Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wasting Time

I learn something every once in a while. Usually from folks wiser or more experienced than me. I’ve been at this work for a while and I’ve picked up some tricks along the way, but my knowledge base always has room for expansion and enrichment. 

So anyway, this friend of mine, a veterinarian of some renown, was once talking about the frustrations of scheduling appointments with clients who just could not manage to show up. Not show up on time, or not even show up late. Nope…Not show up at all. No call. No excuse. Sure as hell no apology. Just don’t show up. Somebody else, another client, might have filled that slot if the doc only knew, but there it goes, forever empty.

Now, if you work for the government, or if you simply work for some other boss you don’t like, an empty appointment slot means you don’t have to work for a bit, and you still get paid, and that’s a fine cup of coffee you enjoyed while you didn’t work. But suppose you own a veterinary practice, and your day is meticulously scheduled to convenience your clients and yourself, and you can maximize the work and the benefit you provide for those clients if there is some semblance of order to the schedule. Since you work for, and thus are paid by those folks who come through the front door, when someone books a piece of your time, an appointment, and they don’t show, you have still invested that time, but that time will be wasted. 

So at the end of the finite day, when your employees are home and enjoying their families, you sit there in your office with the light on, with the medical records and bank balances and that never shrinking stack of bills, and that serious need to pay all those people who work for you for the time they have spent….and there is that piece of time wasted. No choice. You struggle to stretch the smaller piece of money as far as you can. You’ve done it before. You have to.

We are not just about the money in this job, but without enough of it, we go away. For that is a simple reality. It costs a tremendous quantity of money to run a veterinary hospital, generally thousands of dollars a day, every penny of which comes from the people we serve, and all of which must be paid before the owner of the practice sees one red cent. This is the simple reality the owner of every small business faces even before her need for oxygen.

But beyond reality is that nebulous thing we call life. And our life is marked by time, not money. And as my friend taught me, we might make up the money, but we can never make up the time. For the clock only runs in one direction, and it is most unforgiving.

The draft horse in the novel Animal Farm had a simple solution for when not enough was coming in to support his family. He simply vowed to work harder. And that sufficed for a while to keep things going in the book. But when the draft horse finally died on the job, there was no one to take his place. Bad times fell upon his family. And of course, he also was dead.

I’m reminded of this as I choose to work ever longer hours to keep things going during these difficult economic conditions. If I keep this up long enough, I’m eventually gonna be dead. I’m burning time that will never come back, and time is finite.

Suppose someone approached you in your youth with this offer…

I’ve two jobs for you to consider. You must choose between. One you will generally conduct with a passion and with a sense of satisfaction, but it will cost you much of seven days a week. Welcome to the ownership of a veterinary practice. 

The other job will pay you as well, or often much better, and likely will offer that same satisfaction, or more. You will invest only a normal workweek, and you will go outside to play in the evenings after work, on the weekends, and during those vacations. Which would you take? 

Oh, just for jollies… What if you take that first job, and out of sheer self-indulgence you steal one weekend away from your practice every few months to go play with your family, and the people you pledged to serve bitch and whine because you failed them by not being there for them on that one weekend?  

Which job would you take?

Did ya notice the lesson here?...…You can make back the money, sometimes…but you can never get back the time. And Jack may eventually become a dull boy, despite doing the work he loves.

Now let’s throw in one more, ah…variable.

Suppose you took that first job, and just for jollies we’ll say you own a veterinary hospital, and you are a good citizen so you registered to vote. And then the letter arrives because of this registering to vote thing, suggesting you show up for one day of jury duty rather than go to jail for not. So you bite your lip because some time will go away forever while you are at jury duty, and take away with it that day’s earnings intended to pay the bills. Your clients will complain because you are not there to serve them on that day. But what a good citizen you are! And the judge thanks you for your service, and makes you a fine offer…

“How’d ya like to spend, oh say, the month of November playing juror?”

Well heck, yeah. I’d love to. I’m a good citizen and I’d be a good juror, much better than a few of those seedy looking folks lounging around the jury assembly room down to the courthouse who look like they really should instead be sitting up there next to the public defender.

Of course, they won’t let me know if I’ll be serving that whole month until the very last minute, so the notion that I could find a relief doctor to keep my practice open at least part of the month becomes a little, uh, unlikely. But suppose I do luck out and hire a good doctor. I will pay that doctor more than I would make myself doing that same job, and that doc will generate less for my practice than I do.  Then I’d have the bills and the payroll mostly covered. But I’ll pass the whole month with no paycheck for my family. 

Well, tough titty, said the kitty. The judge proclaims this does not constitute a hardship, so don’t bother asking him to change his mind and let me go serve my first master instead of his catch and release fishery. 

And don’t forget the property taxes due in early December. Make that two months with no paycheck. Merry Christmas.

But it gets better if I cannot find a relief doctor. Then I get to eat the whole thing. Tens of thousands to pay the bills and pay my loyal employees, out of my personal savings that don’t really constitute tens of thousands, because my practice will generate no revenue during that time. This is how it will feel when I finally have that heart attack and cannot work for, oh a month. Real sorry about that, goes the judge, but thanks for your service.

Sure, I could call this a vacation from my practice, and just forget any silly notion of taking an actual vacation for some considerable time. Felony trials are hecka fun. Hells bells, I sure never have even considered taking a month long vacation in my adult life, even though I wouldn’t call a real vacation completely lost time. We’ll call the jury trial a government mandated vacation. First time they ever did that for a boss.

 But I might have saved up for an actual vacation, having enough sense not to bankrupt myself just to run off and have some time for my family and myself. After all, you can plan for a vacation.

Oh yeah…and on top of this, my clients will still complain because I’m not there.


  1. Such is the life of a producer. Who is John Galt?

  2. Nobody ever lays on their deathbed saying, "Damn, sure wish I'd worked more." Good lesson.

  3. This is y we should all learn to vomit on demand, I bet after your 3rd jury box hurl judge rehabillitator would excuse you and use an alternate. It's also an excellent description of why I would rather work for others than own, if the bosses out earn me then great! They deserve it for working two jobs (vet & manager/ CEO).