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The Tech Manager’s Time Crunch

I love stories, books, and movies that are related to time. Time shifting, time warping, going back or forth in time, parallel universes (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...). I love history—reading about time periods other than our own. Time travel topics in science fiction always tickle my fancy: “Back to the Future,” “The Terminator” saga, Hermione Granger's Time-Turner, and so many more concepts and clever uses of time in movies and books. Not just current ones, either—Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has time-traveling “spirits.”

But, alas, we are trapped in time. No escaping it. We have just 24 hours in a day, no more, no less. And we must cram in all the living, working, playing, eating, and sleeping into those 24 short hours. What are we to do? Complain? Worry?  The Gospel of Luke says, “which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?” I certainly can’t. We get what we get and we try to make the most of it.

So what is a Tech Manager to do with the time crunch? How do you manage all of the stuff that flies your way every day? With the hardware failing, the user getting tied up in tech knots, and the software not working as it should, when do you have time for your projects?

I tend to slice my day up into compressed, sequential time allocations. Some would call this multitasking, but that theory has been debunked for years now.  Humans don't do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly—some quicker than others. Like a short order cook, we hurtle through our day at breakneck speeds jumping from one task to another. Scrambled eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, side of hash browns may sound simple, but multiply that by 45 people at your local Denny’s and the cook is frazzled, but effective. You food comes out just fine. Scientists say we are not doing multiple things at the exact same instance, we are just moving from one task to another, one focus to another, really fast.

So how do you divide up your time and tasks? You could go back and read my AUGIWorld articles on Tasks and Priorities from July and August 2016. In those, I discuss dividing up your time and putting the right things first. But now I turn to slicing up your time so you can get things done.

Timeboxing

Projects are just strings of smaller tasks completed for a larger focused effort. Timeboxing is a technique I have used with some success to define, organize, and sometime constrain my efforts when working on tasks. The concept is to divide projects into time limited tasks with deadlines for each time period.  Rather than work until you reach a defined goal, you work until you reach a defined time period. You break the tasks down to fit your time constraints or allocations.

Let’s say that you need to define a process modification, test it, refine it, deploy it, and document it. This would be five timeboxes of a defined length (30 minutes) with a defined deliverable (defining the process or testing it). You then take 30 minutes to define the process and its modifications and stop. When you get more time, you come back and take 30 minutes to test it, then stop. The next time you do the next thing. Each time you are getting something done and moving the project forward. You could use this for Project Time or general company time (30 minutes to review email, then stop). A variation of this is the Pomodoro method used for larger tasks (25 minutes, then a 5 minute break, then return to the same task for another 25 minutes and then another 5 minute break)

Staying Focused

The best way to get something done is to stay focused on it. This is so hard. I am working away on a task and need to do some quick research in the web. I open Google to do the search and see some interesting image over the search bar where the word Google usually sits. It is the Google Doodle. Hmm… let’s see what that’s about… click. Twenty minutes later, I remember that I had to search for something and stop reading about Louisa May Alcott’s 184th Birthday. Time - Gone - Forever.

So what do I do to stay focused? I allocate my time wisely. I do creative and deeply intensive work in the morning. The earlier the better. I am an early riser and my best time is prior to lunch. I put my most arduous tasks there.

Sometimes it is deciding what NOT to do. Rather than keeping my task list in my head, I define what I will not be doing today. I avoid getting sucked into productive work that is not needed right now. It may be valuable, but I have other things that need more time.

I have recently heard about the “Warren Buffett’s Two List System.” Buffett suggests making a list of the 25 things you want to get done. Then circle the top five. Move the remaining 20 to another list entitled “Avoid at all Costs” and do nothing on them until the top five are done. Nice.

Set to Succeed

There are a few things that you might “set” in place to ensure that your time is well used.

Set a meeting with yourself. I am addicted to my calendar in Outlook. I put reminders in there and set meetings with others. I also set meetings with myself. The time and the topic are one of my tasks that must be completed.  So I just carve out some time and meet with myself. And I try not to cancel on me. I get mad when I do that to myself… lol.

Set a deadline for everything. Anytime anyone gives me a task or I give myself one, I set a hard deadline. Date and Time. I ask, “When do you need this?” or maybe “Can I get this to you on Tuesday?” or “When are you expecting me to get this done?” If they give you a day and not a time, then ask “is that morning or end of day? 8 AM or 2 PM?  ASAP is not a deadline. Let me repeat that in a different way.  ASAP is not a date or a time. When people tell me ASAP, I tend to ask them when that will happen. “As Soon As Possible” to me may mean something entirely different to you.  Get a date and a time.

Set up a “No-Brainer List.” This is a list of tasks that can be done when you have no brain power or energy left. Tasks on this list could include straightening your office clutter or filing your business cards. When these tasks are done, you will feel as if you accomplished something. No reason to let low energy prevent you from completing something. If you have no one to delegate these types of tasks to, then get them done when you are drained.

Work to Deadlines

Now that you have a deadline, use it as a prioritizing tool. Not just first task in, first task out. You have to re-prioritize every time you switch to another large task. Ask yourself “Is this the most important thing I need to get done right now?” With deadlines looming, you now have a way to say “no” to other time-impacting events. You cannot say no to critical CAD and BIM issues—that is your job duty. But others can be stacked around a date and time that is looming.

As I always say, tech troubles are your #1 priority no matter what you may be working on. Customer support is king. When an end user or project is in a jam, drop what you are doing and go help them. Keep the systems working and then slice out some time for your other endeavors.

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