This is the other reason I don’t like to give 110%. Whereas yesterday’s post was a little more philosophical in approach, I’m going to let this one get as ranty as it wants.
Let’s go back to my morning work routine. I often have to prioritize what tasks to do, how much I think I can accomplish. What products need to be stocked or moved, and which ones can just be faked up to make it through one more day. Sometimes I overestimate, scrambling until the last minute and the doors open. Other times I underestimate and finish early, either because someone came over to help me or the tasks I planned simply took less time than I thought. Do you know what thanks I get? I get a manager coming up to me and saying “Hey, could you go help so-and-so?” Not so much as a word of encouragement, or a congratulations on a job well done. Just a heartless, thankless shuffling of to the next task.
(Non-rant: Yes, I know that I’ve benefited from people who finish early to come help me, and that this is a way of paying it forward. But that’s not the point of this post.)
School could be this way too, although I was more of an overachiever back then (pre-college) and didn’t mind nearly as much. Finish an assignment early? Here’s another one! After all, if you’re not busy doing something, you might wander off task and start distracting other students. Maybe you finished so early because you didn’t fully understand the assignment (I usually did). Even if it’s clear you understood the work, we can’t have you doing something else. That might make the people still working or struggling feel bad. So here’s another worksheet!
Is it any wonder a lot of people have a habit of letting/making a task expand into whatever amount of time they’ve allotted?
Like I said, I didn’t mind this so much in school; I had a drafting class that I loved spending time in, so more drafting projects to work on weren’t a burden (except when I lost my floppy disk with all my extra credit). It’s only in the workplace, and especially at my current job, that I’ve really started to be bothered by this. After all, even if I finish early, I’ve already been working hard; it’s not like I spend my time lollygagging or taking cigarette-and-coffee breaks all the time. So I’ve taken to working hard but not too hard, as I talked about yesterday. If I find myself finishing early, I’ll try to take more time on some of the smaller details, even if those details involve meticulously sweeping or carefully straightening up product. On the really bad days I’ll even cultivate a “I’m going somewhere and have stuff to do” walk to fend off predatory managers. Even if it won’t help me in a case of direct observation, it might let me slip into the background.
It’s like I’ve said about grad school: “I’m learning a lesson. I don’t think it’s the one you want me to learn, but I am learning.”
That was one of the first things I learned in elementary school. Good at an assignment? Now you get more work than anyone else has to do, just because you got done first! I assume, as you said, it was because they didn’t want to have random students bored but didn’t want to move them ahead either, because students who finish early will do so over and over, pushing them well ahead of the body of the class. Now if I’d been given some kind of reward- a coloring page, puzzle, or a new book, instead of another worksheet with new numbers for the same problem, I might have tried harder. But there’s no point when there’s no reward- I got a BETTER reward for dragging it out than I did for finishing early. “Beth is not working up to her potential” was all but pre-printed on my report cards until I got to high school, because I learned the lesson I was taught- not the lesson I was supposed to learn, though I often learned that too. But after the first time you go through 3 worksheets in the time it took 2/3 of the class to finish the first one, you start to realize that you’ve been screwed.
It was a good lesson for my work life too. Have enough work to do, do enough that you meet or exceed basic expectations, but don’t set that bar too high. Be Scotty about it- always multiply estimates by at least 2, if not 4. If you finish super early under a crunch- you’re a miracle worker. If it drags longer than anticipated, you’ve still met expectation. It’s not exciting, but, really, what job is? I find it saves me time and energy for when I go home.