Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Having the Grind Nature, f(Confidence), and Balanced Living

The thing about the daily grind is, it's inevitable. No matter how good your job is, no matter how much fun you have doing it, you're going to have days where working is, well, work. Whether this sudden aversion is the result of performance falloff, low traffic, or an allergy to routine, you're going to have a few days where working isn't such a good time. This is when all you MMORPG players (especially those of you who play EVE Online) are going to start to feel right at home... you already have the grind nature.

Having the X Nature is a common construction in certain internet-connected subcultures. I could explain the etymology, but it's effectively just a roundabout way of saying that someone or something possesses the given trait. In this case, having the grind nature means that you are attuned to the nature of slogging through things that might not necessarily be fun, like the 40th iteration of a "kill X bugbears" quest or the fifth or sixth haul on your asteroid mining run. While the grind is most often associated with gaming, anyone over the age of about 20 knows it applies to work as well. There are any of a number of ways to prepare potatoes but every cook knows just how boring it is to make roasted garlic mashed. I sell tea and tea products for a living, and if you were only going to get three teas and one cast iron pot, there are 18, 821, 880 permutations of that transaction... and yes, calculating those probabilities is one way I keep myself entertained when we're bored... but anyone who has ever worked retail knows there's really only four or five rockstar products you earn in the run of the day.

So how do you get the Grind Nature? There's a certain extent to which that question has no real answer, in the sense that there is no one trick that will imbue everyone with that mythic level of patience. Again, you see this in how different people play different games. I like to chat when I'm grinding on MMORPGs, especially ones that require minimal player intervention, like EVE. At work, I get around Grind Nature by making it a game. Work's boring? Find a way to score it, and then beat high score. Sometimes this solution leads to interesting consequences like the construction of eight-sheet Excel Workbooks for tracking job performance. Shooting for high score continually moves the goalposts and a competitive nature can allow one to push themselves into higher and higher brackets.

Of course, I mentioned performance falloff for a reason. As near as I can glean from talking to people, job performance falloff is the main reason they feel like they're stuck in a grinder, and this attitude is a negative feedback loop. Succumbing to the bite of performance falloff usually results in laziness and this just breeds more falloff, especially if the initial cause of the falloff was external, like decreased customer traffic or increased competition for individual metrics. When I worked in tech support, we called this the Stupid Sunday phenomenon - the call time of each individual agent maps inversely to the number of agents on the floor.

It is important to remember that in virtually every field, performance is a function of confidence. We simply do better at our jobs if we are comfortable doing them, and all the fancy tools and specialized knowledge in the world won't help a person who doesn't trust their own work. In retail, this is because confidence and charisma often map to each other. In the trades, this is because one needs to be able to function well without outside intervention.

Of course, the main way to develop the Grind Nature is to have an outside release from the grind. MMO players often find this through PvP interaction - in the real world, we like to go to bars instead. Still, one must be careful about what their chosen release from work is. While no one behaviour is inherently bad, over-relying on it it can be. Bar evenings are fun, but so can be an afternoon trip to the gym or the pool.

What do you think, readers? What's your best way to find work-life balance? Do you have the Grind Nature?

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