First in, freak out

First in, freak out
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First Published: Thu, Sep 09 2010. 10 37 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Sep 09 2010. 10 37 PM IST
Do you sometimes get the feeling that nothing exciting ever happens to you. Everything worthwhile and newsworthy only happens to a friend of a friend. It is always friends of friends, or cousin of a friend or the friend of a neighbour’s yoga teacher who are winning lotteries, catching fashionable diseases, buying Infosys stock back when it first listed, getting a seat on the Delhi Metro and so on.
Just a general observation. Context being this: sometimes friends of friends say the most profound things.
Like yesterday. This is what a meta-friend said: “You know what? I’ve just begun to realize that my experience of a day at work changes wildly depending on when I get in. Come in at 9.30am, as I am supposed to, and the day is just average. But come in 15 minutes early and I have a mind-blowing day. Every spreadsheet smells of lavender and vanilla, and every meeting ends with the board room looking like a Benetton ad.
“Come in 15 minutes late, on the other hand, and I punch someone in the face before lunch. It’ll end up being the most awful day. I end up going home upset, I snap at the missus, therefore eat cereal for dinner and sleep outside on the balcony along with Pinky, our Doberman.”
I know. What self-respecting company starts at 9.30 in the morning? How can they possibly get any work done? What is their HR manager’s email ID? Perhaps we should have a stern word along with a copy of our resume?
But, seriously, the man does have a point. Occasionally, I find myself being the first person to come into work. (I am usually the last person to leave. If you were wondering.)
But when I do, the feeling is really quite satisfying. The office is tranquil. The printer is free. You can browse whatever you want on the Internet. The air conditioning is delightfully chill. And, if you are having hardware issues, you can walk around testing and then swapping mouses, keyboards, swivel chairs and monitors. (Career Tip: You should come in early once a quarter solely for this purpose.) (Fun Tip: If you have co-workers who sit really close to each other, you must try cross-connecting their mouses. Wholesome entertainment.)
There is also the enhanced productivity. With no one else around, especially subordinates, it is a good time to sit down, focus and get things like Twitter and Facebook out of the way. Doing this when other people are around, I have been told but have never experienced, can create feelings of guilt and obligation. What moral authority do you have to scream at the subordinate wasting time on YouTube?
There are also certain strategic benefits to early arrivals. For instance, suppose your boss wants to see a report from your team that morning.
First you should work with your team all night to produce the document. Then convince everyone to come in late the next morning as a reward. However, you alone must come in early, have a print-out ready, and wait for the CEO to turn up. As soon as he/she does, give him/her the report before he/she even settles in.
The CEO will be impressed. Tell casually that “the report took all night to prepare” and that “I wanted you to see it first thing”. The boss may ask you where your team is. Say something along the lines of “It was a team effort boss. Everyone pitched in. In different quantities. Forget that. Look! A purple giraffe reciting U2 lyrics! Sorry. Must be the sleep deprivation...”
This is a fool-proof strategy also because bosses usually remember the individual who emailed or hand-delivered a report. But rarely the people involved in actually preparing it.
Most importantly, however, I think coming in early allows you to operate without the distracting presence of other human beings. Shudder.
The mere presence of some people in the office can kill your enthusiasm.
That fellow there, a VP at 28, reminds you of your slow meandering career path. Notice that woman there? She goes to the gym every day, does power yoga, and likes to talk to you about it. Don’t look now, but that guy behind you humiliated you at the office party dance-off. Not to mention that new MBA trainee who is chatting with the CEO. You’ve seen his salary slip. And you don’t like it one bit.
All around you are reminders of your professional, physical and bhangra-related shortcomings. Little wonder then that when you get your office to yourself, free of homo sapien distractions, your head is held high and your mind is without fear.
Coming to think of it, I think most offices would be more productive if people got a few minutes of solitude each day. So that they can check their emails or massage their spreadsheets or whatever. Safe in the knowledge that no one is watching over their shoulder or judging them.
However, there is one downside to this early morning strategy. Eventually someone is going to come to office even before you do.
I just hate people who do that. How desperate are they? They should go get a life. And arrive after you.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Sep 09 2010. 10 37 PM IST