Thursday, September 15, 2011

Working hard or hardly working?

This week is Georgia Telework Week. Georgia's governor actually did something reasonably sane (or at least innocuous) not long ago, and signed a proclamation declaring September 11 through the 17th Georgia Telework Week. Employers are supposed to encourage workers who can do so to work from home. Large Nameless Agency announced it was encouraging all division managers to have everyone who could telework do it for two days. Sounded good to me.

So here I am, at home, in my jammies and bunny slippers, so to speak, "teleworking." Or I would be if I had anything to do. In one of those typical feast or famine situations LNA is so good at creating, I have no work to do. I'm caught up. If I were sitting in the office, I'd be doing almost the same thing I'm doing here -- wandering around the Intertubes, playing an occasional game of Sudoku, and maybe writing a personal letter or two, but with the additional factor of being grateful my monitor isn't visible from the office doorway. I've always thought teleworking would be a good thing to do -- after all, I can do nothing at home and get paid for it as easily as I can do nothing in the office for 8 hours.

I do occasionally wonder how one of my colleagues manages to stay sane. He's fast, too, and is always well ahead of the production schedule. The issue we're supposedly halfway into editing right now is November, but, like me, I know this guy is already into his January assignments (all one of them, at this point; the Editor in Chief needs to pick up the pace on accepting stuff). I think he meditates a lot -- or has mastered the art of sleeping with his eyes open. There are times when I wander past his office, glance in, and he's sitting there in some sort of trance, looking like an android where someone's flipped the switch to Off. I at least keep a stash of magazines in a filing cabinet so there's always a copy of Orion or Smithsonian to fall back on. I don't think my colleague does.

I'm never really sure if the reason I manage to stay ahead of the game when it comes to work is because I'm halfway good at what I do and reasonably efficient, or if I'm really, really bad. The performance reviews we get at work are completely meaningless, so who knows? The criteria for "fully successful" are all purely subjective; there are no metrics. I do know I tend to edit light -- I don't change an author's words just because I would have said something differently; as long as a sentence is understandable and grammatically correct, I'm probably going to leave it alone -- but I also know that I see stuff, major howlers, that my colleagues missed in galleys . . . and they all supposedly agonize over an article for many days before deciding it's ready for production. I never agonize. I figure if the authors are happy with what they see in the edited proofs, it's good to go -- it's going to be their names on the title page, not mine, and I have no desire to step on their voice.

At least with the journal, the gaps with no work whatsoever are fairly short. We're a monthly, stuff comes in all the time, the lulls are relatively infrequent. That wasn't true of my first two years at LNA. I was assigned to a workgroup in the writer-editor services branch (which no longer exists, but that's another story) to work as an "author's editor." LNA has a policy that every article for external publication, every research piece the scientists submit to journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, Clinical Infectious Diseases, etc., has to be checked by an actual editor before it can be cleared for submission. They want to be sure that not only is the science accurate, but that LNA's researchers aren't going to embarrass themselves with bad writing. It was not a bad gig, I got to read some interesting material, but the work flow was totally dependent on when/if LNA researchers submitted something for clearance and requested editorial services. I'd get one thing at a time, for example, a 2500 word article on tuberculosis and drug resistance, and be told I had three weeks in which to edit it. Three weeks! To check a ten page paper. It was a project that in most cases could be done in a few hours -- a full day at best. I never did milk those projects for the full time allotted, but I also never turned them in as soon as I finished them. I've had tadpoles before, and I know how production quotas work. Besides, you never know when you're going to get handed something that's sufficiently nasty that it really does take ten times longer to finish than you thought it would. 

In any case, I'd finish a project, let my team lead know I was ready for something else. . . and then I'd sit. . . and sit. . . and sit. . . day after day waiting for something else to land in the In Box. There is a reason I became the Sudoku Queen of Corporate Square. When the journal advertised for a copy editor, all the experienced editors in my work group, including my team lead, told me not to apply. "They work really, really hard over there." "The deadline pressure is horrible." "They're just overwhelmed all the time; they can't keep up." It sounded pretty damn good compared to being paid to sit and stare at cubicle walls 8 hours a day.

The work load is a little heavier, but it's also totally predictable -- the journal is a monthly, so we all know that every month each copy editor will have a minimum of 7 articles to edit, more likely 8 or 9, and that we all have one or two other responsibilities. As publications go, we don't have a particularly brutal production schedule, nor are we understaffed, at least not on the copyediting side. It's pretty easy to keep up with the pace of production once you're oriented to the schedule. The only mystery is how good or bad the articles will be, i.e., how much clean-up will they need. Some research shops run like well-oiled machines -- their principal investigator has overseen enough submissions to our journal that the papers come in formatted exactly the way our style dictates; they're close to publishable without us doing a thing other than running it through our software for formatting. Others are a mess. I've seen a few where the initial impression is "This is written in Klingon." Most fall somewhere in between. 


  1. Or I would be if I had anything to do.

    Well, I don't have any problem with you going fishing in bunny slippers.

  2. My situation is similar, but not quite as extreme. It's either feast or famine. I've taken on a ton of extra duties on committees and working groups to make it a little less tedious.

  3. Friend of mine (heavy duty policy analyst) finished an estimated six month project in six days because it was his bailiwick, he had all the data or knew where to get it fast. He has the paper fleshed out in his mind before the assignment meeting was over. His reward? Recognition that he was good - after 10 years. And a free coffee which he hasn't seen yet.
    Enjoy your days at home.

  4. I would much rather be busy than not. I am good at working from home. I stay on focus pretty well - no bunny slippers, though.


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