Friday, October 8, 2010

A day in the life...

Sometimes when we sit down to eat as a family, we go through the usual rounds of "what did you do at school/work today?" We each take turns to tell something about our respective days.

When it comes to me, unless something out of the ordinary has happened that the rest of the family can relate to (i.e. not technical IT stuff), and unless I've seen deer or other wildlife on the trail, my stock response is usually "meetings". It's become a bit of a standing joke. I mean, most of what I do would need an hour of backstory and explanation to make any sense of it, or is just one of a myriad tiny events that make up my day.

So here is my dinner-time report of a typical day last week...

8:15 Drop lunch things on desk and sign on to network. Launch usual programs - Outlook, a time tracking spreadsheet, and a word document with all my "to-do's" and reference information. I'd be lost without that document.

Clear out action items finished yesterday, check calendar (groan!), and skim emails for anything burning. I like to keep my inbox down to one page, everything else gets deleted, answered and deleted, or added to my to-do list and filed or deleted.

8:30 Weekly one-on-one with one of my direct reports. Quick check-in, things going OK. Finish early.

8:50 Manage to get hold of member of staff to verify what an expense claim covers (system descriptions not very descriptive) and what is still left to pay.

9:00 Meeting with five members of staff to discuss exchange of knowledge on how to maintain part of one of our systems. They've already got things rolling. Good. Way more "can-do" and initiative now than when I first joined the department.

9:25 Director collars me and one of my team leads looking for some information on another application. Needed urgently for a business case going into the new technology planning process for next fiscal.

9:30 Weekly progress meeting on a development project to replace an obsolete module that refused to port to Windows 2003. Verified everything ready for a demo to the business owners this afternoon.

10:00 Gap before next meeting. Clear off the emails that keep magically appearing.

Crap. Server issues affecting another one of our applications. The team is stretched trying to keep production services running, and an aggressive project manager is still badgering them about some testing due to be completed today. Get real! I need to step in for a manager-to-manager chat about priorities. Few trips backwards and forwards through the building to calm nerves, discuss business pressures and priorities, and get a true sense of the issues and possibilities. With contractual obligations hanging over us, the business owner is seriously thinking about putting this testing ahead of production. That is unheard of; he must be nervous. It's his call at the end of the day, but I need to make darned sure he has good information to base a decision on. The team at my end also need clear direction and reassurance that I'm ready to back them up and keep the shit off their backs. Compose a quick email to summarise the conclusions clearly, and then speak to the director in Hosting to escalate the issue.

11:00 Weekly one-on-one with another direct report. All calm there too.

11:30 Meeting with a Security manager to discuss internet blocking policy.

12:00 Another email blitz. Wow! Some good news about a member of staff who's been battling cancer and might be getting ready to return to work. It's nice to hear good tidings once in a while.

Server issues still not fixed, but business owner seems reconciled to the testing being held up.

12:15 Update performance and development plan. Work goals still relevant. Career goals...entirely irrelevant while we're all in siege mode trying to survive on a shoestring.

12:30 Breathing space to get back to those emails that I've not had a chance to deal with properly yet. Yes, I do have a system, but some things need a bit more time to handle than others and it's amazing how quickly things can get out of control. Clear out all the older versions of running email conversations. Delete anything that I missed first time around. Read the rest carefully to make sure there's not an action item buried in there. Don't want to drop anything.

12:50 Try to track down my director to check in on a few things. Saw she's had some information from the team but want to make sure she's got what she needs for the planning meeting. Also not yet had a chance to brief her on the service issues (still outstanding).

1:05 Eat lunch while reading a redrafted business case. Morphed from a relatively simple replacement proposal into a transformational service management strategy. Nicely worded, clear story. Well done. Note of appreciation to the authors.

1:50 Go down to the presentation room to help prepare for the demonstration. Mild heart attack. The room is full of other people and they look like they're settled in for a long spell! Double check room booking. Yes, officially we're still on. Start sweating as 2:00 approaches, my team and business users gather outside the door, and the squatters seem no closer to finishing.

2:00 Mild heart attack.

2:00:30 Room empties. We enter. Presentation goes well and we finish early.

2:50 Meet with manager colleague to discuss agenda items for an all-staff meeting scheduled next week. Director supposed to be there but warned me she might not make it. We reckon there are some big-ticket items that will be on people's minds so build the agenda around those.

3:30 Back to email hell.

3:40 Mentally shift gears again. Gather together preparation notes for interview we need to conduct next week.

4:00 Meeting with other member of interview panel to discuss key selection criteria and suitable questions. Director still tied up in planning meeting, and it's her competition. We reckon we've got a good set of questions now, but will need to discuss weightings and scoring next week.

4:40 Final tidy up. Check no loose ends and nothing critical left outstanding.

There's a year's worth of stuff on my to-do list that I may never get around to doing. In this overstretched and understaffed world prioritisation is the name of the game. We are all living under the tyranny of the immediate. If I can get through the day finishing the things I'd earmarked for today then I'm happy. If I knock off an item from tomorrow's list ahead of time, well, that's a bonus.

4:50 Shut down PC and head for home.

So, how would you convey any of that at the family dinner table?


  1. You should tell them that you ran around the office all day with a cape on rescuing business owners and colleagues! Holy Crap! I got tired (and nervous lol) just reading that! How are you not passing out from exhaustion & nerves by lunch time?

  2. LOL Sam! I gave up my cape after watching The Incredibles, but it does feel a bit like that sometimes.

    I survive by being very, very careful to leave it all behind me at the end of the day. Along with ruthless prioritisation, a healthy sense of perspective is vital. I keep reminding myself that I can only do so much in a day otherwise I'd soon guilt myself into an early grave.

  3. I like the sound of that-ruthless prioritisation! At least now I know who to come to for work advice lol.

  4. Always happy to give advice, Sam, as long as you understand that it's worth no more than what you paid for it ;-)


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