Coffee Break

My hours have been short the last two weeks, so I’m not really sure I deserve to let myself have a coffee break yet – but here I am, and there’s coffee, and my desk looks like a tornado hit it, so I think I’ll just sit down here for a bit and ramble semi-coherently online while I toast my employer (it’s his birthday today; I’m celebrating by quietly sipping coffee…there, I justified it, and it beats just pouring the coffee out on my desk, which I am sorely tempted to do at the moment).

I’ve been away from my desk a lot this month with my back acting up again.  There are some things I can do from home, but not enough, and what I need to do from here gets backed up if I have to be out more than a day. (Plus, I like being *here* to do my work and *home* to enjoy my family.  I need that separation, as much as I can have it.)  I’m looking at some software upgrades that might allow me to expand what I can do remotely, since this nonsense is getting more frequent and lasting longer every time.  That’s on the to-do list for this afternoon.  This morning has been devoted to some long-needed reorganization of my desks. (Yes, plural; I have three, one for each category of my job.  Two are next to each other, the other one is in a different part of our office.  It’s not always convenient and I’d probably move the things in it and the storage cabinets that go with it to my other desks if it weren’t material for a shared job with someone else.  I’m territorial enough not to want them to invading my other workspaces every time they need a file – which is really only going to happen for about for about three hours once a month, but it would make those hours very inconvenient for the other person, and our spaces are small, and I like to do my work and let them do theirs without us having to cuddle every ten minutes for those two hours, and I like to say “and” today.)

I reorganize every year, usually in January.  I like to go into the year with my stacks of papers in order, so I can find things and access things and forward things.  My job is to shuffle paper around.  It’s not usually very interesting or fulfilling, but it pays the bills and gets everyone else paid, too, so it certainly could be worse (heh, that’s literal – part of my job is paying the bills and writing out the paychecks).

This was never the kind of job I saw myself in. (I wanted to be a truck driver or a teacher or a ballerina or a polar bear.  I still kind of want to be a truck driver or a teacher or a ballerina or a polar bear.)  I’m not really cut out for nothing but administrative work.  I’m told I do it well, and I certainly try to (I figure, if I don’t want to be doing it in the first place, I *really* don’t want to have to do it twice, so I’d damned well better do it right the first time), but it’s probably not what I’d have sought out if I were going out to find my dream career.  I’ve worked other places, and although the benefits of this job far, far outweigh those I had elsewhere, I found more enjoyment in the work itself when I was working in retail and restaurant settings.  Before I came here to work full-time, I spent a few years as the assistant manager of a retail store, then a few years as the general manager of a retail store, then a little over a year as a middle manager of a fast-food restaurant (one step below our general manager), along with some other part-time retail positions.  I loved those jobs – they were fun, and the people I worked with were (mostly) fun.  During some of those years, I worked part time here as a receptionist to give their only other day-time staff member time to do some other work uninterrupted (for a few years I worked 3-4 jobs at a time, usually working 18 hours a day 5 days/week, 12 hours on Saturdays, then 6 hours on Sundays…because I wanted to).  I took two years (mostly) off to be a stay-home mom when X was born, but did some remote work for this office when we lived out-of-state and then when we moved back I did temp work here, filling in when the regular staff all had to be out (training, sick kids, school conflicts, etc.) or there were some projects that needed extra hands (like when we had to upgrade to new locking shelves; I spent a week rearranging the back of the office and building cabinets.  I loved it.).  When the main receptionist had to be let go, I agreed to be a longer-term temp until they hired someone new.  Weeks turned into months.  Every time I asked how the hiring process was going I got a non-answer, and after about six months I just accepted the unspoken agreement that *I* was the replacement.  The Clinic Administrator we had then was part-time (we had a larger staff to delegate to in those years); she had (and still has) a successful law practice, so typically only came in for a couple of hours on Friday mornings.  During the week, we would all put things on her desk (based on what she deemed to be things that needed to be handled by her; client deaths, denied claims, things like that).  By Friday morning, there were usually more piles than desk – her chair would be full; the floor would be used; the desk covered with stacks on stacks of charts, envelopes, and other miscellanea (her desk was already stacked floor-to-ceiling with folders and piles of paperwork dating back to the 70’s, when the clinic first opened, so to be fair, there wasn’t a lot of open space for us to fill…but I’m not exaggerating when I say that what open space there was typically had almost 2′ of new stacks of charts and other paperwork added by the end of the week).  It wasn’t long before those piles began shifting to my desk.  Her Friday hours became shorter – she came in to go through the stacks on her desk, then move them to my desk before I came in.  Bit by bit, more of those stacks found their way to my desk until everything but her mail was waiting for me on Friday mornings (with her long gone, meaning I’d have to call her at her other job to ask what to do with these things I’d never seen before…the standard answer was “figure it out” and a hang-up, so it didn’t take long for me to just not bother calling – and this was how I was trained to do my job.  No wonder I always feel like I’m doing things wrong and just don’t know it yet.)  With her encouragement, my desk became the new her desk – the other staff members knew that everything they put on her desk made its way to mine anyway (it was impossible not to notice, we had desks all in a row with a cubicle partition between them and had to walk past each others spaces several times every day), so they’d often just bypass hers altogether instead of having whatever they needed wait a week or longer for her to funnel it to me.  Instead of putting raw data on her desk to be processed, we began leaving a note saying “FYI – [x happened/needed to be done], so [we handled it this way] and [this was the result].”  This went on for a few years, then while we were in the process of restructuring the clinic, she left without giving notice (thankfully, she told someone else there that she was going to do it and they were kind enough to let me know [her goal was to see how long it would take for us to notice she had quit]) so I could take over the rest of the tasks she had been doing without screwing over either of our doctors.  (I’m still grateful that she chose to make herself available for some of my questions after that; I got a crash-course in setting up a new medical clinic [with the state, the federal government, and all the insurance companies] because we were in the middle of filling out and filing the paperwork for everything when she left.  It took me a week just to find the forms she’d been working on on her desk, then I had to figure out how to finish filling them out, where to send them, and what I needed to do in addition to what had already been done [I missed a couple of things, but was lucky enough to find myself working mostly with people whom I had developed good rapport with and who were more than willing to be flexible and work with me to correct my errors]…all while going to school full-time, getting a divorce, still managing the day-to-day operation of the joint clinic [because one doctor refused to have any breaks in his outpatient practice, so still saw a full patient schedule 6 1/2 days a week; the only day he took off from patients was the Sunday that he finished moving out of our office space and into his new one], dissolving the joint clinic, and helping the other doctor’s new office manager in setting up their new clinic, too.  I was in waaaay over my head.)  And here I still am.  It’s a good job, great benefits, and I’m lucky to have it, even if it’s not the kind of thing I look forward to doing when I get up every morning.  At least I can watch bad TV on Netflix while doing data entry, or listen to music, and I get to look forward to going home and reading my books or doing something arty/crafty some evenings.

Rats, no more coffee.  Time to go back to organizing my desk-forest.

I think I need a plant on my desk.  (And to stop taping scraps of paper to my wall, that’s just a mess…but I digress.  Again.)  I might need to make some room in our budget for a little greenery here.  (I’d love to bring in a terrarium with a frog or two, but our lease says no pets.  Spoilsports.)

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