Break your bad IT management habits

Every worker develops a few bad habits, and 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.


Every worker develops a few bad habits, and 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.

"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 organised 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 recognise 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, a packaging and warehousing company with 125 employees. "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 mindset than an official programme 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 characterises his quest for better mental discipline as "a constant struggle."

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

Bad habit: Jumping to conclusions

Aaron Gabrielson, IT manager at mining company Redmond, says he often begins devising a solution before he thoroughly understands the problem at hand. "I tend to skip straight to the tech solution without hearing the business case," he says, admitting that this habit puts his department at risk of developing technology that doesn't fully address business needs.

In this, Gabrielson is hardly alone. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB), a research and advisory services firm, has studied the individual habits of highly effective CIOs, and in doing so has also determined areas of weakness.

While technology departments have gotten better overall at the nuts and bolts of performing IT tasks, many still don't communicate as effectively with the business side as they could, says Shvetank Shah, executive director of CEB's IT practice. Some IT pros tend to only half-listen, and then make quick decisions in a vacuum. "Research shows that the skills missing are communication and negotiation," Shah says.

Instead, tech managers should make sure they fully understand the drivers behind a project. That way, they can contribute the expertise needed to develop technology solutions that fit the company's needs, budget and existing infrastructure.

With that goal in mind, Redmond's Gabrielson recently put himself through a business analyst certification course at the International Institute of Business Analysis, and is now in the process of sharing what he learned with Redmond's seven person IT department. He knew his department was weak in its ability to fully grasp the business side of a project. But "going to that class made me realise how weak," he explains.

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