the joys of administrative work

Posted: January 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

There were several things I was going to be when I grew up – that didn’t change much over my childhood.  I was going to be a teacher, or a veterinarian, or a writer, or a secretary.  The veterinarian option went out the window when I was in high school and decided I hated science.  I suspect that wouldn’t have been the case if I’d ever had a science teacher with the passion about science that my English teachers had about writing, but maybe I’m wrong.  My desire to be a veterinarian was driven in the first place by my great love of animals, which kind of faded into “meh” once I wasn’t around animals all the time.

In the years since then I’ve done all three other jobs at one point or another – teacher, writer, and something like a secretary.  I’m not surprised to love teaching; that one isn’t a circumstantial thing.  It’s my number one spiritual gift, by a lot.  Not doing it as a “job” never reduces my passion for it, and I never stop thinking about ways to present things that will help people understand them.  I’m not surprised to love writing; you maybe already read the other day how much I love to read and that’s been true for as far back as my memory goes.  From early on, I was watching my world around me and writing stories about it in my head.  If no one ever read a word I wrote, I’d still need to write.  It gets the noises out of my head.  It teaches me about myself and others and helps me know what I know, that I don’t know I know.

My desk jobs have never been all or only stuff that fits my understanding of what a secretary is.  Still, I am continually surprised at how much I love things that read as “secretarial” to me – administrative work, in other words.

There are the things that are about bringing consistency – a task I fell in love with at the desk of the YMCA was comparing the roster of a local employer that had a membership contract with us to our own member list, and finding where it didn’t match.  There were endless “little” jobs like that; I loved the quiet times, when I could hunt down and eradicate inconsistencies.  At my current job, last year I took on the job of updating information in the database that stores contact information on our residents and their loved ones.  It was a huge project that everyone agreed needed done, but no one really wanted (or thought they had time) to take on.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed conquering that problem.

There are the things that make sense out of a lot of information.  At my church, I create a lot of the service team schedules – some because they are my team, and others because I saw a need.  It occurred to me that a weekly all-church schedule would be a useful thing for me and others, who could pull up a single sheet for any given Sunday and know who is serving on any and all teams; I’ve had great fun getting those made and posted.  At my current job, my coveted collection of Excel documents take big projects and make them pretty easy and fairly quick.

There are the creative projects.  My supervisors at the YMCA knew that I would feel like I was winning a reward if they’d turn me lose designing a bulletin board, or anything that required using markers, scissors, and glue.  A supervisor at the City knew I’d geek out whenever she’d let me make signs and other fun projects on Microsoft Publisher.  At my current job, I get to write an article every month for the in-house newsletter, which invariably leads to awesome conversations with the residents.

There is the business of improving processes, which is a huge passion of mine that invades every area of my life.  I love finding a way to do things better, whether that means more quickly, more efficiently, more expansively, more clearly, or more thoughtfully.  I am all gung-ho about killing the waste of time and other resources.  I am excessively excited about making checklists and even manuals that make it possible for one person to pick up another’s duties without excessive pain in the learning process – and I get quickly frustrated by anyone who resists this process.  WHY wouldn’t you want a clearer, more consistent way of doing things?

The thing I love to do in the office that probably surprises me the most, though, is the improvement and/or redesign of forms.  Even writing it down on the page, I am re-surprised – it sounds like such a boring thing.  I’m about meaning and passion and faith and community and deeper things – how does FIXING FORMS fall into that?!

Yesterday was a very good day for me, on that front.  Early on, a coworker who knows my passion for these things emailed me a 2-page scanned form.  “Can you work your magic to make these more professional?”  I opened the attachment and my hair just about stood on end.  A copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, ad infinitum.  Maybe you don’t know this:  every time you photocopy something, you lose a little bit of quality.  Over time, it corrupts until what was originally crisp and clean is more like blurry blobs on a page, with all manner of unexplained lines and blotches in the midst.  This was maybe the worst one I’d ever seen.  I was so sorry she’d inherited this disaster of a form with her new position.  I did my best to guess what the forms said – in places they were corrupted to the point of unreadability – and put the old “English teacher whammy” on them (a thing I rarely find time to do here on the blog – sorry for the uneditedness of it all, folks!) and about 10 minutes later, voila!  Beautiful new forms, readable, usable, and wonderfully representative of the quality of what we do every day in that department.

A little later, another coworker appeared at my desk.  She looked a little apologetic, and explained that she’d been sent by one of my peers, who had said maybe I could fix this form.  I’m not gonna lie – I kind of gushed in my zeal as I asked her to ALWAYS bring me forms that need fixed.  We talked over the particulars, and I sent her off to do the things she rocks at doing.  This one was mine.  It pushed me more than most forms will, which just made me twice as determined and twice as happy to be working on it.  The Word document I created was cranky and resistant, and there was the business of Asking the Google for a non-copyrighted version of one piece to include on it.  The form and I fought for a good hour, but when we were done, I was the victor.  The coworker was glad to get the newly improved form.

And then…my favorite task of all took up a big chunk of the rest of my day:  working on the satisfaction surveys.  We survey our residents annually to see how we’re doing.  This task was passed off to me a few years ago, and it’s the one I look forward to the most.  It is by far not ONLY a “fixing forms” process, but that’s a fun part of the deal.  I love getting out last year’s survey and picking it apart.  I love collecting ideas from my boss and coworkers – which questions we can ditch, what new things need to be asked.  I love studying the design of it in search of ways to get clearer answers.  I love tallying the results, though last year I got smart and brought in a volunteer to help me get through that part in a two very intense days, instead of stretching it out over weeks by doing it in a highly interrupted fashion at my desk (talk about improving a process!)  I love studying what’s been said, finding where the trends are, analyzing and summarizing to write up the executive summary.  I love following up with the committee that does that, and with the residents who wait to see whether we’re going to respond to what they’ve told us.

I guess looking at the satisfaction survey process helps me understand what “fixing forms” has to do with meaning, passion, community, faith, and deeper things.  While forms don’t look meaningful at face value, when they are done right, they help in the collecting of clear and helpful information.  They help someone who is serving to do so more easily or accurately.  They make process simple, so there is room and time to focus on passion.  They build community by bringing clarity of expectations.  They serve by saving hardworking people from struggling with muddled instructions (if you’ve ever filled out your own taxes or tried to put together something using instructions written by someone who clearly didn’t actually speak your language, you know the pain of badly created forms).  They free up our time and brain space for deeper things.

So – yes!  Fixing forms is an expression of my faith, which makes it okay that doing so is what I call my “Zen Zone.”  It is one of my ways of sowing peace and order into a world that lacks those things.

It is one of my superpowers, and I’m just gonna keep on enjoying it, whether it seems cool or not.

  1. sherrirenee says:

    I’m no longer doing administrative work but in my former job my boss knew that I would squeal with joy at the prospect of creating a spreadsheet. I get it!

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