office-wise

Hey! You! Facebooking bang in the middle of a work day! Shut that tab and pay attention to this one! Because this tab is more useful. Sure, it lacks important quizzes to help assess your personality (‘Who is your spirit dwarf from among Snow White’s Seven?’ ‘What cat are you from ‘Cats’, the musical?’ ‘What Game Of Thrones character are you likeliest to date’? etc), witty emojis for sparkling conversation/ strategic trolling, or a Chat option for cathartic bitchfests. I’m very aware of the shortcomings of this tab, so here’s what I will do- I will liberally sprinkle it with SFW (Safe For Work) images that’ll get your boss thinking, “Hmm. This employee sure is being productive! Let me make a mental note of how carefully she’s staring at this complex graph, no doubt on track to accomplishing her Deliverables. Oh look- now she’s staring at a complicated pie chart. Good. Excellent.) Yes. I will red-herring the shizz out of this post, because I care about your career prospects.

Let’s begin with said random graph. graph 1 Done? I hope your stare was balanced just right between absorbed and befuddled– not glassy like a meth addict’s. Staring earnestly at a complex graph is one of the many surefire ways to a great appraisal. I will share many such lesser-known hacks in this work-and-workplace-themed post. Additionally, I will talk about the things that have inspired me and made me hungry for success. I mean that quite literally. Down the line, there will be something about feeling hungry at work and making a success of your lunch decision, whether it’s tiffin or takeaway. What were you thinking?

Career

Career Contessa is a great place for career inspiration if you’re a woman who indulges in healthy fantasising of the entrepreneurial kind. My biggest takeaway from this site is that a job need not be the logical sum of the parts that make up your CV; a background in a certain discipline, or work experience across consistently similar functions shouldn’t limit your quest for a great job. Did you know, for instance, that Google has a Head of Politics and Causes? That if you like numbers and analysis, Finance or Consulting aren’t your only options? Also, if you’re considering entrepreneurship even semi-seriously, you might want to cut your teeth at a startup first. It’s a good orientation to future challenges, plus you learn from the mistakes of others.

Speaking of startups, you might want to consider joining one. Here’s Sheryl Sandberg on why joining a small firm is worth the risk, since three out of four startups famously fail (italics mine)-

After a while I had a few offers and I had to make a decision (about which one to join) so what did I do? I am MBA trained, so I made a spreadsheet. I listed my jobs in the columns and my criteria in the rows, and compared the companies and the missions and the roles. One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure there was actually a job there at all. Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage? And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies. So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spreadsheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria. He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, Don’t be an idiot.  And then he said, Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

Clearly, there are unbeatable merits to joining a startup, but there is also a science to it that one shouldn’t ignore. Consider these few things before joining an early stage startup.

Made it this far? Good. Boss still lurking in the background? Worry not! Below is a pie chart with tiny, dense lettering. It’s actually a breakup of US Aid by country, but your boss doesn’t know that! Bosses love and thrive on tiny, dense lettering. They mostly pretend they don’t, telling you to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) when you show them your draft slides for approval. The creative ones tell you to ‘kill your darlings’. But secretly, they’re thinking, “That employee- she’s a smart one. Such information-packed slides! So little time to present!” Have you noticed how the font sizes grow and the text-to-visual ratio shrinks on slides as the presenter moves up the hierarchy? What does this prove? Font size is a direct measure of your worth as an employee. Small, near-unreadable sizes on a presentation mirror your own lowly minion status. Since you’re not the CEO, your slides will not boast the poetic beauty of stock images. You will not dare to present a five-slider with successive solitary visuals of an upward arrow, a suspiciously clean road branching into two smaller roads, two bubbles posing like a Venn diagram, a suitcase spilling gold coins, and a close-up of two hands in a firm handshake. No. Your slides will be thirty-sliders thick and messy with small fonts, excel tables, and pie charts so fragmented your computer doesn’t have a colour for the 109th slice. Not to mention the twenty hidden slides, in case someone wants a ‘deep dive’ into the numbers. Here’s our red herring pie chart. I want you to stare at it the way your boss stares at his phone when you’re talking to him- fixedly. Obliviously. At this point, he’s thinking, “What a busybee! Let me click a picture of this engaged employee to show to HR at our next Personnel Overheads meeting. That’ll show ‘em!”

pie 1

Attitude This section is just a laundry list of wonderful links that will get you to stop in your tracks, and think about what you’re doing at work. Or not doing. I mine it regularly myself for perspective.

On not falling into the comparison trap

On the many types of burnout, and what you can do to cope

On being a smart career woman

On why Germans work fewer hours but get more work done

On the best, most sensible way to go about finding a fulfilling job- (see it here if the video doesn’t play)

And finally, using this brutally honest self-bio by artist Barbara Krugers as a template to make my own, for purposes of introspection- barbarakrugersCoping

How do you cope with rough workdays? My methods involve consuming vast amounts of subversive humor.

Scott Adam’s books are easy-breezy to read, unputdownable and will make you laugh so hard you will cough up your intestines despite having had an ugly fight with your boss about leaving work late (he wanted you to leave even later, at midnight) You can buy them here. Have fun identifying workmates and situations as you flip through the pages!

The Office (US version) is a wildly funny, extremely relatable takedown of corporate work culture. Starring the very characters you encounter daily- incompetent boss, kiss-ass colleague, evil archenemy, trusty co-conspirator, lazy intern and a secretary who wants nothing less than your soul in exchange for necessities like new stationery or an unbroken chair for your workstation. To get a feel of the series, you can watch these montages of the opening scenes from two seasons here and here.

I’ve added a few of my own to this comprehensive list of horrible business jargon. ‘Opening the kimono’- really?

And then, there’s *drumroll* this Tumblr called ‘It’s Like They Know Us‘ that heaps sarcasm on cheesy stock images of working women. My favourites-

mom1

“Mom, I’m getting kinda hungry…Hey, um, Mom, you’ve been stirring that empty pot for 2 hours. Is the stove even on?…Mom? Mom? Mom…what happened to Dad?”

mum2

“My clients love when I bring the baby to meetings. My severe bun lets them know I mean business.”

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

“Mommy has a liiiiittle more work to do, so if you could just lie there dejectedly like you’re a model in some kind of weird high-end perfume commercial that would be great.”

mum4

“My children only contract illnesses during sunny daylight hours. I’m never startled awake at 2am by a loud hurking sound coming from across the hall only to discover my child rolling around in a pile of stuffed animals and throw up.”

mum5

“You’re right darling, this is convenient! I’ll just use my free hand to drink a scalding hot beverage over our squirmy toddler’s head. What could possibly go wrong?”

mum6

“Thank goodness my postpartum hair is so thick and shiny. It would be horrifying if it fell out in big gross clumps that looked like someone was grooming Chewbacca in our shower.”

A little break now, before our final section. One can’t be too careful. Below is an improbably complex Excel spreadsheet. Excel has a calming effect on bosses, even if the data has negative or unpleasant implications. Don’t believe me? Notice how bad news is never presented purely on Powerpoint. Slides titled ‘SALES TANKING’, or ‘SHARE ERODING’, with only a pie chart as visual accessory will make your boss self-combust with anxiety as the naked truth of these statements burns his eyeballs. The exact same data, presented on Excel, will get you only vague murmurs and vaguer actionable statements, followed by requests to hurry up your boring presentation so he can have a go at his five-tiered lunch tiffin. That’s what Excel is- the literal difference between a bad and a disastrous meeting.

excel1

Work Lunch

I’ve never understood why the work lunch experience is one of two polar extremes- horrible or wonderful- but never in between. It’s impossible to be indifferent to a meal in the office- you either love it or hate it, unlike mealtimes at home that are ‘meh’ at best. If you’ve been having a consistently bad experience with the office canteen or if your house help is away on leave, you could try one of these places for a delicious and healthy office lunch.

Let’s also tackle the more pressing food issue- indiscriminate snacking. Between 3 and 5 PM, productivity levels nosedive as hunger pangs try their best to rival birth pangs in pain and urgency. The following unusual snacks, each of which I’ve personally made and taken to work, take less anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes to put together in the morning, and score well on satiation.

Apple slices coated with peanut butter

Grapes and cheese (I usually pair big fat American grapes with blocks of Amul)

Roasted channa & raisins

Chopped tomato & cucumber & feta, seasoned with ground black pepper

Lazy egg and cheese sandwich, the best you’ll ever have- recipe here

Bread poha- recipe here

Curd rice- recipe here

Lazy puliogare, made with leftover rice from last night’s dinner- recipe here

This brings us to the end. I will do this with my favorite stock characters, four bald, featureless guys who star in any slide about collaborative effort. I’m pretty sure your boss is still puttering about somewhere near, so I want you to do this: Sit very still, and stare at below magical images with your chin scrunched up against the back of your hand. Don’t move, not even when your seat mate lobs a Nataraj eraser at your head. By now, a single tear is streaking down your boss’s cheek as he silently vows to give you an ‘Exceeded Expectations’ on Teamwork on your appraisal.

Sometimes, these guys lift giant jigsaw pieces in a workshop on retail merchandising titled ‘Pieces In Their Places’-eggteam

Sometimes, in the middle of things, two of their buddies sneak out on a smoke break and they’re left all alone to do the mock-merchandising-

eggpuzzle

Other times, in the middle of one of those forced ‘games’ at HR workshops that have you pick a letter that represents you best, thus opening yourself up to hoots of ridicule from your colleagues, they tote their letters dutifully. I wish I could find the picture of them standing so it spells M-E-A-T, but I can’t.

eggletters

..and again, those two loafers leave their teammates to complete the task. These guys, they’re just like us.

eggteam2

Hope you enjoyed this, devis. Catch you at the museum of links on Friday!

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