Monday, May 18, 2009

Slick Days 101 - Outdoor Rec When You're On the Road for Work

Note: I wrote this as a guide to young professionals in any field, to help them balance work and personal interests in the face of great temptation. This is not - in any way - meant to be construed as a guide to "get away" with recreating while you are supposed to be working.

SO...your boss is sending you on a 60-hour per week, wild goose chase to "parts unknown," and you've heard it's "beautiful country," and for the first time in your life, you will have no daily supervision for the duration of your trip (although you will likely work an atrocious number of billable hours). If you're like I was 12 years ago, you'll immediately start researching the recreation opportunities in that area, "I've always wanted to climb that boulder wall - does the park have a gate?" or "How much does a 3-day license cost?" Or, "Can I use treble hooks in that stream?"
I've learned over the years that you must do 3 things to pull off these company/agency-funded "dream trips" successfully (let's define success as: you have completed the work your boss sent you to do, on time and on budget, and you also were able to enjoy the great outdoors, if only for a few hours):
  1. Manage the Work
  2. Manage your Personal Expectations

  3. Answer the "What if's"

Managing the Work

Make no mistake - your boss is not sending you out into the world, on his/her budget, to screw around - outdoors or not. You have been given a task (or several), and just to remain employed, you must be able to demonstrate that you were able to independently deal with the task and complete it as he/she requested (or have a damn good explanation why not). Important note - know exactly what it is that you've been sent to do (a shortcoming of many supervisors is the inability to give clear directions)! If you want to be given similar opportunities again in the future, you'll have to do even better - you'll have to be able to manage the rest of your work remotely - which will probably mean putting in extra hours that you might not get paid for.

There's no room for error here - if you deliver a poor or late product to your boss, he/she will inevitably find out that on wednesday from 8am to 10am, you were fishing instead of meeting with the IT director of the state DNR (or whoever). Your fishing may have absolutely nothing to do with your poor performance, but it doesn't matter - you must perform if you want to continue to receive the "mixed blessing" of unsupervised travel for work. Will your boss ever be so charmed by you, that you can tell him that instead of meeting in the Harrisburg Office, you took their manager out in the duck blind, or down a Class III rapid on a tuesday afternoon? Perhaps - but don't test it until you see him do it. You are getting paid to do a job - do it.

Managing Your Own Expectations

Once again - you are on travel for work purposes. I can't tell you how many times I've been on the road for work, with a truck full of outdoor gear that never left the truck, and sometimes a fishing license, park pass, etc. - that I paid my hard-earned money for - that will just end up in the trash. Especially as you drive that company truck into this summer, and gas goes from $2.50 to $3.00 to $3.50 a gallon - remember that work is first. The rest is a bonus.

Moving on - because of the nature of your travel, you may have very small, or very strange, windows of time to pursue your outdoor addictions. The internet is your friend. Check wind, weather, stream gage data, fishing reports, etc. in at least the following intervals: 72 hours before your arrival, 24 hours before your arrival, when you arrive (check into the hotel), and obviously, right before you head out on an adventure.

Essentially, have an idea of what's going on before you arrive - I can't emphasize how important that is. If you were on a long vacation, you could just stop by the outfitter's or the surf shop and ask them....but you don't have that kind of spare time on your work trip. Make sure you have relevant park maps, blind maps, tide predictions, creel limits, etc printed out and in a folder specific to this trip. Please do not do this at your office, the day before you leave town.

Now that you're a fully qualified info-junkie, you have to make a strange mental adjustment. Repeat after me, "It's OK if it sucks." When you show up to climb a boulder, and homeless people are living all over it. When you show up to the "kayak ramp" and the ramp is 2 miles past a closed gate (it says "open at 9am" and you need to be on the road to a work appointment at 9am). When you hike 2 miles down a forest road to a public tree stand....that was burnt down the previous summer. These are all important parts of learning about a place, and again, it's not like you drove up to the area on your own expense and found it this way. This is all "bonus round."

Those are all nightmare scenarios but my point is that you are going to have to chill out and take things as they come - some frustrations are absolutely guaranteed. Most likely, you will find the fishing spot, but the lake is covered in algae and you only catch a few fish. You have to surf 1 block north of your planned reef/jetty, due to the lifeguard/black ball zone, and end up only catching a few waves. How many fish, or waves, would you have caught if you were working in the office that day? Probably zero. So get your head straight - this is not a $4,000 Argentina Dove Hunt....this is you trying to blow off some steam while work is taking you away from your routine (and your family and friends).

Managing the What If's

I could also title this section, "How would I explain this to my boss?" If you are in a work vehicle, and you drive 3 miles outside of your route to toss a few lures at a stream crossing, and you have an auto accident or something of that nature, your boss may not care - if he ever even knows. On the other hand, if all of your contract work is in northern Florida, and you get a speeding ticket (company truck) in central Georgia at 1:30pm, you have several huge problems, including "why weren't you working?" "What were you doing in Georgia," and most damaging, "it seems like you are misappropriating our resources when no one is supervising you."

As a traveling professional, this is one of the worst statements that can be made about you, because it will fundamentally change your ability to travel for work, as well as call into question the quality of the work you do while you are on travel.

If you were in a "tight spot" (to quote George Clooney from O Brother Where Art Thou), could you tell your boss what is really going on, and not get fired, a la "I worked 9 hours today and then went fishing right down the street, and I guess I parked the company van illegally and they towed it....I'll pay for it, and I'll have it back in time to work a full day tomorrow." You might actually get away with that (and you should!). Versus, "Somebody broke into the truck toolbox at the boat ramp.....6 counties north of where our job is." You might get fired for that.

If you don't think you could explain the "worst case scenario" to your boss and not get fired, you should definitely not be doing it.

Overall - just think about balance. As my wife sometimes says to me, "this is not the last time you will be here - the fish aren't biting anyway." "Slick Days," as my surfing buddies call them, are a wonderful thing, but don't force the issue. If you can't fit it in....just focus on your job. Make that money and get those waves/rapids/photos/fish/ducks/deer next time.


tugboatdude said...

beautiful post dude,what a great idea and the guidelines are right on the money.

Kristine Shreve said...

Good advice and so true. You have to tend to work first, but if you are diligent about that, you may be able to get some bonus fun in as well.

Swamp Thing said...

I really debated whether I should even get into this topic - it's such a forbidden subject among us "road warriors."

No one wants to admit to themselves, or their spouses at home, or their supervisors, that they are enjoying themselves on the road...that's my theory!

But yet...everyone does it...curious.