A major peril of office work is project assignment. If you thought aimless drudgery was bad, wait until you experience the planned, monitored kind. Projects donâ€™t alleviate tedium â€” they simply schedule it. Deadlines, progress meetings and status reports add nothing but an artificial sense of urgency.
Scheduling forms a big part of project work. Expect to spend at least two days a week planning, reviewing your plans and fabricating your timesheet to make it look as if youâ€™re working to plan. The main purpose of scheduling is to somehow squeeze a weekâ€™s work into the few days remaining after the scheduling is done.
This is impossible, of course. The result is panic, guilt, stress and more scheduling. Ultimately, you pay the price by working 60-hour weeks on a 40-hour salary. Then, when chronic exhaustion takes its toll, you become even less productive. But the scheduling process makes no allowance for this, because the project team is in denial.
Ideally, at this point, you could quit. But there are other, less drastic, options. For example, whenever your manager asks you to estimate the time required for a task, always multiply the realistic figure by five. They will whine and moan, but you must stand your ground. Never accept an estimate of less than triple the time you think itâ€™ll take.
To help you stand up to your manager, remember that scientific research is on your side. In the 1990s, researchers at Sussex University in the UK conducted a five-year study into Task Completion Wishful Thinking Syndrome, which concluded that tasks always take longer than we expect.
This is, apparently, a universal human trait. From wallpapering a room to developing a new fighter aircraft, we all tend to underestimate how long a job will take. We never learn from previous missed deadlines or modify our expectations of performance.
The flipside is that weâ€™ll look back at any given period of time, and it will seem that weâ€™ve accomplished embarrassingly little, relative to expectations. As a result, most of us go home every day feeling guilty. Managers then have an easy time emotionally blackmailing us into overtime.
To assuage your guilt, familiarise yourself with the Law of Snafu (Situation Normal: All Fouled Up), which states that no project ever completes on schedule. Those which appear to do so are, by definition, not really complete.
A corollary is that project managers live in a dreamworld. No amount of hard work can overturn these laws, so why bother? Chronic under-productivity is as certain as gravity: and so never feel ashamed of it.