DIY

What do you do with your downtime?

The computers are all humming along just fine, the printers are all printing, the e-mails are all getting through, all software and hardware is upgraded to the latest and greatest, and no one is reporting any problems. Is it time to sit back, put your feet up, and read the newspaper, or is it time for something else?

The computers are all humming along just fine, the printers are all printing, the e-mails are all getting through, all software and hardware is upgraded to the latest and greatest, and no one is reporting any problems. Is it time to sit back, put your feet up, and read the newspaper, or is it time for something else?

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Those of us who provide user support in smaller office environments have probably all had our share of downtime. I won't speak for larger offices, but perhaps some of my TR peers will share some insight in that regard. Nonetheless, when everything is working just fine, all upgrades are complete, and no one seems to be struggling with a problem, what's a user support professional to do?

Here are some of things I might keep myself busy with:

Make the rounds: This is a good time to just walk through the office and ask people how things are going, see if everything is working OK, etc. I think people like this proactive approach, and it might even avoid a bigger problem down the line. Update my computer specification sheet: I try to do this at least once a year anyway, but doing a little research will make sure the computers I build in the future provide the best bang for the buck. In the past, I have been surprised with the request to provide computers for new hires, so my specification sheet provides a quick snapshot of what I would build and the cost. If you're interested, my current specification looks like this: computer specification. It is four months old, so after a little research, it might require a tweak here and there. Check production software Web sites: Making sure I haven't overlooked an important upgrade or service pack is a good idea. I'm not always notified or don't always hear about them. I'm not really talking about Microsoft Windows or Office, but rather our production software that doesn't have an automatic update feature. Check in with some of the technical Web sites: TechRepublic, of course, is an easy one for me to peruse. We sure can get some great information about the latest and greatest technology right here. But I also visit a few industry specific sites, ones related to AutoCAD and Revit, and ones with blogs, question-and-answer sections, articles, etc. It's a great way to get a heads-up on potential issues I might find myself faced with, get the latest tips and tricks, and so on. Get all the documentation up to date: All sorts of things are documented, and when something changes on the fly, I might just make some hand-written notes with the intent of updating the electronic file later. After some time, there might be more notes than original printed text. Research and plan for future training: If you provide user training like I do, coming up with training ideas and material might be a bigger challenge than presenting it. Asking users or management what they might like to see in future training session ideas is a good way to get ideas, and getting prepared well in advance is always better than scrambling or shooting from the hip. Get up to speed on the newest production software: For me, this is Revit MEP, Autodesk's Building Information Modeling software. It's changing our design environment dramatically, and it's like learning a whole new language (like Chinese). Although we've been using it in production for about a year, only a handful of people in our office have worked with it, with varying degrees of expertise, I might add. This is something I'll be documenting to improve the learning curve for others and to make it specific to the way we'll be using it. Help with production of the company's product: In my case, this would be the creation of building construction documents. If anyone is scrambling to get something out the door, I'm more than willing to jump in and lend a hand. Around here, IT is only a means to an end. That end product -- producing construction documents -- is our bread and butter. Being involved in the production process not only helps the design engineers meet their deadlines, but it can only be a positive when it comes to supporting the technology that makes it happen.

Those are just some thoughts about what I do when there's no crisis to deal with. How about you? What do you do with your user support downtime?

29 comments
RayJeff
RayJeff

*ROFL* What is downtime? I've never been in that kind of work environment where there has been any type of work time. The only time of downtime is when I stepped foot off the premises..and even with that, I was never truly down *lol*

ehsan_msc
ehsan_msc

regrouping my comitments and education

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

An interesting, if abstract, concept, free time. If I ever had any I would never admit it, there is always somebody looking to make budget cuts. The art of looking busy has been mastered in my workplace.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I came from the manufacturing sector where "downtime" meant failure. So I was always busy fixing things during "downtime", HA! I pretty much did the same things listed in the article except that maintenance of the inventory control system was constant and always in need of attention. I never did get it up to snuff by the time that contract ran out.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Any time I have cleared all my calls, I'm checking the equipment at the store I'm at, then proceeding to the closest store to that one. Nothing reduces a call load like making sure everything's clean and working well before it breaks. Oh, and I occasionally visit TR.

flausher
flausher

highly innapropriate. but hey! thats only when i'm super bored. usually try to look for any problems that might be in the making, update documents, "make the rounds" as it was put, etc.

LarryD4
LarryD4

Downtime? With my employer on a five year hardware life cycle, downtime is not a word I ever use. The only downtime I get is my lunch break. But when I eat at my desk I'm usually posting and answering questions on techrepublic. :)

reisen55
reisen55

In corporate IT, walking the floor was always a good practice. Time to do the social networking which is always a part of life. Often forgotten too by IT people. There are always a small collection of nit-pick chores to be done. One odd aspect of IT work is that we sometimes like to get something 95% done, leaving out just something else TO BE DONE AT A LATER DATE or just because we're tired, angry or bored. Great time to pull out that list. Take apart something. One day at Aon, a colleague of mine was so bored he ripped apart an old laptop. And if you are really looking for something to do, go look for it. I will guarantee you'll find it somewhere out there.

mvedwar
mvedwar

Downtime! What is that? I am not familiar with downtime :)

willpower2007
willpower2007

In IT there is no time to rest coz there are new technologies that are always upcoming! The best thing to do is to go to the Test environment and test such inorder to instantiate the effectiveness and effeciency of the organisation. IT professionals should not adopt to a norm of saying "Its Business as usual". And of course you need to document and manage the changes. IT professionals are the watch dogs of an organisation interms of technology acquiring and implementation

DeeDux
DeeDux

There is no downtime - I and the other woman who handle most of our IT work are not actually IT people. I'm and office manager, she's the project coordinator for a department and also a technician. But whenever anything IT-related comes up one of us has to drop our billable work to attend to that.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

There is a lot of free training available on the web. And for many of us, loading a box with Vista or a business-oriented Linux distro is still a great way to fill the available minutes. I finally installed Office 2007 this week.

1bn0
1bn0

I agree this can be a very effective use of time. Although I have actually been pulled in to a meeting becasue of other employees who decided I shouldn't have time to do so. Managers are brainwashed to beleive every employee should be doing something directly productive. They can't seem to grasp that IT is service based and supports the pdouction. Making the rounds is a good way to find out about issues that people are having yet don't want to initiate a trouble ticket. Often it is just difficulty using the technology and they don't want to look "stupid". Talking to them on their turf lets them ask questions in a less formal manner. I once read that the owner of Fedex used to do this, visit employees at their job position. He credited it with allowing him to find out what was really going on for the employees and giving him direct feedback that he could act on.

merumaru
merumaru

clean and tidy up my server room and patch cabinet

mark
mark

Is the 'look busy' attitude more common in the UK? It has been the case pretty much everywhere I have worked. You can always find me with hand hovering over alt-tab in case the boss wanders in... but I am usually reading Computer Weekly, IGizmo (not strictly work related but who knows where the next great enabler will come from), and of course tech republic. That is of course after I have finished all those 95% finished jobs, checked everything is ticking over still, done 'the rounds' to make sure everyone is happy, checked for updates and checked the software audit. I have tried spending my downtime on getting some updated qualifications but find I struggle with multiple choice questions and self learning, I don't know why, I think I must have a form of multiple choice dyslexia, why bother remembering exactly what and where everything is when 99% of it is obvious when you are looking for it? I also take time to try and understand more of the business I find myself in - its all very alien to me and most users are somewhat reluctant to embrace new technology, so I try to spend 10mins or so with the less tech savvy users at least once a week showing them how to do things differently. This week I discovered that some users have been printing A4 address labels by laying out the addresses in word, printing the sheet and then photocopying that onto the labels! I hope they understood the mailing and labels wizard... I have also had the opportunity to attend a few Technet events - not strictly in my downtime, but always well worth attending - I always pick up a few new tricks, and they provide lunch!

Joe_R
Joe_R

Thanks for posting

Joe_R
Joe_R

"Downtime" in another sense - failure - is when we get real busy!

user support
user support

Schedule time but also take advantage of unscheduled downtime to take computer based technical courses or self development reading such as "Your Attitude is Showing" A Primer of human relations, 10th Edition by Elwood N. Chapman, Sharon Lund O'Neil. If I am on an intense problem where I feel my brain is going to explode, I step out for with my co-workers for a walk or beverage to refresh my mind.

WoW > Work
WoW > Work

Maybe it's me, but tbh I have never found his site very funny. Some of his stuff has made me chuckle. But to me, overall the site is somewhat lame. /shrug As for downtime, check in on tech sites like Ars or local/national news. I'll also check up on other projects that I just haven't had time to really work on. I'll check up on other help desk calls that need follow up (because we gave them a solution, and never heard if it worked!)

michael.brodock
michael.brodock

downtime is when your phone is ringing off the hook and people are queuing up at your door all screaming... "FIX IT!!!" :)

hksupply
hksupply

I've provided support for many companies where the women like yourself get "stuck" with the IT work because there is nobody else to do it. Upper management won't pay for a full time IT person. Why-o-why does this always happen? So what's the excuse in your case? For your employer not hiring a dedicated IT person? Billable work should always come first :)

Joe_R
Joe_R

I can relate.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Continuing eductation never stops, does it? Thanks for posting.

s.butera
s.butera

I like to study up for upcoming certs I want. I also like to read tech website to stay on top of the up and coming.

Anthony.V
Anthony.V

I usually browse the latest tech sites to see what's up and comming. If not then im busy studying for my certifications.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Too bad others can't see it. Thanks for posting.

kgunnIT
kgunnIT

I work for a small company and somehow, I always manage to stay busy. Very little do I find myself bored with nothing to do, but on those rare occassions, I like to visit tech sites to read up on the latest technologies. The only thing constant in the IT world is change. As IT pros, part of our job is to keep up with these changes and make sure we are still running efficiently. I also use any downtime to test out software that might be useful for my job or help benefit the company. Also, searching for other tools and resources to help enhance network and computer security is important, and again, an area that needs attention. As mentioned by another TR user, finishing those other tasks that were only 95% completed is a good way to spend downtime. Whether it is adding some content or feature to a webpage or adding a feature to an in-house software program that you just didn't have time for before deploying it, or it could be something as simple as adding documentation to your site or program for easier debugging later down the road. Whatever it is, I rarely get downtime, and when all my high priority tasks are complete, there's a list of other tasks already started that I need to go tackle. ....Speaking of lists, mine is growing, I should probably go take care of it...

eylusion
eylusion

I never have any downtime but if I did, I would spend it brushing up on a quicker faster way to deploy new machines for user migrations and new deployments. In my job someone is always getting a new machine and wants their files and settings transferred to the new machine, and although this doesn't sound like a challenge, with probably 15,000 pieces of proprietary software. Every machine is custom, and the base image always needs some tweaks. If only I had the time to setup an SCCM or MDT server with all the custom profiles for each of my users in their various environments. That's how I would spend my time, haha, probably macroing my way right out of a job.

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