IT Employment

Managing those extra tasks

There's a minefield of tasks out there, coming your way from an overzealous manager with such preambles as "can you just-" "would you mind popping over to-," and "when you've got a moment-." Beware: sometimes these "half-tasks" are more involved than you think.

Managers are always trying to think of new ways to fill our day, fearful that we might have time between tasks that needs to be exploited. Here are some of the schemes that I have experienced. Do you recognize any of them and do you know of any variants?

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There is a phenomenon that is becoming common in the world of IT support. There is an assumption that we don’t have enough work to do and that our bosses are paying us to sit idle between calls.

We all know that nothing could be further from the truth, but some part of my warped sense of humor saw the funny side of these attempts to increase efficiency.

How many of you have fallen for the “can you just?” ploy, become skilled at “just popping over to...” or have experienced the “When you’re not busy...” gambit.

“Can you just” calls originate when your boss walks by and says, “As you seem not to be too busy, can you just look over this report?” Being the ever-enthusiastic worker, you accept the wad of paper and start to read through. You’ve been had; your boss just tricked you into taking on a new project that everyone else ran from when they saw him coming.

One that always catches me offguard is, “When you get to your call in x town, could you pop into x customer and make sure that everything is all right.” Popping in is usually a ploy to trick you into walking into a customer with a major complaint, and the five-minute courtesy call turns out to be a living hell that leaves you seething for the rest of the week. There is nothing short-term about “popping” -- picking up a call on the way to another call is simply not how it works. The very term suggests a kind of “half task,” an illusion that is not borne out by experience. Every job you undertake is a complete job; there are no half measures. It may be that the job is a simple one, but if the customer thinks that you aren’t really there to see them, and you are merely passing through it can create a negative image.

There is another myth that help desk work has breaks in it that can be used profitably. The problem is that, although there are often breaks between calls, it is impossible to predict how long those breaks are going to be.

The usual way to get other jobs done is for a person to log out of the ACD once the morning rush is over and start on the other tasks. There is nothing more annoying and inefficient than trying to do a background task and having to continually stop it and answer the phone. That wasn’t good enough for one of our supervisors, who insisted that we should all be logged in and taking calls while also managing other tasks. The result was that the other tasks were either not done, took much longer to do, or done incorrectly. My argument was that he paid me only one wage; therefore I did only one job at a time.

16 comments
Lazarus439
Lazarus439

...it somehow becomes an IT responsibility. Not that there's any training (or frequently even a manual) available, but somehow IT is supposed to be able make it - regardless of what "it" is - behave. I suppose there's an implied compliment in there, but it's still annoying sometimes

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

"My argument was that he paid me only one wage; therefore I did only one job at a time." Well, your argument is flawed. Suppose you needed your boss to look over an issue that you were working on and give you a "yea or nay" on what to do, how to do it, etc. Your boss might be in the middle of another task, too. Those with the "one job at a time" mindset are often the reason that I'm so busy as compared to other support staff. Pull your weight, multitask when possible, and learn how to prioritize and manage your time.

Hogie51
Hogie51

I'm a little disappointed in this essay. It sounds like whining to me. When I was in the Field there was this "joke" about how do you tell a good tech from a bad. The good tech has all his calls handled, is on top of his parts and paperwork, and ahead on his PM tasks. He sits around all day drinking coffee. The bad tech is behind in his calls, his inventory is way off, his paperwork is all messed up and late, he is behind on his PM duties, and he sits around all day drinking coffee. The point is that some people seem to be able to use their time more productively than others. They use any down time to improve their own lot and that of their company. They see their duty as a career to help, and not a job to endure.

mikedyne
mikedyne

I'd like to have these "extra tasks". It's not uncommon for my helpdesk to be quiet for hours at a time, and when jobs come in, usually they are quick fixes. I don't like sitting around and waiting for work, but sometimes I have to. :( Curiously: What do other helpdeskers have to deal with in terms of work load?

Gate keeper
Gate keeper

I have run into similar experience when i was on helpdesk ... absolute hell but you have to start somewhere

dsink
dsink

I am already performing most of another job that was decided to not be refilled when the person left. The idea was basically that since the network is running well then I must not have that much to do. As we all know, it's because we are always working that our networks run well.

kgunnIT
kgunnIT

The problem that many people have when multitasking is half-focused work. Some people can't be fully engaged in a call or with a customer while doing another task, and in turn hear only half the conversation (issue) and only put half the effort into the other project or task. I agree everyone needs to pull their own weight, but pull it with 100% effort and focus, or don't do it at all. I have had too many projects delayed because people take shortcuts or don't pay enough attention to detail and we run into problems later. I also have had customers hell at me over the phone for supposedly not giving them 100% of my attention.

kari
kari

That's my favorite scam ever. Everyone in my office uses the line, so I hop up, walk over to their screen, and find their icons for them. I fall for it EVERY time; how did they lose that icon? "I'm not seeing my emails... They're all gone." Ah - you've opened Outlook Express. Your emails are where you left them in Outlook... "I'm not seeing my wireless icon." Yes, your wireless card is still in your laptop bag. "I can't find the report you wrote..." After much research, the computer is alphabetizing those sneaky files. And, "Why doesn't the remote work today?"... Our presentation screen remotes curiously only work for the presentation room you're standing in and are, astoundingly, not to be transferred willy-nilly throughout the building. And this is (totally) whining - or at best ill-humored and uncharitable. I'm not going to pretend it's not in my job description to find icons and turn on TVs. I'm bidding my time until I get to start my own helpdesk scam: "People in my generation just aren't good with coffee makers - Thanks for making that technological stainless steel terror work."

alarma7
alarma7

I often sit around for some time but I try to make the best use of my time by studying for Certs or reading tech magazines. My boss is very understanding and also takes time to train me on other IT tasks.

sbillings
sbillings

I cringe when someone stops me in the hall or while I'm at another user's desk or even calles me. They lead off with--- "Quick question" And they proceed to ask a very long and involved question. What the hell does "quick question" mean anyway?!? Is it simply a way of getting some unpaid advice or is it just the latest hip, trendy, yuppy way of communication!?!?! :( :(

gsullivan
gsullivan

You do have to start somewhere. But I hate burst your bubble Kaynaan, there are many levels to Hell. Help Desk is just one of them! The trick, in my book, is to find the Hell that doesn't torment you constanlty, then find a way inside to hjandle the torment that does come your way. "It is better to put on more comfortable shoes that to try and carpet the whole world." Best of luck.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

There have been multiple studies that show that the quality of work goes way down and takes longer when people attempt to do more than one thing at a time. It was either the 3rd or 4th task added that drove total productivity down for familiar tasks. When it comes to unfamiliar tasks, trying to multi-task even 2 of them is actually worse than taking them one at a time. Unless the tasks you are trying to simultaneously complete are parts of an integrated whole, you're actually processing them sequentially in small increments; much the same way a single processor PC gives the illusion of multi-tasking. This means that you are constantly interrupting your task to switch to another. Studies have also been done to show that people take 5 to 20 minutes to reorient on a task and return to the previous level of efficiency after being interrupted in the middle of it; either by a walk-by conversation, a stat task, a phone call, etc. Safe, high-quality work requires focus on the task at hand. "Multi-tasking" is a broken, or diffused focus and is therefor neither safe, nor high quality.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

After 13 years you'd think a person would get used to it, and you do to a certain degree, but there is still an air of inconsiderate disregard for your time or the management of it. I generally cut people off with "There's no such thing" just to get them thinking. I try to steer people to call the Help Desk so that a ticket gets created, and to make sure that somebody actually works on the issue. But in the spirit of customer service, you can't always do that. So, in the end, consider it a compliment and understand that it goes with the territory, it's an unwritten "part of the job" thing. I do find it to be insulting that the assumption is often made that your not busy because they don't see you moving PC's or sweating. The reality is that I'm working on 4 different machines through a KVM, and two RDP sessions. It's the age old mentallity of squeezing out every drop of blood you can.

hisb79
hisb79

Very well put. Multitasking (if any) should be limited to the absolute necessary required for the job, and managed closely by a manager to prevent an employee being overloaded. At some point, multitasking reaches a point where the employee becomes as useless as someone sitting on a chair 'drinking coffee'. To give an example, a technician who fixes 'things' also handles the calls on the phone and the front counter from customers wanting to find out the status of the job. The technician also handles the taking of new jobs and gives customers a 'turn around time' an estimate of how long it will take, also contacting the customer when the work is finished. This works well up to a certain point. At some point the turn around time becomes rather long and a customer will become irritated and delay the book in process. These delays will then delay the actual service work of other older jobs. The turnaround time of repairs begins to snowball. Telephone calls requesting status updates will become regular interruptions; customers will visit the counter and take even more time away from the technician. The technician needs time after each interruption to regather their thoughts on the actual work they are doing. Some customers are so irate they 'rattle' the technician and thought regathering could take some magnitude longer than the usual. The technician reaches a point where interruptions are so frequent that any work that does get done is low quality. Customers demand to speak to the boss. More time gets wasted trying to quickly resolve an issue with an irate customer who may be later in the job queue anyway. Other customers who are less irate may wait longer periods, some get forgotten. Customers question the capabilities of the technician; some even demand that the company fire the employee due to incompetence. So multitasking can be a good thing when used wisely, but a company's worst enemy when abused.

brent.harmon
brent.harmon

As an IT Manager for the past 2.5 years, I have no technical skills remaining ;) What I will typically do when someone asks me a "quick question" is listen fully to the the question, often nodding in comprehension and empathy. I will begin my response with, "Have you contacted the Help Desk about this issue, because they are the experts that can best answer this question. But if I had to guess ... " And, I will usually offer some other tidbit like, "... and we have User Forums that address issues like this and many others - you may find an answer to your question there."

Bacon 3000
Bacon 3000

This article is just a way of life around here. It's amazing how just being in the office/shop, seems to give the impression that I have nothing to do. I'm just sitting here keeping my thumb warm...

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