summoned the force of will to slog my pitiful self down to The Shithole. Not long after I clocked in I began to analyze the scope of the day that lay before me. Mondays are never good. The shit piles … Read More

Math at work

Remember in school when they forced those damn story problems down your throat? It made you angry, right? Because you just knew shit like that would never apply to your life. What a monumental waste of time.

Maybe not.

I woke up this week and somehow summoned the force of will to slog my pitiful self down to The Shithole.

Not long after I clocked in I began to analyze the scope of the day that lay before me. Mondays are never good. The shit piles up fast and customers are out in the world pounding their redial buttons on our voice mail until they get a human. When the phones roll over at 9am The Big Fist of Life says hello to your butt. Mondays are wonderful.

I was grappling with this sort of reality when the boss stopped by for a little chat. It’s never a good thing when you on one of the first things on his plate.

“Ummm. Yeah. I’m gonna have a little task for you. I sent it in email. If you could just go ahead and make that a priority that would be great. Thanks!”

Yes, for me, the movie Office Space is an autobiography.

The email delineated the boss’ needs for the day. It seems the so-called “management retreat” is coming up and the boss wants a little information in the form of some reports. This is so they can make the Big Decisions. You know, like the one’s they made at last year’s Management Retreat that got us deep inside our current pickle. It sure feels good knowing these brainiacs are in charge of the company’s destiny.

Anyway, I digress. The big retreat is Wednesday. He needs his reports no later than Wednesday morning. OK, let’s see what he’s asking for.

The boss wants 29 reports. Each report will contain monthly data (that will also be summarized) for 19 months. That is the 12 months of 2009 and the 7 months in the books so far for 2010. So that is 19 monthly reports for each of the 29 different category reports.

I need a calculator. I can’t do this in my head. 29 overall reports each containing 19 monthly sets of data that will need to be pulled. That’s 29 times 19 which equals … Five hundred and fifty one reports!

Motherfucka! Now that is a real life application of a story problem.

Not satisfied, though, I quickly extended that data out into some real-world numbers. Let’s assume each data set took me one minute to pull, copy and format. That would be of a minimum of 551 minutes for this task. 551 divided by 60 minutes per hour equals 9.2 hours! And my boss has thoughtfully provided lead time of two work days to get this done. Nice.

Here’s a little chart I made to estimate this task:

1 min per data set = 9.2 hours overall task time
2 min = 18.4 hours
3 min = 27.6 hours
4 min = 36.7 hours
5 min = 45.9 hours

Yes. If it turns out that it takes an average of 5 minutes to pull a data set then I only have to get 46 hours work of work done in the first two days of this week.

Presumably the boss has an actual “need” for these reports. (Laughable concept, I know.) That’s why this guy who walks around the office calling himself the “super genius” is so damn smart. “I know,” he wisely said to himself. “I have a 46 hour task for something I really need. Therefore I’ll give my ass monkey two work days to get ‘r done. Good thing I knew about this retreat months ago.”

I was supposed to be pulled from other duties yesterday to work on this all-important task. Yeah, right. We all know how that works. Employees disappear and then come to me and beg me to do their duties. “I’m busy. Can you take the order for this guy on the phone?” Also, “get out on the floor and wait on those customers.” And this was after the boss had told them to leave me alone! LOLZ! It was a typical Monday with the phones ringing off the hook. For added bonus we had a record number of in store customers who hit the doors the moment we opened and never stopped all day long. The other employees, who all have pressing tasks just like me, took the brunt. The boss doesn’t feel that we need dedicate personnel to cover the floor so when employees are out there for hours their other shit (like shipping orders) is not getting done. A lot of orders didn’t get shipped yesterday.

Oh yeah, Monday was a good day.

So I busted my ass, did what I could in the time allotted, and completed 12 out of the 29 major reports that he wanted. That’s only 41% progress on day one. I’ve got one day left. And I concentrated on the easiest reports first. This project ain’t getting done.

Guaranteed failure and putting your ineptness on display is a great way to demoralize and destroy your employees. Well done, Mr. Lumberg.

Boss tutorial: assigning tasks

The boss is a nitwit fool. Daily I’m amazed that he actually somehow had the intelligence and competence enough to create and run this company. It’s simply mind-boggling.

I’ve blogged plenty of times about how he routinely sells items for less than what he paid for them because he doesn’t feel it is worth staff time to update prices on our web site. Riiiiight. Now you hopefully understand the mentality we are dealing with here.

If there is one thing above all else that the boss loves it is handing out we. He just loves assigning “tasks” as he likes to call them.

This morning he assigned me one. If your goal is to Destroy Your Employees you can’t be just all willy nilly about it. Using task assignments to damage, confuse and demoralize your employees is much like revenge – it’s a dish best served cold. And it also takes a bit of planning to be done properly. Task assignment shouldn’t be wielded like a blunt instrument. It should be subtlety finessed so that intestines will splay over the greatest possible distance following employee disembowelment.

I struggled to come up with a workable example of this morning’s task fiasco and this is what I came up with. I’ll tell you right up front it’s a lame example. But it works.

Boss: Tom, I want you to take 26 blocks, one for each letter of the alphabet, and put them on this shelf here, all in row.

Me: Aye, Captain.

The boss’ instructions sound simple enough, eh? Amazing I was trusted to count up to 26 all by myself. (For once no micromanaging.) And I even had one of each letter. Being a fairly intelligent fellow I had no problems so far.

But then I realized that his instructions fell short. The bosses around around here often fail to provide enough detail to properly complete their tasks. You either have to stop and seek “direction” or fill in the gaps on your own.

In this particular case he failed to specify if the order of the blocks made any difference to him. Since he didn’t specify, I thought about it for a moment, and said to myself, “Might as well put them on the shelf alphabetically.” It seemed like a logical way to do it to me.

My task done, I moved on to other important matters like having the phone shoved into my ear and shaken James Bond style to completely scramble my brains.

Some time later the boss looked me up and said, “Hey. You did that task wrong.” He always put things so nicely. I can tell he really cares about my feelings.

“Eh? ORLY?!?” I screamed into the abyss. Which is another way of saying I didn’t say a word and silently accepted his thrusting.

“Yeah, I wanted ‘Z’ to be the first letter and ‘A’ to be the last letter.” Try to imagine these words being said with the petulance of a small child, especially the “I wanted” part.

Well holy fuck shit dip wad! If that is what you wanted, why the hell didn’t you say so right up front? It’s almost like he’s playing with me. There is overhead involved in this task and now I get to redo all that overhead … again. Is that efficient? Hardly. So I returned to the shelf and swapped the ‘A’ and the ‘Z’.

Problem solved, right?

Nope! Then the boss hunted me down again and said, “I also wanted the ‘J’ to come after the ‘V’.”

Could there possibly be a more inefficient way to go about this? It is sure hard to imagine. So again I redid all the overhead involved in the task, grabbed the ‘J’ and stuck it directly after the ‘V’.

Of course, at this point, there will typically be at least one more directive from the boss, usually one that completely reverses an earlier order. I imagine this takes place even if everything is to his liking if only for the sole purpose of fucking with me. In this case it was something like, “OK, now reverse the ‘A’ and the ‘Z’. I want the ‘A’ to be first and the ‘Z’ to be last.” This is usually accompanied by some sort of sneer, as if to imply, “Geez, what a friggin’ moron is Tom. What the hell was he thinking? Having the letters in that order didn’t even make sense! I better put a reminder on my iPhone to micromanage his ass more for awhile. Good thing I personally checked this out or everything would have gone completely to shit.”

The real icing on this cake, however, is that either way wouldn’t make one bit of friggin’ difference. Not in a million years. The only difference it makes is in the imaginary world the boss has created in his mind. But it makes the boss feel important to decide things and, not only that, to make me run around implementing his decisions. I imagine he goes home at night, kicks off  his shoes, and thinks to himself, “Wow. I really managed those employees today!”

I’ll abandon my dumbass example now, but I think you get the point. And the sad thing is, I’m not exaggerating or making this up. Not one little bit. And I’ve got the chat logs to prove it. Maybe someday when it is no longer necessary to give a shit about protecting my job at this company I’ll publish the boss chat logs in a book. I’ll name that book “Required Readings for the Extreme Masochist.” Subtitle: “The Machiavellian Workings of the Little Boss Brain.”

Yeah, I rather like the sound of that. Perhaps his idiocy can be used for something good after all!