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Management Tips from Reyna—My Cleaning Lady

1 August 2015 3 Comments

I was planning my week by copying over my long list of leftovers onto this week’s to-do list. I was frazzled because I had a meeting in an hour and hadn’t sent out notes from the previous meeting, and that was because I couldn’t find my handwritten notes in the mass of, well, all my other hand-written notes. I was also behind on the Waterfowl Survey analysis. So rather than farm out the menial parts to my colleagues as we planned, I had to finish it myself! I was about to mentally implode when our office cleaning lady, Reyna, pushed me aside so she could vacuum.

Otto_mastersnotebook_150Mark Otto is a statistician working on projects involving migratory birds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in Maryland. (Yes, a refuge for research.) He earned his master’s in statistics at North Carolina State University before spending 30 years working as a statistician, starting at the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“You spend more time making and copying those lists than knocking tasks off them. You think I keep lists like that,” she asked me.

“Of course not, but my job is more complicated than yours,” I said matter of factly.

Bad move … and I got kicked for it.

“I have to keep track of my home, my kids, my crew … but I only need a list to remember things. I still have to do the work; the list doesn’t do that,” said Reyna. “Your lists are so big you get scared of them. I’ve seen you get a look of accomplishment just for getting everything down.”

“When I clean,” she continued, “I wipe up the spills as they happen. Like those meeting notes. If you wrote them up right after your call last month, you wouldn’t be trying to decipher your own handwriting and straining to remember what happened before this month’s call. They are more useful if people have them to work from during the month? No?”

“Reyna, you’re supposed to be cleaning, not looking over my shoulder,” I said.

“Who looks,” Reyna asked. “Everyone can hear you—all the way down the hall. It isn’t only your computer that hears you. When you are tired and grumpy after lunch you get loud. Don’t frustrate yourself doing something so complicated as writing meeting notes; file some of that junk on your desk. You are always losing something anyway.”

“Reyna, I have a lot going on,” I replied.

“So do I,” she countered. “If Maria isn’t here with the truck, I don’t sit there waiting for her and the cleaning supplies, even though not getting to your restrooms and replacing the toilet paper is what you all complain about.”

stackofpapers_200 “Your stuff owns you as much as you own it. … Your section pays for storing all the stuff you can’t fit in here anymore. You know the storage shed burned down 18 months ago. Ken didn’t even tell you. They have bets on when you’ll first ask for something from it.”

“Reyna …,” I started.

“I just get the recycling done,” she continued. “I can work five or six things at the same time. If I get hung up on one, I just start on another. But, I don’t start something new while I’m finishing another, only because starting and finishing things is hard, very hard. All of us mothers are natural multitaskers, good at juggling. That is why we are the best managers; we only do what we have to do.”

“What do you mean by that,” I asked. “I work on what I need to do or what I’m told.”

“Oh, is that right,” Reyna asked. “You know I charge your boss, Ken, extra to clean your office?”

“Huh? He never told me that,” I said.

“You have so much extra junk I have to move and clean—all those books, files, loose papers. Gracias a dios, I don’t have to clean your inbox. It’s so full; you need the Yahoo to find anything.”

“You mean the Google,” I said. “I mean, you think I need to Google anything I’m looking for?”

“All that clutter in this office and on your computer weighs you down,” Reyna responded. “When are you going to read that Making Forms in Access 2000?”

“Your stuff owns you as much as you own it,” she continued. “You have to move and sort it; look at those articles waiting to be read. And your section pays for storing all the stuff you can’t fit in here anymore. You know the storage shed burned down 18 months ago. Ken didn’t even tell you. They have bets on when you’ll first ask for something from it.”

“Uh. Oh, crap. But … How does that make me do things I don’t have to do,” I asked.

“Remember when I helped you find last year’s performance plan,” Reyna asked.

“Yeah,” I responded. “You made me clean out my desk. I had to clean out a whole file drawer before I found it.”

“You did a good job! You only have three inches of files in there now,” Reyna said. “Even if you hadn’t found your plan, you’d have been able to find the staff directory and your directions on the phone to set up that conference call, things that you need.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said.

“Think what you could do with a completely clean office and email inbox,” Reyna said.

“Hum,” I replied.

“Did you do the chores your mama asked you to do,” Reyna asked.

“Of course,” I answered.

“Did you do them on your own,” Reyna countered. “More when she asked nicely, no? Did she have a board with a chore list?”

“Yeah. And she pointed to it all the time,” I answered. “She said so she wouldn’t have to bug us so much.”

“You don’t even take the time to get your co-workers to help you with the Waterfowl Survey, which would have helped you in the long run. They could even do it on their own next year,” Reyna said. “Your mama got you to want to help her clean by showing you how and how important what you were doing was. And when you were done, she said over and over what a good job you did. She made you feel very, very proud, and now you know how to clean up after yourself. Not that you actually do.”

Just then Ken raced into my office. “Reyna, I need you on the phone,” he said. “The Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil …” Reyna disappeared down the hall.

“Ken, what’s going on,” I asked.

“We have to get permissions to fly our survey routes in Mexican air space. For the last three years, I’ve gotten Reyna to translate. Now she just negotiates for our permits herself. If only those Mexican generalissimos knew some cleaning lady from Honduras was making them feel like bad school boys. It is so fun to watch her work.”

“By the way, Ken, I need the 1988 Spring Waterfowl Analysis from storage,” I said.

“All right, you just made me $20,” he exclaimed.

“What,” I asked.

“I mean the storage shed was burned down a while ago and your files with it,” Ken said. “I didn’t tell you because we had this bet.”

“Oh well,” I said. “I didn’t need it anyway. Excuse me. I have a bit of organizing to do here.”

“Oh,” Ken said.

“You don’t mind me taking the time just to clean up,” I asked.

“Sure. I won’t have to listen to you looking for ‘that g(*&^)d!#$’ file, and it will save us paying Reyna cleaning up around all your stuff,” Ken said.

“Hey, I learned a lot from Reyna this morning,” I said.

“Oh good,” Ken said. “I fired The MBS Inc. consulting firm. All their workshops and training didn’t improve anything. Reyna is who you all listen to.”

“Soon you are going to have to pay her as a business consultant,” I said.

“Oh Ken, I heard that,” said Reyna from down the hall.

This column is written for statisticians with master’s degrees and highlights areas of employment that will benefit statisticians at the master’s level. Comments and suggestions should be sent to Megan Murphy, Amstat News managing editor, at megan@amstat.org.
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  • mary grace said:

    Reminds me of the GETTING THINGS DONE book/course From David ALlen.
    lists are great if you keep them short and prioritize them daily. filing and tossing and organizing STUFF needs to be done on the spot or else your inbasket gets overwhelming. creative thought and productive focused work flows when the distractions and nagging to dos lose the power over you. great reminders from your cleaning lady. I value EVERY person in my life and welcome surprising advice from all Gods creatures! thanks!

  • Michelle Baker said:

    GREAT article! Keep it sweet & simple 🙂 – a principle that makes life, and writing, a lot easier.

  • Bruce said:

    This is a fabulous piece and spot-on!