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Status indicators and the nature of work

Replied to The Presence Prison by Jason Fried (world.hey.com)

what does “available” and “away” really mean? Official definitions don’t matter, because here’s what they actually mean: “Available to be bothered” and “I’m running away and hiding because I can’t get any fucking work done around here.”

I really hate the status indicator. It’s a dumb system that guesses what I’m doing based on if my mouse is moving enough or my calendar says I’m booked. It’s a tool that doesn’t work for the style of work I do: largely unscheduled days I spend making things and making things happen, communicating primarily via email, and doing knowledge work that needs long blocks of uninterrupted time.

I especially hate away. I think of the description in Bird by Bird of what counts as writing – when she’s bouncing on her sitting ball looking out the window, it looks like she’s doing nothing. Only when she’s typing does it appear to be work. Yet the real writing happens as she’s sitting, thinking, looking out the window; the typing wouldn’t happen without the thinking part. (Scalzi too.) We only interpret the loggable, measurable action as work, when much of what we do and make would probably be improved by stepping back to think more before doing.

But the status indicator is dumb. It wants busy. Only production is fruitful.

And it’s true, process is important, and showing up is needed for forward progress… but the system isn’t smart enough to know when we’re doing something outside of the computer. Thinking, sketching, brainstorming, proofing, planning, making lists, taking calls… all things I do off the computer. Real work, made invisible by the dumb status light.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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