Tech & Work

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.

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