10 tasks to keep your IT department productive during slow times

When work slows down, it's smart to catch up on back-burner tasks. You can keep your techs busy and get some necessary (but neglected) chores out of the way.

Every minute of every day isn't filled with emergencies, data migration, backup cleanup, and end-user babysitting. Sometimes, you find yourself faced with engineers who have nothing to do. Naturally, you don't want those brilliant minds idle — or else you'd have World of Warcraft parties breaking out in the department. So what can you do when slow times strike? Well, it's simple. You tackle the tasks that you're normally too busy to get to. Here are 10 chores that will keep your department humming, even when there are no front-burner issues to deal with.

1: Clean up the shop

The shop (or departmental offices) can get out of sorts when life is hectic. But a clean environment is much more conducive to efficient work. When things are slow, why not take a moment to clean up the office? This could be as simple as a good sweep, dust, and shine or as involved as getting rid of older and dead tech and completely rearranging the furniture for a better layout.

2: Make patch cables

You can never have enough patch cables. And although it's simple to order 3-, 5-, 7-, 15-foot cables, you don't always have the perfect length. Buying spooled cable in bulk and RJ45 connectors is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying bags of precut and pre-terminated Ethernet cables.

3: Get cables under control

Open up that server closet. What do you see? A minefield of thick, worm-like cables ready to tangle your feet at every step? Downtime is a great time to bring order to that chaos. It goes without saying you must do this without disrupting anyone's work, so this could be a job for early morning or after hours.

4: Learn something new

IT is an ever-evolving field. That means education. Slow times offer a perfect opportunity to have your engineers learn something new. They don't necessarily have to take classes. It could be as simple as having them work with a new coding language or having high-level admins teaching lower-level employees their way around more complex systems. Any knowledge employees can share with one another is a good investment in time.

5: Clean up your code

Sometimes, when things are crazy, we don't write the cleanest code. Or we may forget to comment it. We all know the benefit of clean code — easier debugging and rewriting and, in some cases, more efficient execution. We also know that when code is written poorly, it can be a real pain to clean up — so slow times are well suited for taking on this sigh-inducing task.

6: Test new systems and software

We're all, always, looking for new systems to use. The thing is, we rarely have the time and energy to actually test out new systems. What about that new open source CMS you've been dying to give a go? Or the groupware? Slow times give you a great opportunity to get those systems up and running and hammer them to see if they'll do the job you need them to do.

7: Document systems and software

This is one of the last tasks that ever get done, but it's one of the most important. Without documentation, your systems rely upon your engineers to remember everything. Unfortunately, employee turnover is inevitable. When people leave, you still need to be able to log on to those mission-critical servers. Take this opportunity to begin the process of documenting your systems, software, users, etc. In the end, you'll be very glad you did this.

8: Audit your network

Do you know every piece of hardware on your network? You should — or at least you should have it on paper. Downtime gives you a chance to audit your network and create both digital and paper maps of that topology. At some point, you will be happy you took the time to do this. Just make sure that if you include passwords in this map, you place it in a secure location (like a safe).

9: File paperwork

Your company might still do everything on paper. Or you may have already gone digital. Either way, there is most likely some form of paperwork to be done. And if you're like many IT shops, you're already way behind in the paperwork department. Now is the perfect time to catch up... and maybe even get a bit ahead!

10: Run a security audit on your servers

You never know when you're going to get hit by malicious hackers hoping to make you another notch in their belt. Now that you have some downtime, this might be the perfect moment to run a full-scale security audit on your servers. Armed with this kind of information, you can harden those systems so you don't have to worry about security when you don't have time to worry.

Other tasks?

If you take on these tasks, you will keep your techs busy and push your department forward with efficiency, security, and skills development. What other projects do you tackle when there's a break in IT's regular workload?


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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