Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pleasure Centres and the Fine Art of Wasting Time

Yesterday I got up early to write.  I've made a deal with myself that if I'm up by 6, I can have cream in my coffee instead of milk.  That's been doing the trick, but I've noticed something else. 

I felt great.  I felt like my life was great.  I felt happy, and capable.  I felt like I do when I get off the elliptical trainer - a little high.  Endorphins, baby.

And that got me thinking about the brain and pleasure centers, and the ways we push that button to get the little dose of happy, just like a rat in a little maze.  All day, I noticed the things I was doing to press that Happy Button, and I solved a mystery.  I really want to share it with you.

Every day I clear the cache in my internet browser, irritated at the sheer number of websites I've been to.  Many of them are not work-related (you know who you are!) and therefore I know they are detracting from my productivity, which is ultimately contributing to the level of stress I feel.  I don't just mean the few minutes I take for my lunch, it's more than that.  So why am I drawn back to them?  Why do I feel such a need to connect with friends and other writers, even to the point of checking the same blog more than once a day?  Why do I have that stupid habit? 

Because it's a Happy Button!  Because I'm here at my desk, probably annoyed, or bored, or worried.  I want to feel better.  I want a fix.  I want to press my Happy Button - so I click a link.  Just one.  And one more.  (I can stop any time I want to!) 

And before I know it, I've wasted maybe ten minutes.  Maybe more.  And I do this any number of times during the day.  And I know I was not as effective, efficient, and productive as I could have been, and I end up feeling unhappy about that.

So I eat chocolate. Another Happy Button!  Yay!  Like the little rat in the lab, I go for these artificial doses of "It's all right" and "Life is good."  And now that I see it I feel so stupid.  It seems so obvious now.  Am I the only one here?  Do you have these things too?

Today, I woke *before* the alarm went off at 6.  My coffee was made, my computer was on, and I was clacketing away at new words (850!) before the kids were up and we all had to get ready.  I am happy, and I think I'm on to something here - a more authentic happy.  A more productive, effective happy.  And if writing can give me that, I'm in!

Knowing this, I'm most of the way to beating it.  I'm not pretending I won't browse my favourite hangouts while I'm eating lunch, but I won't mistake artificial amusements for real occasions to feel good.  Recognizing what I'm doing when I'm lost and rattling around, I'm ready to change that.  It's a simple formula, after all.  Productivity -> Accomplishment -> Happiness. 

So keep an eye on your happy buttons too.  They're sneaky!

Monday, January 25, 2010

More fun with customers

On Saturday Blonde Co-worker, my sister and I were quietly plugging away at our various duties here at work: filing, researching, cleaning, labelling - that sort of chilly January Saturday stuff.  The phone rang, and my co-worker answered it.  The following conversation is verbatim.  Really, I swear.

"Good Afternoon, Itsy Bitsy Computers."
"Hello?  I can't find your door."
"We're at XYZ...oh, are you in the parking lot?"
"Yes, I can't find the door."
"Straight ahead.  Just walk straight ahead.  See me in the window?  I'm waving at you...."

My sister and I are looking now too, out the large retail window at the front of the store.  There is a neon sign that reads OPEN, and it's right next to, you know, the door

The woman is standing in a parking spot just about 12 feet from said door, cell phone to her ear.  "I just don't see..."
"Look up."
I swear, she looked up.  At the sky.
"Never mind," said my darling employee. "I'm coming to get you."  She stepped forward five paces, and opened the door.
"Oh!"  says the woman. 

You know what else?  She was here on Tuesday.  As in, four days previous. 

Poor thing, now that's a bad day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's that 5%...

I've heard it said that it will be 5% of your clientele that takes up 95% of your time and energy, and after 15 years running a computer shop, I can tell youthat's true.

We have a wide customer base, a lot of customers have been coming here for years and have long since quit nickling and diming and shopping around.  They know that my prices aren't usually the lowest but they are reasonable, and the quality of our work and our customer service makes up for it.  These people come, we do the work, they pay, they go.  These people are not in the 5%.

Yesterday, I got a call.

"Hi, Cindy?  It's Eddie, remember me?"
"Eddie Benedict."  (Not his real name, obviously)
"I know the name....?"  I have already, by this time, looked for him in my Quickbooks customer list, which dates to 2004.  I do know his name, but he is not there.  So he hasn't been in for more than 5 years.
"Yeah, well, I used to buy, like, everything there." 
"Right.  So, can I help you?"
"I need a 160 Gb IDE laptop drive. 
"Those are in stock at $89.00."
"$89? Really?  Another place has them for $77.00."
"Mmmhmm?"  Meaning: So? Go there, if it matters to you.
"Oh, well.  Is there any charge to install it?"
"Yes, the technician will probably just ask for a $15.00 service fee."
(Laughs)   "$15.00 for a few minutes' work.  That's pretty good pay!"

I'm silent, because I really don't need this.  I have other things to do, I just want him to go away now.  We do say thank you, goodbye, but then HE SHOWS UP IN MY STORE.

Blonde co-worker meets him at the counter.  "Hello, may I help you?"
"Cindy knows what I want."
"Sorry, Cindy is busy with paperwork right now.  What do you need?"
I am busy with paperwork, a tax remittance that is nearly a week late.  It is not done because I keep getting interrupted.  He grudgingly tells her what he wants, and asks if the technician will install it, and is there a fee for that?

Now, I'm listening.

Co-worker says yes, there's a $15 service charge.  Eddie asks to talk to me.  We begin with polite greetings, and then he says, "Cindy, I don't understand why there's this charge.  I used to have things like this done here all the time.  You didn't charge me then.  It's a very small job to do."
"And it's a very small fee to ask."
He looks blank, so I decide to take a minute and help him understand where I'm coming from.
"Eddie, the industry has changed a lot.  You might have noticed there aren't so many stores any more?  Costs are up, and the profit margins are down, so we need to charge these fees now if we're going to continue to be here."
"Well," he says, "that has nothing to do with me."
Wow.  Nice.
He's upset now, because he really expected me to give in.  "Well, you've lost me.  You lost me when you started to insult me."
I looked at co-worker, and she shrugged.  "I don't remember saying anything insulting."
"Well, I could have gone somewhere else, but I came here out of loyalty to you." 
"Eddie, we haven't seen you in quite a few years."
Huff, bluster.  "Well no, but I've been recommending you."
"Well, thanks."  Does he recommend me because I do good work, or because I do FREE work?  Let's watch and see....
"Well, that's done then.  I don't know what to say to you, Cindy."
"I don't know what to say to you either, Eddie."

And that, unfortunately, is the attitude of a lot of people in business these days.  There is little or no emphasis on loyalty or good working relationships with customers - UNLESS the customer wants to try and use it as a lever to get better prices or free service.  THEN, we find ourselves talking about loyalty.

DH and I discussed it at supper.  It's sad to say, when we built our business on service and antiquated notions like the Good Faith principle.  The fact is, return customer or no, these days we have to make sure we're getting paid for the job at hand, because even the repeat people often show up with a Dell they bought at Future Shop.  The notion of loyalty exists, but it is not a working system any more.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More thoughts on balance

I left the preschool this morning thinking Uncharitable Thoughts.  I try not to do that, but sometimes there they are.  I try to remember that I am so very blessed, but sometimes I know that and I don't care.  Just for a minute.

It's those women.  I see them all the time.  They know each other, and so they've dropped off their kids and they're standing in the parking lot talking about going to the movies or having lunch, and as I walk past them they smile politely and I smile politely and I hate them.  Just a little.  Just for a minute. 

And you know, it's not because they go to the movies, or out for lunch.  I don't care about those things.  It's because they have time to stand around and talk, and they can plan their own day to include the things they want to do.  It's a kind of freedom. 

So I'm driving down my street trying not to put my car in the ditch while I'm hooking up my phone to the thingy, and I'm stewing because I want that.  That time.  That freedom.  And if I had that I would do such important things.  I would tickle my children.  I would smell their necks in that secret place where they still smell like babies.  I would write my story.  I would bake cinnamon buns and promise to use the elliptical trainer tomorrow. 

But poor me, I work.  I'm a grown up and I have to help pay the bills. 

And that's why most of the time I don't mind.  Most days I can remember why I do this and why it's not so bad.  I have a world class husband who works day and night to make my life so good.  I'm not a single parent working two jobs with nobody to help me.  I am not kidding when I say I have it good.  So it takes me by surprise when I feel this surge of resentment, when suddenly I'm ten years old and I want to know why I can't have the same thing those women have. 

Sometimes I write these posts and I erase them, because I come to a point when I see so clearly how trifling and self-pitying and ungrateful it all is.  Today, I won't erase it.

Today, I think I'll have a look at those feelings and be reminded that I have to be vigilant.  It's easy to let life go by, swept along by the needs of your family and your job.  It's important to fill all these roles in your life until they overflow with all the joy and goodness that you can bring.  But it's also important to follow your dreams, even when it means setting a boundary or two of your own. Those feelings aren't for nothing.  They're telling me to keep trying.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It's Be A Jerk Day!

Apparently, it's Be A Jerk Day.  I had no idea, or I would have been all over this thing.

Like when Buddy emailed to say that the RAM he bought from me a year ago is not compatible with his mainboard, and I should have known that and I am the cause of all his troubles in the whole wide world ever since?  I would have pointed out in plainer language that first, I didn't sell him the computer, second, I've never seen the computer, and third, that's bullshit.

And when that other guy left me three messages about needing a laptop hard drive, and I had to listen to them ALL, and then he made a point of saying to me that he could get it cheaper elsewhere, I would have said "Thank you, Mr. Unnecessarily Rude, you do that."  (Because that is what I sound like when I'm being a jerk.  I'm Canadian.)

And when the new girl at the convenience store charged me $2.00 for the stale muffin, I would have told her to keep it and walked out of the store instead of being Nice and just paying the money and eating the damn muffin.

I would wear a shirt that said "DO I LOOK LIKE FREAKING GOOGLE?  DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!"

And when that little man took a whole hour picking out parts for his new computer, and I really needed to pee and eat lunch, and he was telling me about how he bought a house in PEI and his wife lived in it and he commuted from a different province for three years and then when he finally retired she GOT CANCER AND DIED, I would have said, "Ahem, will that be Visa or Mastercard?"


Actually, I'm glad I'm not a jerk. 

And the muffin wasn't so bad after I dunked it in my coffee.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gearing up, Grinding down

I find the first few minutes in my chair will often reveal the sort of day I'm about to have.  If the customers are well-behaved in the first half-hour, they'll generally remain so for the day.  Today is looking good, so I'm hoping to write 500 words in between my other responsibilities.  My goal for the month is 5K, and that's a stretch given my habits lately. 

In case you didn't hear me say it OUT LOUD, I'm finishing this draft by March 31st.  So feel free to lob me a right hook if you see me slacking and making excuses for myself!  (Dani, you especially.  Nobody can tell folks off like you.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I'm Back, Baby

Yesterday, a dear friend sent me a picture of an angel with this message:

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the ground each morning, the devil says, "OH CRAP, SHE'S UP"!

I laughed, and it made me feel good.  And this morning on the way in to work, I was thinking about how I feel so much more energetic this week, more capable, more effective.  Of course this message came to my mind, and I thought: That's right Baby.  I am an agent of good things in life.  I am making it happen. 

Maybe I was a little drunk on coffee, you think?  Yeah, I think.

So, I hope you've found your mojo.  I hope you're making it happen for yourself and the people around you.  I hope you have someone who is making it happen for you.  Have a great day!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Happy Freaking New Year

I should be working.

Ideally, I should be working my ass off.

Actually, I am presently on the phone informing a client that when he installed his RAM he bent pins in the socket and now it's fried. But in my heart, I am not working today.

I just am not feeling this place today, I want to write. I want to read. I want to bake. I want to sit in the rocking chair with my daughter. I want to lay on the carpet and play battleship with my son. I want to have a beer and play Wii with my husband. I do not want to calculate and reconcile the actual value of my inventory. I do not want to calculate and remit the electronic handling fees from December, or the effing HST, for that matter. I don't want to prepare any of these various files for my year end.

But even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to do any of those things. It's the blessed people. Coming in. Calling. Emailing. And always with the ever loving questions.

I could take the time right now to tell you how lucky I am, how beautiful Christmas and my baby brother's wedding was, but I'm not in the mood. So go ahead and assume all that, okay? I'm going to stomp away in a snit now and that's how it's going to be.

So there.