Leaking Hours – part 2

In part 1, I talked about situations where you have been dropped into a mess and you feel like you are suddenly “in over your head”, or where several problems seem to arise around you quickly, like rising flood waters. You think you can handle it until the gravity of the situation sets-in on you, and you realize that things are suddenly quite serious.

There is one more form of “leaking hours” to discuss: slowly rising water.

The conditions that go along with this scenario are pretty simple.

  1. You have worked at a place for a while (more than a year or two).
  2. Things are pretty well established.
  3. Maybe you have skipped one or two upgrade/revs on your servers or dev software (Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, .NET, etc). The old one works fine and you can’t identify any specific benefits to upgrading right now. You intend to upgrade eventually, but no specific date has been set.
  4. There are a few systems that you would like to replace, but honestly, when you look at them, you recognize that it would be a lot of work. It is daunting.
  5. You don’t have time to work on new stuff, because you are too busy working on everything else.
  6. Things seem to be taking longer than they used to, but you can’t really explain why. Stuff just takes this long now. It can’t be fixed.
  7. If you really think about it, you could get more done if you didn’t have to maintain system [x] or project [y] or if you didn’t patrol some of those logs/servers.

You have noticed that progress is slowing and you seem to be falling behind, rather than keeping up with technology. It didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but now, this has become the new norm. What if you never find the time to catch up? What if you do? It starts to look insurmountable and it gets even-more-so each day. You feel a little depressed and wish that you could hand it all over to someone else and start over on something new.

First of all, when things get complicated like this, you really wish that you could “rip off the bandaid” and start fresh. Honestly, this approach will probably not work well, because you cannot just [stop working on the old stuff]. That is the whole thing that holds you back.

The correct solution is this:

  1. Mentally prepare yourself to put-in a few extra hours, because that is what it will take to make a difference and reel this thing back-in.
  2. Perhaps you could rent a ninja for a month, to help you. Suggest it to the boss. Even if he doesn’t go for it, he will be more aware of the shortage of help and be more open to addressing it in the future.
  3. Do something formal, like scheduling a meeting with a Project manager to declare the beginning of “project: spring cleaning”.
  4. Formally commit to shifting your focus on this growing problem and resolving it:
    a. Start by scheduling a kick-off a meeting in a meeting room that you usually don’t use (for the psychological effect).
    b. In the meeting, take a serious step-back and open your mind and try to assess your work-load from a 3rd party perspective. (Maybe even rent a consultant for a week or two to help you with this assessment).
    c. Make a list of all of the things that eat your hours. Identify which ones eat the most time. Also identify which ones are recurring regularly.
    d. Identify if there is any way to automate (fully or partially) the recurring tasks. Put those at the top of the list.
    e. Identify if there is anything that could be done to automate-away some of the larger tasks. Break those down into several smaller tasks. Prioritize those tasks by ROI.
  5. Make the list items into a priority and identify which ones will get completed by specific dates. Again, completing these tasks, must become your highest priority. If they do not get completed, then they will become yet-another thing that eats your time, with no ROI.
  6. As you gain momentum on your list, you will regain more time to work on resolving these items
  7. Turn this into a “spring cleaning” habit, that you perform quarterly and yearly.

The key here is to reverse the negative trend and create a new trend that puts you on the right path. It can be hard work, but face-it, you are already working hard. It is better to work hard to get ahead of your problems instead of constantly dealing with the ones that come flying-at-you.

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About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
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