Friday, October 17, 2008

Idiosyncrasies from another life

The question of the day, anymore, is “how is the new job going?” It’s not a question I am entirely sure how to answer. On one hand, I could say that the job is going wonderfully. I feel I am picking up my various responsibilities relatively quickly, and nearly everyone I have met in the office has been very nice. I am busy all the time, so the day passes quickly, and my tasks are just varied enough that I don’t get too bored doing any one thing.

That being said, the many tasks I am doing are all very administrative. I fax, print, copy, and pass information between people. I schedule meetings and keep guest checklists after emailing invitations to events I participate in planning. I take minutes at meetings and do my best to make sense of them afterward when writing htem up for the participants. I query databases. I make spreadsheets. I proofread the spreadsheets. I assemble them into reports. And in doing all of these things, I make errors.

I have a mental chalkboard for each humiliating error I make, and there are several bold white slashes already looming up there after only my first few weeks. It is hard to accept these as part of the “learning process,” because they seem such affronts to my view of my own competency. Still, I am trying to be patient.

The better question, as opposed to “how is the new job going?” is “what are you learning at your new job?” In response to this question, my mind immediately beings to assemble lists of skill sets: learning to write invoices, to use Excel, Outlook, Lotus Notes, AS400, the Wiley Portal. . . . Yet, if I stop and consider a fuller, more complete answer, I am also learning that old habits die hard. I am observing many little idiosyncrasies from my former “life” creep into this new Office Life, even where they don’t belong.

For one thing, I type like a pianist. This is not just to say that I hold my hands like a pianist rather than a typist, but rather that when inputting information into the computer, in instances where the average person might use a left click or a drop-down menu, I almost always use a keyboard shortcut. In fact, I have combined right-hand mouse work and left-hand key strokes to such a degree that they work in concert, almost like the pedal on a piano works in concert with both hands on the keyboard—independently and with a completely different motion, but toward the same goal. It’s quite fascinating to observe this in myself and one which I only discovered one day when I realized how differently Damian and I went about the same copy/cut/paste tasks. We were moving information between Excel and Word, and he would always use the left-click functions, whereas I only ever highlighted information with the mouse and then used my hands on the keyboard to do the rest. I wonder if hands know how to miss an instrument.

Another habit I am finding hard to break is my inclination to cite every piece of information I provide. Every time one of my bosses, or an Editor-in-Chief, or anyone, really, asks me a question that I must research the answer to, I have to resist the impulse to direct them back to the websites and the individual people from whom I garnered the answers. Initially I thought sending them directly to the sources may be a good idea, but then I realized that they don’t want me to waste their time. All they want is the answer to their question. If they ask me later how I found out, I should keep track of my sources for my own sake, so I can “prove it.” However, people in the “working world” don’t generally need an email with an attached bibliography. That’s for academia, and despite how closely I am working with academia—since I am working on neuroscience journals and current protocols, both of which involve professors throughout the world—I am still immersed in the Business, with Business People.

The last habit I am having trouble overcoming is my tendency to try to finish assignments before they are due. Usually, this would not seem like a bad quality. After all, it is never good to fall behind schedule, and what better way to avoid falling behind schedule than to complete all tasks ahead of schedule? However, in the working world, or at least in the publishing world, information changes to rapidly that in order to offer the most up-to-date figures on any report, one must create the report as close to when it is due as possible. This creates all kinds of stress for me, since I have never been the kind of student to write term papers 24 hours before they are due. I prefer to begin months ahead of time, to wade through the material, to create outlines and drafts, and to copyedit and proofread right up until a week beforehand, when I breathe a sigh of relief and hand the thing in so I can go study for some other test.

Now, I am multitasking all over the place, with everyone’s calendar layered on top of my own calendar, and I can’t even check things off, because they aren’t allowed to even be started until such-and-such a date for fear of having outdated information show up on the report. “What sort of life is this?” the student in me asks. “You didn’t sign up for this sort of stress!” But then again, no one asks me to stay until 8p.m. any evening to finish that last story or get that last piece of copy to print, so I shouldn’t complain. If I don’t get home until 9 or 10p.m., it’s because I was out with the Harriers running team or playing volleyball at the Chelsea public gym. Like I said, old habits die hard.

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