As I See It: The Donking Life
July 17, 2006 Victor Rozek
It’s summertime and the song tells me the living should be easy. And I want to believe it. But it’s Monday morning again and the fish aren’t jumping and the cotton is only high because my shorts are riding up. It’s going to be a long day and I’m already thinking about next weekend, feeling distracted, restless, and bored with my job; wanting to avoid doing it for as long as possible.
When that wave of restlessness engulfs me, obligations seem nearly intolerable and sameness becomes the enemy of sanity. I mean, how many times can I do the same thing before I start yanking the balls off computer mice? Same-o, same-o. Been there, done that, got the PC. Already I’m glancing at the clock and it’s only 8:15 AM. It’s going to be a marathon, and I don’t want to run.
Have you ever had one of those irredeemable days; a day when you feel compelled to avoid work for reasons that aren’t completely clear? Maybe it’s a character flaw, or a passive-aggressive way of punishing your employer, or perhaps it’s just native laziness. Maybe it’s a seasonal disorder, or the body’s way of slowing down and resting or, for all I know, it could be a spell cast by an evil wizard. All I know is, the responsible part of me must be hiding somewhere in the garage because when I’m spinning in the I-don’t-want-to-be-here vortex, I look for work avoidance strategies, intent on ignoring my responsibilities, and defiantly, if covertly, donking-off.
It has a childish, petite rebel quality to it: They can make me come to work, but they can’t make me do anything. OK, they can make me do some things, but today they can’t make me do them enthusiastically. When I’m in this donking state, I feel a sense of entitlement sustained by a yawning tendency toward indolence of the sort practiced by teenagers (who says the young have nothing to teach us). If the building were on fire, there would be no hurry. On such days work becomes a pile of dirty laundry, and I know it will all be there when I finally turn my attention to it.
Over the years, I’ve observed my own donking tendencies and that of coworkers. For many, I think, the tendency began in childhood classrooms where it was called daydreaming and roundly discouraged. So it moved underground where it became polluted with resentment and a dash of cunning.
In the workplace, Donkers come in a variety of flavors with a mixture of motivations. Some flatly don’t like work (by design, those folks are often unemployed and are therefore free to dislike work on a full-time basis); some just want to delay the experience of mind-numbing repetition (which can be tricky because if they delay it too long and too obviously, someone in charge will notice, and then they will have to endure the mind-numbing repetition of sending out resumes and going to job interviews); and a few have mastered their job, are over-ready to move on, and have simply given up (those who should have moved on years ago but haven’t are either masochists or tenured and probably deserve what they get, but that’s food for another article). And some are just having a bad day.
Even though I love my job, still there are days I just don’t want to be doing it. What I want, in those situations, is a day off. Instead I settle for an off day. Not nearly as satisfying, but alas, the choices available to donkers are limited. Idle is as idle doesn’t do.
So here’s some of the work avoidance strategies I’ve noticed. I can’t take credit for pioneering them, but I can be blamed for using some of them from time to time.
At work, you’re either in a state of locomotion or you’re not, and both states offer opportunities for donking-off. When moving about, donkers never make one trip when two will do. When they get coffee, they come back to their desk and act frustrated that they forgot the sugar. They go back for the sugar. (Some will go back a third time for the creamer, but that’s pushing it.) They have the uncanny ability to remember to forget something in their car. If they park as far away from the building as possible, a trip to the car can last almost indefinitely. Once there, a resourceful donker can call his bookie, and listen to the ball game on the radio for a while. Snoozing is trickier unless you have a fail-safe wake-up strategy. Should a donker be caught napping, especially at his desk, he will look indignant and offer some nonsequitur: “Dawn is the time when men of reason go to bed,” he’ll say. The fact that he stole the quip from Ambrose Bierce does not deter him. True donkers are too busy donking-off to invent their own quips, and most people have never heard of Ambrose Bierce anyway.
Donkers know that the bathroom is a tiled oasis in an industrialized desert. A great place to read the newspaper or a couple of chapters of War and Peace. They go there often. Of course, older men with prostate problems have an advantage. They can go seven or eight times a day. But who really knows how large your prostate is? And donkers wash their hands like surgeons going after every last germ (computer keyboards are apparently germ factories and they can’t wash their hands often enough: good hygiene is all). Then, a final check in the mirror (here, women have the advantage; hair care, makeup, and fingernail inspection offer great opportunities for work avoidance), and its off to further distraction.
When moving, donkers will walk briskly, suggesting purpose and urgency. They practice looking focused. Often, they will be seen carrying papers or a briefcase; it adds gravitas. People won’t know where they’re going, but will assume it’s somewhere important. If they work in a large installation, between getting coffee, going out to the car, visiting the bathroom, and wandering around the facility, donkers can pretty well sail through to lunch without making a single meaningful contribution.
Speaking of which, lunch is never long enough, so successful donkers extend all breaks and lunch hours. They leave a little early and return a little late. As managers have always known, business lunches are huge donking-off opportunities that can easily double the length of your lunch break. Whenever possible, donkers schedule offsite meetings just after lunch. With any luck, they can donk-off the other half of the day and no one will know what they’re doing. They typically roll in at five minutes to 5 PM, briefcase and papers in hand, looking spent.
When not in a state of locomotion, the computer is a great donking-off device, and the Internet browser is a superior work avoidance application. Staring at a computer, particularly if the screen faces away from potentially unwanted visitors, gives the appearance of concentration in the service of productive work. Donking-off requires some misdirection. Strategic donkers never read their screen leaning back in their chair with their feet propped up on the desk. They lean into it, brow furrowed, hand poised over the keyboard, always ready to switch screens to something work-related should curious eyes happen by.
Using the Internet is trickier. Many companies track employee Internet usage, so if a donker wants to surf porno or NASCAR sites (you can always tell the difference; one gets boring after five minutes, the other after two), they do so at their own risk. Using someone else’s computer is a good alternate strategy, especially if the donker doesn’t like the person. When a coworker tells the donker, “Did you hear Bob got fired for surfing porno sites?” he can feign surprise and say, “Wow, I thought Bob was a NASCAR guy.”
The key to donking-off is putting-off. “Mañana” is the essence of the donking-off strategy. When gripped with the need to donk-off, donkers take the attitude that tomorrow will become today, tomorrow. Then they relax, so you can’t.
If donking-off is a clumsy attempt at momentary escape, then the IT Jungle site provides a responsible means of achieving it. It’s work related. You can browse and read to your heart’s content, researching, keeping abreast of industry trends, amassing technical tips, while also indulging the donker in you. It’s a productive way to change your internal state; relevant and generative rather than passive and disconnected.
I’m always amazed when someone writes me complaining that one of my articles strayed from strict IT matters. That’s the point! Here may you find momentary respite, relief from programmed drudgery, and safe passage to a small island of distraction in a sea of repetitive experiences. Think of it as productive donking.
We all have bad days; days when the mind refuses to focus, and leaves us wandering about like a stunned accident victim. Like it or not, we’re going to be unproductive. There is no labor without leisure, no uptime without downtime, no busy-ness without idleness. There is a Fijian proverb that says, “Idleness is to be dead at the limbs but alive within.” Let’s hope so. In my own defense, I’d like to think that occasional office idleness provides an opportunity for the creative mind to regenerate.
So go pour more sugar in your coffee and dawdle over your Monday morning reading. Over two hundred years ago, poet William Cowper observed: “How various his employments whom the world calls idle.” Now there’s a guy who understood donking-off.