I recently read this article written by fellow blogger Phil Sellers on the short and long term stresses that plague pretty much every IT employee today – he brilliantly coined this “Tech Debt”. Long story short, Phil’s describes the fact that the business expects IT to do more with less, and of course for every action there is a reaction – and it isn’t always and equal reaction, it can be much more felt reaction! Doing more with less without a plan to organize a team will result to things slipping through the cracks and people becoming burnt out and stressed which leads to a major loss of productivity and turn over. Phil along with 99% of the people out there (including me) are continuously looking for a solution to this. I’ve had many years to think about this and have seen past colleagues completely crumble in Tech Debt and go into full “Bankruptcy” mode to the point where it affected all aspects of their life including their families. Well, this topic has been circling in my head for a while now and hopefully I can organize some of my random thoughts on this matter and share some useful insight. Mind you there is no “wise old man” on this subject because for every person exists a different solution but we can count on a common solution baseline.
I think many of the “Tech Debt” issues stem from one thing, the lack of organization and having a system that centers around that. In my opinion the problem is centered around and starts at the IT technician and IT Engineer level. The majority are highly unorganized people who jump around from problem to problem without taking s step back to realize the big picture. Once they are several years deep into this mantra it is sometimes too late to change that characteristic, just like it is very difficult for a technical person to transition into a true management role. I feel 90% of the current techs and engineers are too far down the road and will never change their mindset. I really don’t blame people for lacking organization since this subject is not really a topic that is hit in depth in school. I myself have struggled with the transition from being a tactical firefighter to a more strategic logical thinker and planner.
Most of true strategic “IT Professionals” understand the need for a consistent system to keep themselves organized. I used the term “IT Professional” on purpose because these are the people that have elevated themselves from the tech type mentality and have grown themselves and their mindset. These days technology and the business are changing so fast that anyone it IT will feel like they are getting sprayed by an UZI where the bullets are replaced by new initiatives and unexpected tasks.
As I said, the key here is to find a system that works for you, whether it’s the Eisenhower or GTD methods, or even a piece of paper. The secret sauce is to find something that works for you will absolutely trust and can take anywhere. If the task is out of your head and in a trusted system it will no longer be taking up precious brain cycles during the day and most importantly will allow you to sleep better at night. Get all of your tasks out of your head and into your system.
Now, once you get to this point you should start feeling the load to lighten in your head. I consider it to be similar to the first few times people go to the gym on January 1st, everything feels new and great but eventually you will lose steam. This is due to the fact that people seek instant gratification and are looking for instant results so they get into the gym and try to lift 250lbs the first day. The truth is you have to start small and stay consistent with the effort – you will notice the gains slowly. It took a lot of time getting to the burn out point and its going to take time to start reversing the effects. STAY CONSISTANT.
Additionally, one thing I started to do with some of my guys is help them map out their entire week. On Monday we will do a complete brain dump of things that are on the plate and also analyze some of the things that spilled over from the previous week. We will write down each day of the week on paper and then start filling the hours of up. I usually like to put the hardest tasks in the beginning of the week at the start of the day. That is when most people typically have the most energy. Once this is done we will put this paper on the wall so it is easy to keep track and check things off as they get completed. I found this to have the biggest impact, at the end of the day you will go home feeling more accomplished since you now have something tangible that will show the output of your efforts.
One futile effort that seems to have been a roadblock with Phil is his team’s “buy in” with organizing themselves just like he has tried to do. Well I‘m a big believer in leading by example. Once others start seeing your list on the wall and looking at all of your accomplishments they should want to follow in your footsteps. One other thing that makes sense is to also take your accomplishment for the week and send out a summary to your team and on top of putting the items you completed include some personal thoughts on what you feel went well and didn’t go well in the week. Realistically, there will be a few that just won’t budge, you won’t be able to control them so just work around them and stay far away from them as possible. Phil also went on to vent his frustration with the reactive technical items that constantly pop on the radar and then fall through the cracks. I think 90% of the small items that pop up in the IT department can be scripted and automated. If you are doing something more than once that is a big problem. Most IT pros aren’t comfortable with scripting/programming so this normally falls through the cracks or gets a band-aid. The key here is to automate and get it out of your hands. Also, many IT people are ashamed to ask for help, either delegate or hire a consultant to offload some of those nagging tasks.
Hopefully this gives you some new ways to look at this subject. if you don’t have a system to organize yourself it will only be a matter of time until your max out the credit card and burn out into complete bankruptcy and changing your job won’t help this. The problems will follow you wherever you go. Heck, I was just sitting next to another blogger at HP Discover and was impressed with the way he used OneNote to organize himself and got a few ideas for myself. You can learn new ways by just talking to people and seeing their system. Take a step back and write down every day the top 3 things that went right and wrong in your day and analyze the results at the end of the week. I’m pretty sure most of the wrong’s will be a byproduct of lacking organization and a system. Also, remember that now matter how far down the wrong road you have gone, turn around and be consistent with whatever system you choose.
-Justin Vashisht @3cVguy