Monday, February 07, 2005


I want to note that this post is entirely my own feelings on the matter of crunch time. I'm sure they'll upset someone, but then, to be honest, this is my place for expression. Bear with me, the regular stupid or entertaining stuff will be back later.

I thought I had crunched before. Toward the end of an issue at my old pub, we would all work extra hard to get the issue done. It's human nature to leave things to the very last minute, and in the case of my old job, those who got done early ended up doing the work of those who worked more slowly. Which was a great way to convince someone not to work harder or faster. As long as one's name was next to the appropriate number of articles on the monthly issue tracker, it's all good.

Now, at my old job, I was pretty disgruntled, and I almost always left work at 5:30 (so I could go sit in an hour's worth of traffic). When I got my new and current job, I was consistently staying until around 6:30 or 7, not because those were the prescribed hours, but because that's when I felt the desire to go home. That was a full day, from 9am to 6-7pm (9 to 10 hours, for those of us who are math whizzes). In one of those days, I could edit over 12,000 words if I really cranked, and the edits would be thoughtful and countered with suggestions as to how to make the text better.

Crunch time started for real as early as early September 2004 (and possibly late August). Not everyone was on crunch, and the art team had been on crunch since July. Some people on the design team already worked insane hours on their own, because they cared about the project and had some work to do.

Me, I've always tried to be a "Get your work done and then go home" kinda guy. Mandating a 56-hour work week (and for a few weeks in October, a 72-hour week) seemed a bit counterproductive when the team already worked as hard as they needed to at the time.

Now, granted, even at its most hardcore, my company is far better about crunch time than many others. This isn't me saying, "Waahhh, I had to work a lot!" but rather me saying, "Here is what crunch time is like, in my experience."

The first three weeks of real crunch time are the worst. You get the notice with the new hours, and you think, "Wow. That seems like a lot." You don't think about how important weekends are until you miss out on a few. People who love their job start going crazy, lashing out or just getting really, really quiet (my personal favorite). You miss weekends long before you miss weeknights, and after about three weeks, the fatigue is setting in but you're not quite adapted to it all. Tempers flare, people get offended, and the more mild-mannered folks close in on the curmudgeonly ones in the Race to the Heart Attack. Meanwhile, my girlfriend (pre-fiance') and I nearly break up. My company grants me a day off to spend some time with her (and a day off spent with her is rare, since our schedules rarely intersect as it is).

Try getting anything (non-work related) done when you go to work before anything opens, get home after anything closes, and work through weekends. The car languishes, the house goes without cleaning, there's no need to buy groceries, and there'll be none of that "leisure," thank you very much.

After that, things smoothed out a bit. We got our weekends back in December (most of us), but some people still came in to get stuff done. I remember when I started thinking of Fridays as almost like vacation, because we got to go home at 6pm (officially). Saturdays and Sundays became flurries of activity as one would try to get all appointments and chores and errands done on those days while also trying to remember one's spouse's name and maybe squeeze in some free time.

After about month 4, though, things start to get rough again. Personally, even though I haven't worked as many Saturdays as others since an email went around saying that Saturdays were on a "need-to-work" basis, I found myself coveting my evenings more. I started going out to meet my fiance' for dinner, and I began to lose my gruntle over the fact that I couldn't choose to go to a decent sit-down restaurant because I had to get back to work that night. We ate a lot of fast food (and still do) and enjoyed about an hour of staring at each other because we're both too tired to talk about anything, and there's nothing to talk about anyway but work.

You start to realize that you can call in sick one day and still do over 40 hours that week. And you do call in sick, because physically, you're exhausted, and colds and stuff just blow you over like a house of cards in a stiff breeze. Before crunch, I called in sick maybe once or twice a year. Since crunch started, I think I've called in sick 5 times in 6 months. Personally, I think I have reached a symbiotic relationship with my own cold virus, which provides me with an entertaining "stoned" voice, while I provide it with shelter and Quizno's sandwiches.

Then I notice myself making little mistakes. Back in August I bragged 12,000 words edited in one 9-hour day. I'm not sure my mind could take that now. Little distracted mistakes, errors of not knowing an answer and not asking someone who did. Visible errors that a man with a well-rested mind wouldn't make. And I'm grumpy, and I'm holding dear to my weekends, because I can't seem to live for work but there doesn't seem to be much else going on. And the one weekend in over a month my girl and I can spend together starts as a disaster (early morning spent cleaning and running garbage back and forth between my 4th floor apartment and the dumpster in the parking lot, punctuated with a flat tire and a trip to Canadian Tire). She had planned a dinner party for that night, the first Saturday we had together in so long, and it was a rite of passage for our finally-furnished apartment and our recognition of a sizeable passel of friends after moving here in May.

After that shitty morning, already exhausted and sweaty and grumpy from cleaning and automotive problems, I was in a bit of a poor mood when I went in that day. And my rough mood rubbed off on others, and I got into trouble for affecting morale.

You know things are bad when one grumpy dude can topple everyone else's morale. Personally, I think that I at least had 5-6 months' crunch time for an accomplice.

We're weeks before the game we're working on has to be done. The skins on the drums are stretched thin. I'm remembering fondly the guy who edited 12,000 words in a day. I remember bright-eyed co-workers and comraderie that didn't center around how few more weeks we have left before some normalcy returns. But this is normalcy; when I have an evening off, I never know what to do with it. When "See Girlfriend" is in your day planner with underlines for importance, things are just a little askew.

Like I say, my company is pretty good about handling crunch time (though whether or not the months-long crunch is essential is a topic for more academic industry minds than my own), and as an editor, I've had fewer weekends than the designers who are working hard to make sure the game is perfect. But knowing how I feel about crunch, I imagine it's worse for those folks. Maybe they have better mechanisms for handling it than I do. I don't know. I just don't thrive when I'm exhausted, half-sick, and missing my fiance' and my cats.

As an aside, I worked double shifts in the warehouse where I worked after my first year of college. It sucked, but my hourly wage there was multiplied by 150% for those extra hours. Not sure why that's relevant.

When I got here, I was an awesome editor, a pretty good creative person, and a rather excited human being in general. Now I'm a half-sick, exhausted shell who feels bad because the 56 hours he works per week is less than the 70 hours or more that others work.

Oh well. Two or three weeks to go, and then, I assume, sanity is mine.