Bad IT Management Habits: Break Them Before They Break You


5 Aug 2011
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Every worker develops a few bad habits -- maybe more than a few -- as the years on the job add up. IT pros are no exception: They lose focus or jump to conclusions or put off niggling tasks that could be finished in minutes.
It doesn't have to be that way. Identifying and understanding bad work habits might require a bit of soul-searching, but the benefits of such introspection can be myriad, workplace experts say.

By taking the time to step back and understand their particular stumbling blocks, IT managers stand to improve not only their ability to work productively, but also their job satisfaction, says Michael Ehling, a business consultant and a career coach with Balance Coaching in Toronto.

"Stepping back gives you 'soak time' to think, dream, consider, ponder. Instead of running around fighting fires all the time, you get time to focus on the bigger picture," says Ehling, who has a background in IT and coaches mostly technology executives and managers. And that, he says, can spur tech managers to "develop more constructive habits that will improve productivity and effectiveness."

Computerworld asked a few brave high-tech pros to 'fess up about their worst work habits. True to IT form, these managers were less concerned with peccadilloes like nail-biting and leg-jiggling than with bigger-picture challenges like staying on task, becoming better organized and thinking strategically.

Here's a look at their views on their bad work habits and ways they plan to break them. Who knows? You just might recognize a little bit of yourself in their stories.

Bad habit: Losing focus

Gordon Jaquay doesn't deal well with interruptions. He'll stop what he's working on to answer a co-worker's question or to deal with a technology problem that arises, then find himself struggling to refocus on the task at hand.

"Getting back to your train of thought after a conversation, trying to find where you were -- whether you were coding or in the middle of a proposal -- that's hard," says the IT manager at Venchurs Inc., a packaging and warehousing company with 125 employees in Adrian, Mich. "There are so many things thrown at us in IT, it's easy to get distracted."

Tech professionals may find distractions particularly irksome, since they typically perform -- and prefer -- tasks that are logical and linear, and therefore require blocks of uninterrupted time to complete.

Ad-hoc meetings, users in trouble and other distractions pierce IT managers' productivity bubbles and keep them from accomplishing the task at hand. In frustration, they tend to hole up with their work, but that can lead to bigger problems.

If IT managers immerse themselves in their work to avoid interruptions, they might give their colleagues in other departments the impression that they aren't interested in what's going on in the business -- and then they might find themselves on the outside when it comes to making key decisions, launching strategic initiatives or taking advantage of career advancement opportunities, says Ehling.

Ideally, Jaquay would like the distractions to not occur in the first place, but he knows that's an unrealistic goal. "That's the nature of the beast in IT," he says.

Instead, he's trying to train himself to re-engage more quickly after a disruption rather than lingering over "the trailing afterthoughts of a conversation" -- a process he describes as more of a mind-set than an official program of training.

He's hopeful his stab at greater mental discipline will make him more productive and less apt to lose details when jumping back and forth between solo projects and unscheduled requests.

"By shifting my full focus very quickly from one thing to the next and fully engaging the next topic very quickly, I have been able to significantly improve my performance," he says. In addition, he has started blocking out time on his calendar to work on specific tasks -- instead of just scheduling time for meetings. In general, though, Jaquay still characterizes his quest for better mental discipline as "a constant struggle."

"After all," he observes, "we're only human."
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