Busy Being Busy

On the elevator I double-checked my watch. It was already Wednesday. The week was going by too fast. I stripped off my suit coat as I waited to reach my floor. Then I slapped my proximity badge on the reader, heard the familiar tones, and opened the...


On the elevator I double-checked my watch. It was already Wednesday. The week was going by too fast. I stripped off my suit coat as I waited to reach my floor. Then I slapped my proximity badge on the reader, heard the familiar tones, and opened the door to the lobby.

As I made my way to my office, I returned the friendly wave of Ellen, the administrative assistant who sits in a cubicle next to my office. I do not merit an administrative assistant, but she toils nearby on behalf of several key executives in my company. As I hung my coat on the hook behind the door, I found myself listening in on Ellen's side of a rather noisy phone conversation.

"I'd like to know if you can change Ms. Hansen's return flight from Chicago," she said. "Ok, I'll hold." Pause. "Yes, it's a return to Washington Dulles airport." Pause. "I'm not sure that will work with her schedule. Let me call you back." Click.

I heard her dial, and after the requisite wait for a voice mail prompt, she said, "Hi, Julie, it's Ellen. The 8:00 flight is booked solid, but you could go to the airport and try standby. They said you could get on the 5:30 if you could get to the airport in time from your meeting. Call me back and let me know what you want to do."

For several minutes it was quiet. All I heard were the muted sounds of fingertips on keypads and the occasional whir of the printer as someone sent a document to hard copy. Then Ellen's phone rang.

"Hi, Julie. How's your trip going?" Pause. "Un huh. Sure." Pause. "OK. I'll see what I can do, and I'll leave you a voice mail." Click. More dialing.

"Hi, this is Ellen calling on behalf of Ms. Hansen. Her locator number is XYZ123. I need to see about changing her flight from Chicago today. She can't make the 5:30 to Dulles but wants to know if you can route her through another airport if the 8:00 flight is booked. She needs to get back for a meeting tomorrow." Pause.

This conversation continued to seesaw for several more minutes, and ultimately resulted in Ellen leaving another voice mail for Julie Hansen. Around noon, I walked by Ellen's desk and saw her gone-to-lunch sign on the partition. I also noticed the blinking red voice mail light on her phone. I chuckled.

Around mid-afternoon, I passed Ellen again as I was returning to my office from a meeting.

"Hey, were you finally able to get Julie's flight back rearranged? I couldn't help but overhear," I said.

"I hope so. She's going to try to get on the 8:00 as a standby, hoping her frequent flyer status helps. If not, I got her a refundable flight on another airline as backup." "That sounds like a lot of work."

"It was," she responded and exhaled noisily to drive the point home. "It took a good portion of my day, and now I'm behind on these sales reports."

Late the next evening as I was getting ready to leave the office, I noticed Julie in her office poring over a stack of receipts and paperwork. She was in the process of taping her taxi and restaurant receipts to letter-size pages as the company reimbursement policy dictates.

"Hi, Julie. Were you able to finally get back from Chicago last night?"

"Yes, but it was a real pain," she replied. "I went to visit our big client in Chicago, but they had a security crisis and could only give me and the engineer a half hour. I was at least able to get standby on the 8:00 flight back to Dulles, but that lousy summer weather in Chicago did me in again. We were stuck on the ramp for two hours while a thunderstorm blew over. I didn't get back to my house until after one in the morning. Then I had that big presentation this morning. I'm bagged. On top of that, Ellen has been busy all day trying to get the company reimbursed for the back-up ticket I had her buy. I guess that wasn't as good an idea as I had thought."

"And now you have to do the mandatory origami project with your travel receipts. Good luck. I hope you can get home for a decent dinner this evening."

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