Of TPS Reports and Wrapping Paper

OfficeBill Lumbergh: So, Peter, what’s happening? Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?

Peter Gibbons: No.

Bill Lumbergh: Ah. Yeah. So I guess we should probably go ahead and have a little talk. Hmm?
Office Space (1999)

White collar workers of a certain age will remember in the movie, Office Space, the above mentioned TPS report. This incidental piece of work trivia became something of a rallying cry for office workers everywhere. You see there is a huge battle that office workers everywhere fight on a regular basis: seemingly pointless paperwork.

No one is safe from this menace.

It doesn’t matter how much you make, how successful you are, how much satisfaction the work gives you, how great your co-workers are or how much vacation time you get. Pointless paperwork invades every office, making your job just a little less tolerable.

And this is where our inner melodramatic complainer tends to come out.

We question the validity of the task, or the powers-that-be who assigned it to us. We moan about how long it is going to take. We complain that it is distracting us from our “real” job.

Believe me, I know. I have been there.

All that complaining and belly aching really doesn’t get us anywhere though. We still have to complete the task, and now we are in a lousy mood besides. In fact there is even evidence that all that complaining is actually bad for our health. Exposure to just a half an hour of negativity strips away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus, which is where your brain problem solves. Not good.

Sometimes there is just no way around it. We have to do the work. I can’t make your pointless paperwork go away, but I can share a couple of techniques that have always helped me.

Remind yourself why you do what you do. Create a mental list of the positives: the personal validation, the life the money allows you to pursue, the people you enjoy spending time with. Then think of the unpleasant task as the price you pay for all that good stuff.

I tend to use the analogy of a Christmas present. What’s inside the box is what I like about my job. The tedious paperwork I am sometimes asked to do? It is just the wrapping paper. It makes what I do look good to someone else. And you know what? The powers-that-be will change, and a new style of “wrapping paper” will be thrust upon you. Just remember, it doesn’t change what is in the box. That job that you are great at? It is still there, just under the fancy covering.

Confession: This analogy works for me because I hate wrapping presents. Luckily, I am blessed with a wife who is great at it and loves doing it. Unfortunately she can’t to come to work with me to handle my paperwork, and truth be told she couldn’t even if she wanted to. It is my burden to bear.

Much like wrapping Christmas presents, I do not particularly enjoy my job’s version of the TPS report. But at the end of the day, it is just packaging, and by stopping the complaining and getting to the doing it is over all the sooner.

Trust me. Sometimes we just have to do the work.

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