The Negative Side of Temporary Employment

I know you’re reading this on Monday, but I’m writing it on Friday. I just don’t want to think about not being in this place first thing Monday when I hop on WordPress. I’ll try to keep myself busy until my night job shift, but it’s going to be weird.

You see, one of the biggest downsides of temporary employment is that…..well……. it’s temporary. No matter how much you absolutely love a place, or an office, or a group of co-workers, none of that is yours. It all belongs to someone else, and you’re just keeping their chair warm. Sure, once you’re placement is done you can start sleeping in again, and sitting around in your jammies. And the amount of laundry you’ll have to do will shrink like crazy, since you never have to put on real pants right now.

But there’s also a whole lot of negative sides to this temporary employment thing, besides the fact that you have to leave in the end.

-you have no security. The office I’m in is unionized. I’m not part of the union, since I’m a temp. This means lower wages, no benefits, no sick days, and definitely no job security. If the person who usually works here wanted to come back 3 weeks early, then I would have been out of a job 3 weeks sooner, no notice given. You’re just a disposable employee when you’re a temp. Some people won’t even bother to learn your name.

-nothing is yours. Your office, your desk, your chair…… they’re all someone else’s. You can’t decorate, or get a comfy chair, or move the computer to where it’s easiest for you to use. If there is something in that office (a filing cabinet, computer files everywhere, electronic chords running all over the floor) that drives you nuts, and that you know you could greatly improve, you can’t. You can’t change a damn thing.

-you’re not always going to get the best job instructions. I was lucky this time: I had a 3 page document waiting for me on the computer keyboard, outlining the most important things I needed to know. I’ve talked to people who were given nothing close to this. Some I’ve talked to were basically shown to their chair and told to start pulling up files, entering data, and were never even introduced to their co-workers.

-the pay isn’t the greatest. I’m lucky to make a few bucks over minimum wage here. The other office staff here make quite a bit more than me, though. Plus benefits, sick days, vacation time, and other perks. I’m doing most of the job of the person who is usually here, for half the price. Knowing that starts to make you feel used at times.

-you have to leave. I know I already said this, but it really sucks. As of today (when you’re reading this, not when I’m writing this), I will have no steady income, no way to pay my bills, and no clue when I will get an assignment again.

So, if I disappear for a week or so, it’s just the anxiety kicking in. One of the major triggers for me is my finances, so the next little while is going to be pretty rough.

The Positive Side of Temporary Employment

So, I have been working at my old University for the past month and a half as a temporary secretary. Most of the other office staff I’ve talked to here have said that this is how they got their positions here, many years ago. In fact, it’s damn near impossible to get a job here without some sort of “in” like this.

Which brings me to today’s topic. Sometimes, temporary employment is the best thing you can go for. I really wish I had realized this sooner, too. Many, many people tried to talk me out of going to a temp agency when I said I was looking for a job. To them, a temp job was 2 week placement somewhere to cover a vacation leave, or to fill a spot while the company tries to restructure their office. While there are some negatives to this sort of employment (which I’ll get to for Monday’s post), there is a whole host of positive things to consider when thinking about going to a temp agency.

-you’ll get a chance to use you skills and keep them current. Sitting at home, emailing out your resume to companies every day isn’t doing much to keep you on your toes when it comes to Excel, or even more advanced Word functions. Getting thrown into a strange office and being told to keep up with their paperwork really puts you to the test, though. It gives you a chance to polish any rusty skills, and possibly learn (or re-learn) new ones. I totally forgot that I know how to not only create flyers in Word, but can make them look pretty damn professional AND turn them into PDFs!

-you get to try out positions without commitment. You may think you want to get into a certain career, or even a certain company. But you won’t know for sure until you actually do it. What if, in the course of your temp placement, you discover that you would rather shove rusty nails in your ears and hit them repeatedly against a cement wall than have to sit in a room for 8 hours with your co-workers? As a temp worker, you only have a short time with those people, and can run far, far away when your placement is over.

-networking!!!!! In my position here, I’m in a department I hadn’t been to much before, and only knew two professors in. As such, I’ve had to meet and get to know a whole department full of professors, graduate students, and support staff. I’ve also been able to make myself visible on campus again, connecting with people from my old departments, the IT staff (who must hate me now, thanks to this damn copier here!), HR, and a whole mess of other support staff on campus. Now, when my resume is brought up again for any temp or permanent position, they all have a face to go with the name AND have no shortage of people to talk to who know me.

-this got me out of my pyjamas and out of the house. After job hunting for so long, things start to look a little dark. I’m not going to lie, there are some days when I didn’t bother putting on real pants, and just sat around in jammies all day, skimming job search sites. With this position, I am forced to get up and out of bed every weekday AND put on my grown-up clothes!

Sadly, today is my last day here with this assignment. The regular secretary will be back in her office on Monday. This means my afternoon will be spent making sure I leave her space exactly the way it was when I got here in February.

Hopefully, though, I’ll be back working on this campus again soon!

The Fabled ‘Tale of the Corn’, or “How I Became Allergic to my Own Damn Kitchen”.

I think sometimes when I tell this story, people don’t believe me unless they knew this particular roommate. The state of her kitchen became a legend among frat boys in our area. It was a punishment to be forced to come over to her place and clean her kitchen for her. More than one frat pledge hurled and dry-heaved his way his way through her dishes, just to come across forgotten pots and pans from what looked to be Christmas dinner, 1976. There are some who cannot remember a time when her kitchen wasn’t covered in dishes. I am not one of those people, though. I can remember scrubbing our kitchen when we lived together, having an empty sink and a drawer full of squeaky clean cutlery. In my mind, the kitchen was just a minor problem that we could handle together.

Until the corn pot.

She had never been one to do dishes in the first place. For many years, she had a deal with her fiance where he would do dishes if she would do all their laundry. When he left, she stepped up from time to time, cleaning up after herself. This would usually only be after at least a week of dishes piling up in the sink, crusted food rotting on their pretty floral pattern. I bought myself a set of blue plastic dishes, trying to make sure I always had something to throw my pizza on while I watched tv. Over time, even those dishes somehow wound up in her growing sink mound.

Usually, I would get sick of the mess, throw a fit, and the two of us would clean it up together. If I wasn’t around, though, this didn’t get done. I could scrub the kitchen down completely on a Friday afternoon, go to my parents’ place for the weekend, and come home to a pile of dishes I would later have to help clean.

And that is how the corn incident started.

On a Thursday night, she decided to make herself a big enough meal to have leftovers for a day or two, while I decided to go stay with my parents’ and help them move furniture. Before leaving, I hugged her cats goodbye and watched her browning meat at the stove. I didn’t come home until Monday afternoon.

It seems that part of her dinner Thursday night was a rather large pot of frozen corn. I know this because on Monday night, it was still sitting half-full on the stove. The butter in it had hardened and the pot’s contents were now one giant yellow rock. I asked her if she would be getting rid of that soon, and she said she was just about to.

On Wednesday night, I tried to find a clean plate for my pizza. While moving dirty dishes away from the cupboards, I found the corn pot. It was still full, and starting to look a little fuzzy. I mentioned to her that her food was starting to grown life forms, and she laughed it off.

By Friday night, I was feeling a little off while trying to make dinner. My eyes were burning, my throat felt dry, and I was getting dizzy at the stove. I moved things aside to get to the window, and found the pot. The corn was starting resemble a small cat now, black and fuzzy. The mould on it was growing its own film of mould.

Oh, did I mention that I’m allergic to mould?

The roommate swore again and again that she would take care of it. Yet day after day, that mouldy sat on the stove. I began to have nightmares about what was going on in that pot. Were there tiny little organisms in there, slowly evolving? Were they building tiny little roads and houses? Would they stage an uprising and come to kill me in my sleep?

By the following weekend, I had had enough.  The pot was still sitting there, less corn than fuzzy cat-like blob of fuzz. I stormed into the kitchen, grabbed the pot by the handles, and decided right then and there that I was going to get rid of whatever was living in there.

And that’s when it attacked.

A black mushroom cloud of spores exploded from the pot, enveloping my entire head. I gagged and wheezed, throwing the pot back on the stove and running for the nearest bathroom. Black fuzzy chunks flowed trough my vomit, as tears tried to wash the black from my eyes. And the roommate? She sat in the living-room, watching TV and occasionally calling out, “are you alright?”

For days after, I was a mess. My eyes both watered and were painfully dry. I wheezed after walking the 9 feet to the bathroom from my bedroom. I was cranky and tired, but couldn’t fall asleep with all the itching and coughing. And that damn pot still sat there.

To be safe, I stayed out of the kitchen. When the pot exploded, it essentially made me allergic to the entire damn room. The room where my food was, where I could eat up leftover pizza, where the glasses for my beer were. Allergic! For days, I pleaded with the roommate to clean out the pot. She had midterms, and papers, and studying, and TV, and god knows what else keeping her from that kitchen, though. Unable to even enter the room, I was forced to subside on pizza and McDonald’s; not a huge change from before, but still a huge annoyance.

Finally after close to three weeks of me asking, she cleaned it. While I was on campus, she threw away the growing fuzz-ball and scrubbed out that pot. She scrubbed down the dirty dishes that had been accumulating, wiped down the counters, and even cleaned the stove-top.  For a whole 17 hours, I had a clean kitchen.

Of course, then she made food again.

It was corn.

Scheduling and your Syllabi

Your syllabus is probably the most important document you’ll receive in a class. It’s your schedule, your contact info, your lifeline for the next semester. How many of you know how to actually use it to your advantage though?

I’ll admit, my first year in University, I didn’t pay much attention to the damn things. I’d write down in my day planner when my exams were and when papers were due. Then, I’d stick my pile of syllabi in a folder and throw my day planner in my backpack. I didn’t check it regularly, and the “F” on my transcript is my proof of that (damn you History and Politics of Asian Religions!!!!).

I wised up a bit my second year. I’d check my planner once or twice a week, keep my syllabi with my class notebooks, and thought this was good enough. Actually, this is what most students do. And this is why so many students try to write 15 page research papers in two days, pull all-nighters cramming for exams last-minute, and spend more on coffee and Monster than tuition.

This method lulls you into a false sense of scheduling security. Yes, you have everything you need written down in front of you somewhere. And yes, you actually check what needs to be done the beginning of the week. But what do you have next week? Or a month from now? Can you open your day planner to a random page from this semester and easily figure out which classes will take up the most of your time and resources at a glance?

In my third year, I came up with a system. The first week of classes, I got all of my syllabi in class or on the class websites. Then, I took a whole afternoon to go over them and start scheduling. (Come on, it’s the first week of classes. You can spare a few hours to make the next few months a little easier!) All I needed were some coloured pens, sticky notes, and a day planner.

First, each class was assigned a colour. In the day planner, go through class by class and fill in WHEN each class is. I know you think you’ll remember that you have that Post-Modern Comic Theory class every single Thursday at 1pm. In a month or two, when you’re running on no sleep and ALL the caffeine, though, you may not even remember you’re enrolled in that class, let alone when it is. This also puts it right in front of you, in writing, when you are committed to be there.

Then, for each class, make note of your exams, papers, assignments, labs, and anything else that is a part of your grade. Write down when these things are, and a detail or two about each (like exam rooms and times, paper lengths, etc). This gives you your deadlines.

Now, for each major grade event that you need extra time for (like paper writing or studying for exams), give yourself at least one weeks notice. Flip back one week in your day planner, and make a section for this. Some planners come with a Notes area each week you can use. If you don’t typically have much planned for weekends, you could always use your Sunday space for this. Or, you could use the sticky notes I said to grab. (You can never have enough sticky notes in your life). Write down the day, time, subject, and how much of your grade this is worth. This ensures you have extra notice, so things don’t creep up on you at the last minute.

And now, VERY CAREFULLY read through each syllabus. Each syllabus is your professor’s notes to you on how to get as high a grade as possible. Take a page in your planner and write down each professor’s contact information, office hours, the course you are taking with them, and the course time and place. Then, read their instructions. Some professors will throw in exactly what they expect for assignments, or a grading rubric to help you plan our papers. They also give details about your exams, like if the final exam is cumulative, or only covers materials you learned since the mid-term.  Some will break down exactly what chapters to read each week, what online material to look up, and what they expect to cover in their lectures each week. Make note of ALL of this! You need to know what you’ll have to do before each class, or else you can’t actually do it.

I know this seems like a lot to do all at once. This is the simplified version of what I did for three years, though, and what a lot of friends and colleagues have said have worked best for them. When my schedule got really tight (4-5 classes, two jobs, 6 volunteer positions, fraternity events, family obligations, sleeping, eating…..), I used a day planner, a one-month wall calendar, a 4 month wall planner, a system of 4 separate To-Do lists, and email reminders to keep everything straight. Compared to all of that, this is a walk in the park.

This also helps make your semester run a little more smoothly. Imagine, never checking your schedule on Monday to find out you have a paper due Wednesday that you forgot about; never again forgetting about your Monday midterm until Saturday night; never missing a party because you have to pull an all-nighter to finish an assignment you forgot. Sure, this will take a few hours to get done in one day. But think of all the money you’ll save on energy drinks, caffeine pills, coffee, and everything else you’ve been using to keep you up for those last-minute all-nighters.

Most of all, think of all the stress you can save yourself by giving up one afternoon to write stuff down with pretty coloured pens. You can plan things out like those real grown-ups you see in the movies, with their leather-bound planners and appointment books, snootily telling people “sorry, I need at least 3 weeks notice. I’m already all booked. Are you free in May? I may have an opening in May sometime.” This one afternoon with your day planner could be all it takes to put you on the path to becoming Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.……. or it could at least free up enough time for you to remember you love that movie, and actually watch it again.

Day Planners, Calendars, and Knowing What the Hell is Going On

Happy Friday everyone!

I’m on day 12 of a 12 day stretch of work, between the two jobs right now. My temp job ends next week, and I’m trying to pick up as many shifts at my awesome other job as I can. That means 50-60 hour weeks, no weekends off, 12 hour days (including my commutes, they’re 13+ hours), and no extra time to waste. Luckily, I’m super organized!

I have a wall calendar I got for $2 at Giant Tiger (came with coupons too!) that I track my work schedule on. I keep it somewhere that the boyfriend can easily see it. I also have the most amazingly awesome purple and gold day planner I take everywhere. In there, I can track my work schedule, To-Do Lists, the boyfriend’s schedule, and any other obligations I have (like my awesome Cousin Brunch tomorrow morning with my siblings, a few cousins, and a giant plate of bacon). When my schedule gets really crazy, I colour-code everything. It’s not as hard as it sounds: black ink for my day job, blue ink for my night job, red ink for social things, green ink for the boyfriend’s schedule, and purple for To-Do Lists and reminders.

On top of that, I always have Post-Its and To-Do Lists for the day and/or week. I’ll make a list when I get to work of all the things I need to get done that day, and start working my way through. And I keep a list of things to get done at home, like laundry or a manicure, and work through them one at a time.

The boyfriend can’t quite grasp this system, though. He can never remember to check the calendar to see if I’m working two jobs that day or just one. I have to constantly text-message him to remind him. And he can never remember to give me his schedule either. To him, all of this planning and scheduling is really not important. If something is that important, he’ll remember it.

But he doesn’t.

For Valentine’s Day, we had planned a nice day together. Costco for lunch, Applebee’s for dinner, and then a little wine and cheese at home where we could just relax together. Everything was set, and we set out to grab the last bit of wine and cheese on Friday night…….. when his sister texted to remind him that her bus was getting in the next night and she would be spending the night at our place. Oh, and he would have to drive out to the bus station to pick her up…… meaning no wine and cheese, and an early dinner for us.  Our night wasn’t totally ruined, but it wasn’t at all like we had planned. And why? Because he didn’t bother putting a reminder about his sister anywhere before we started planning!

This is becoming a regular occurrence with us. I tried to make plans for us to go to his old fraternity’s annual formal, to find out he’ll be out of town that whole weekend. I tried to make plans for us to spend a nice afternoon together running errands and relaxing, to be told he’s working out of town all weekend. It’s frustrating, and causes quite a few fights between us.

There is no one method to keeping your schedule straight. Some people need multiple calendars, day planners, lists, reminders in their phones, and an online calendar. Others just need a simple wall calendar. How you keep things together is up to you. But when you have others who may be impacted by your schedule (roommates, significant others, parents, kids, co-workers, etc…), you may have to step up your planning game just a bit.

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Quick post from my phone today about roommates and communication. THIS is our dish rack. Our Downstairs Roommates will wash their dishes (well, rinse off food in cold water, but that’s a whole other post!), put their dishes here, and wait for the Dish Fairy to put them away. My solution? Ask them to put their stuff away. How will they know that this bothers me if I don’t tell them?
Upstairs Roommate has a whole other solution. Everything below the backing pan was in the dish rack all day while I was at work. In the evening, he decided he wanted to wash his dishes. So he took everything out of the rack, and piled it up on the counter, completely blocking my coffee maker.

You don’t get between me and my morning caffeine.

Ever.

So I asked him to move it. His solution was to actually THROW everything back onto the rack! He didn’t tell Downstairs to put it away. He didn’t tell them it bothers him. He didn’t even bring it up when he saw them. He just threw it all there and walked away in a huff.

So what did this teach them? NOTHING!!! That baking pan on top (that is still pooled with water) was placed on top last night while I was in bed. How do they know it shouldn’t go there?

My hours are strange right now. I’m not home much thanks to my two jobs, and am gone or sleeping most of the time Downstairs are home. Still, when I see them, I take the time to talk to them about things like this. Upstairs is home quite a bit, and has every opportunity to talk to them. He doesn’t, though.

If you never tell someone that something they do bothers you, how will they ever know?

Taking Time For You

As I said on Friday, you need to slow down. Yes, you. The one reading this right now.

I know sitting at your computer, reading random ramblings on WordPress, doesn’t seem like something you need to slow down from. But what else are you doing? Are you at work? Studying? Writing a paper? How many tabs do you have open right now, and be honest with yourself. While you’re reading this, you’re probably reading 3 or 4 other websites, have a notebook open somewhere near you, maybe an open book or stack of paperwork, and are thinking about what you need to get done later on today.

Is that really relaxing?

I had a friend, after my health crisis in University, try to get me to meditate. It had always worked for her in the past, helping her relax when her brain wouldn’t slow down. I followed her steps, met with her meditation group, lit the candles and chanted the mantras. All that happened for me was I wound up sitting there for an hour, wondering how much other stuff I could have gotten done in that time. While the dozen or so people around me seemed to transform from tightly wound workaholics to completely relaxed and chilled out, I was more stressed afterwards than when I got there.

Another friend brought me to yoga. Again, this was something she swore by. I already did stretching and random yoga poses at home while watching tv, so it seemed like something I could get into. Instead, I was a miserable stress case. Again, my brain wouldn’t shut off, just like in meditation. But this time, on top of that, I was worrying about the yoga poses. Being a yoga noob, I couldn’t pull off any of the advanced (or even intermediate) poses that I thought looked so easy. I stressed myself out over being so unflexible, and out of shape. Then I got stressed because I was sure unflexible wasn’t a real word, but I couldn’t think of a real word to mean what I thought. Again, I left more stressed out than when I got there.

So, after losing myself in thought on my walk to work one day, I came up with my own relaxation method. I like to daydream. I’m always lost in though while I walk, remembering parts of dreams or story ideas. I’d daydream about saving my co-workers from armed robbers, or learning to cook a fish dish so amazing that Gordon Ramsay shows up on my doorstep in a Speedo to try it. When people offered me rides places, I turned them down so that I could walk and get lost in my thoughts for a bit.

Daydreams are my escape. I can imagine winning the lottery, or the boyfriend taking me to the petting zoo, or my awesome co-worker just being goofy and making me laugh. I can imagine the fantastic or the ordinary, the impossible or the probable. In my head, there are ninjas, samurai, hobbits, narwhals, dragons, and even Batman (or a reasonable (and half naked) facsimile thereof). The world inside my head is awesome, and it’s all mine!

So, every night, no matter how much I have to do or how stressed I am, I go to that world. I imagine Batman coming to save me from danger, and then me having to save him when the danger gets a little out of control, and then him getting to thank me. What a better way to end the day then with that image in my head as I get ready for bed?

My method might not work for everyone. That’s why it’s my method. I made it for me, because it works best for me. As I said, meditation and yoga work great for some people. Other people need books, or a massage, or a sensory deprivation tank. The main thing is you need to find what works for YOU. Only you know what you need.