Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Draw A Line In The Sand (#MY Eng 66)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lie', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel', 'trial and error', 'look before you leap', 'lightning in a bottle', 'on the same page', don't judge a book its cover', 'reinvent the wheel', 'shifting gears', 'throwing in the towel', 'jump on the bandwagon', 'passing the buck', 'breaking the ice', 'cracking the code', 'when it rains it pours', 'bigger fish to fry', 'ball is in your court', 'back to the drawing board', 'square peg in a round hole', 'don't rock the boat', 'a whole new ball game', 'burning the midnight oil', 'never say never', 'get all your ducks in a row', 'make the hay while the sun shines', 'tick all the boxes', 'a leopard cannot change its spots', 'fools rush in', 'final straw that broke the camel's back', 'tip of iceberg' and 'hold the fort'.

Everyone has their limits. Our minimum and maximum standards might differ, but there are still limits to how much we can push our body, mind, and spirit to complete an important task.

We're all quite aware of our personal limits. That's the the easy part.

But how do we let know others know about - and more importantly, understand and accept - personal limits? Especially if our standards on what needs to be done, when, and how, may wildly diverge?

* * *

That's the perennial problem of working in teams. How do we, as individual members, draw a line in the sand?

We've all heard the mantra brewing in recent times: work life balance, quiet quitting, disconnect, etc.

There's even a movement - and laws in some countries - of how employees are entitled to tune out from work after office hours and be free from email communications. The days of slaving away as a worker ant to the greater good of the ant colony seems like a distant past.

This is where the line gets blurry. On one hand, the advancement of digital technologies has allowed us to work more efficiently, by virtual meetings (Zoom) and file-sharing (Dropbox). On the other hand, the multiple streams and rapid pace of communications has resulted to an influx of messages.

For every work project, there seems to be over 5 different channels for communications (internal team group chat, external group chat with client, email chains, private chats with different stakeholders). Multiply that number with the amount of projects that we're working at the same time, and the total is over 20 communication channels running concurrently on a daily basis.

Again, it's a question of preference. Some people lean towards over-communication out of caution. Better for people to talk more and know more rather than to miss out on some details and make errors. But not everyone has the same attention span and capacity to absorb so much information, so those details may be overlooked anyway despite being highlighted in one of the many channels.

* * *

The greater lesson here is the importance for everyone to draw the same line in the sand on a shared task. Discuss and decide early on what everyone's preferences and limits are. Find a common ground on the workflow standards.

But more importantly, everyone has to give and take. It's not a one-way street. Just because you're an early riser, you can't expect everyone else to accomodate to a recurring weekly update meeting at 8am every Monday. Also, some allowance ought to be made to young parents juggling with babies and children.

The best lines in the sands are not a bunch of criss-crossing doodles, but a single converging well-defined web. Lines must be drawn out of equal respect and deep empathy.

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