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Learning to Say No in the Workplace? 723

Posted by Cliff
from the knowing-your-limits-and-not-getting-trouble-for-it dept.
Ummagumma asks: "I'm trying to find out how those of you who work in the IT service industry, tell customers 'no', when the requests are unreasonable for whatever reason. There is a culture here of 'piling-on' work with regards to IT - and, unfortunately, I've never learned the proper way to tell people 'no'. It may sound simple, but in this economy, where jobs are tough to come by, I don't want to be seen as the impediment to getting things done Any suggestions on telling people that their work request can wait? Especially in a way that won't jeopardize my future here? I've searched the web, but most of the sites that supposedly have information of this type just want you to sign up for their seminars. I'm looking for actual, real-world experiences, and how the people of Slashdot deal with this issue on a day-to-day basis."

"Here is my dilemma: I'm a relatively new employee (~2 months) at a software engineering shop. I am the sole IT person for a 100+ person company, with 50+ remote VPN users, 40+ developers, 30+ servers, firewalls, etc. I do it all, from desktop and application support, to security, to servers. In the past, the IT department has been seriously under-funded, and there is an absolute ton of catch-up work that needs to get done. At this point, I could work 70+ hour work weeks for a year, and still not be caught up, between project work, upgrade, documentation and day-to-day stuff.

I've inquired about more IT budgeting (staff, equipment, etc.), and that just is not going to happen for quite a while."

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Learning to Say No in the Workplace?

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  • by n0nsensical (633430) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:31AM (#6811404)
    Tell them "No means no!"
  • Give estimates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sludge (1234) <slashdot AT tossed DOT org> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:32AM (#6811407) Homepage
    Don't say no. Give estimates. Show your time table. Put the onus on someone else to fit it in, so they are clear on what the tradeoffs are going to be. In my line of work, things got complex enough that maintaining a Microsoft Project document was worth my time. The visual output was well received with management.
    • Re:Give estimates (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nicolasf (657091) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:35AM (#6811422)
      Another thing you could do to limit the number of requests is to only accept work requests from authorized managers. So if John Smith wants you to install some software he will have to ask his supervisor to forward a request to you.
      • by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:54AM (#6811905)
        Keep a list of all assigned projects, whether on a web page for all to see, or on a whiteboard, and make damn sure everybody knows where it is. Get priorities assigned, not as in TOP but as in position on the list.

        Here's a little story you might find enlightening, the importance of priorities in keeping requests under control. This is relevant, very relevant.

        I worked with a guy who was an air force loadmaster in Vietnam, early 60s. He had some scut job at the main Saigon airbase. They used to extract carriage fees from shipments of steak and whiskey going up to the officers club at Cam Ranh Bay. One day, some ensign showed up, fresh as a daisy, said there were pallets going up to the club, and he was in charge of making sure they arrived intact, and demanded they be sent up on the next available plane. My friend had been in too long to give a shit about some wet behind the ears ensign, and furthermore, had the distinct attitude of What Are You Going To Do, Send Me To Vietnam? So he slapped a bunch of clipboards up on the counter, said fine, you tell me what cargo you want to take off, sir, and we'll see that your steak and whiskey gets up there right away sir. Now what will it be ... body bags, medicine, ammunition, combat rations, fuel .... and the ensign got all huffy and backed down.

        That's the end of the relevant part of the story. Remember, make the job assigner decide not TOP priority, but where exactly on the list, so when other people complain, you can point to new jobs added above theirs. The goal is to get the suits hassling each other, not you. Don't argue with them. If they berate you, just say you need to know whose jobs to bump down the list. Be quiet and form, you need to know the positional priority.

        OK, the rest of the story is more fun, not as relevant, but may help you to remember this trick.

        The ensign demanded that someone stand guard over the pallets of steak and whiskey. My friend just sneered at him, Sir, you have a sidearm, why don't you use it? And the ensign did, he stood gaurd over the precious pallets for some time, until some crusty old chief, who had spit more sea water than the ensign had ever seen, showed up with a case of whiskey under one arm and a case of steaks under the other, slapped them down on the counter, and the pallets went out on the next flight.

        There's a moral to that story to, but it's probably not a good idea to start taking bribes to shuffle your boss's priorities ...
        • by CERonin (630207) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @06:59AM (#6812468) Journal

          Thanks for the great story, and dead on to boot. Upper management types are usually not planners per-se, they are *negotiators*, and unless you find a way to push back you're going to get fsck'd.

          • by killmenow (184444) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @07:52AM (#6812827)
            Upper management types are usually not planners per-se, they are *negotiators*, and unless you find a way to push back you're going to get fsck'd.
            That's the first time I've ever heard it put that way, and it's damn insightful. The problem I always run up against is the CFO and CEO are constantly rearranging what the "#1" priority is. Today it's project X, but tomorrow it will be something else...and next week it will be project X again. Then they'll complain that I didn't get project X done last week.

            I understand priorities; but changing a company's culture (as this person will need to do to be successful) is a difficult task. It's not about prioritizing: it's about changing the process. We (I.T.) struggle with it so much at my place of work. Trying to get upper management to work with us on setting priorities and sticking to them is terribly difficult when the owner and associated YES!-people have "shiny-thing" syndrome.

            Injecting structure into a process that for the last 20 years has had little formality is (IMHO) a gargantuan task...
            • by 4of12 (97621) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @12:18PM (#6815704) Homepage Journal

              Trying to get upper management to work with us on setting priorities and sticking to them

              Amen.

              That introduces the corollary of the first rule, [which was to make a prioritized list of what you're working on and to make higher-ups insert the new task where they believe it should be.]

              The corollary is that whenever the top priority changes, there is an associated cost associated with dropping project X like a bomb and spinning up to speed on project Y.

              In OS lingo, there's a cost to swapping tasks.

              Likewise, there's an similar added cost associated with multi-tasking in general.

              Any manager worth his salt ought to know that when you fragment a person's effort into more than a couple of different simultaneous projects that you'll pay a price for doing so.

              IOW, if my time is devoted 20% to Project X, 20% to Project Y, etc., you can bet you'll be getting 15% quality time on each project. The rest of the time I'll be swapping, worrying in the back of my mind about the other 4 tasks ongoing issues while I work on the current task.

    • Re:Give estimates (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Frymaster (171343) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:59AM (#6811551) Homepage Journal
      Don't say no. Give estimates. Show your time table.

      the best "no" is a qualified "yes". of course, for this to work - and to avoid the bad blood that a "sure, but it'll be ten weeks and $9000" will generate - you must get everything in writing!

      i can't stress this enough. a lot of clients don't really understand what they are dealing with and thus forget what exactly it was they requested. for your benefit and theirs make sure you get it all in writing! take minutes. do as much via email as possible. get a written specification before you start. that way you can always remind the client of what they originally spec'd and the changes they have made and how it is affecting time and money.

    • by Artifex (18308) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:05AM (#6811574) Journal
      Give estimates. Show your time table. Put the onus on someone else to fit it in, so they are clear on what the tradeoffs are going to be.


      Seriously, this is basically all there is to it. Use whatever calendaring software you have to break down what you're doing on a daily or weekly basis, if not hourly. Even a recurring to-do list is good. The idea is to show that your time is not an infinite resource.

      If you can sit down and say something like "I can make time for this project this month, but it will require moving back those security updates for a week, and the database migration for a few days. Also, we're running low on shared drive space and there's no budget to augment the servers, so to add this in, I'll have to put everyone on a harsher quota for the next few days (and delete your mp3s off your shared drive)," and show how your time is mapped, they will see why they can't reasonably expect you to take on more work.

      You'll also be able to get more actual work done, because the mere act of organizing your regular activities will let you see ways to cluster them for more efficiency ("oh, while this disk image is copying, I can hit that next item on the list, replace the video cable on that secretary's computer so she'll stop holding my mail hostage"), etc.

      Also, at the end of six months or a year, maybe you can use the resulting log as evidence that you need an assistant or a pay raise or both. It's also good for remembering what to put on your resume, if your small company decides to lay you off and replace you with two kids who just graduated and also happen to be related to the VPs...
      • by Andy Smith (55346) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:54AM (#6811730) Homepage
        [SNIP - lots of good advice]

        Also, at the end of six months or a year, maybe you can use the resulting log as evidence that you need an assistant or a pay raise or both. It's also good for remembering what to put on your resume, if your small company decides to lay you off and replace you with two kids who just graduated and also happen to be related to the VPs...
        After all that calm, good advice, was this where your blood suddenly started to boil over?

        I could almost hear your teeth gritting... "those bastards!" :-)
        • by Artifex (18308) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @05:28AM (#6812157) Journal
          After all that calm, good advice, was this where your blood suddenly started to boil over?

          I could almost hear your teeth gritting... "those bastards!" :-)


          Actually, most of what I related came from friends who worked in IT before all getting laid off. I decided that those would be a lot more relevant than my own anecdotes, which mostly have to do with juggling
          • a regional legacy service decommission, given a couple months to do by myself what senior people had been trying to do for the last 3 years, including:
            • arranging with unmotivated sales staff (no residuals, no commission, small accounts that didn't even count towards quotas) to upsell any of the customers who hadn't left yet;
            • yanking back IP space from people that would be quitting or that would be staying but would have to get reassigned anyway;
            • determining who owned each legacy circuit without many CID records, so that we could either disconnect and stop paying telco, or tell the customer they should do so

          • work as part of a team, that required that we yank back many, many IPs from many, many customers who'd had them for many, many years, most of whom we had to discover as we went along because there was no surviving documentation, and many of whom couldn't justify but still expected the same amount of space despite ARIN usage requirements, facing very short deadlines for each block that needed returning. I can't tell you further details.
          • an international circuit database scrub. I can't tell you details of what this meant, either.
          • other projects as they popped up daily/weekly, which I've probably just blotted out entrely


          In addition to all those, I also had my regular duties, which included supporting the customer routing infrastructure, then still taking weekly turns on 24-hour pager duty after I was too busy to do the daily support. Oh, and maybe a few escorted colo visits. And calls from the company president's office to fix other departments' problems. And that emergency customer premises visit...

          I figured if I said anything about those, I'd get cranky, or you'd get bored, or think I'm desperate to show off so someone will hire me (I made it through 3 rounds of layoffs cleaning up the messes, but there were at least 4 rounds, so you'd be right about that), or I'd say too much and get sued by my former employer (I've just gone back and removed most of my text. But my former bosses can still reconize me immediately), and none of these really sound like system administration issues, which is what the root article is about, so I won't.

          Too bad, too, because I could have mentioned how I got the decommission done with a month to spare. And how I did the last year of projects and support 90% from home, especially after the secretaries, then some fellow engineers, then my boss got laid off, and the office lost its soda budget! Oh, and that all the work at home was done over dialup, frequently at rates like 21.6K. :) (Thank God for SSH and screen)

          But who wants to hear about those things? :) (anyone needs a good team player with Cisco/Juniper/angry customer experience, let me know :) )
      • . . .which is ALSO why you omit certain crucial details from the files manglement can see. After all, if the VP's nephews are so damned good, they can figure it out. . .eventually. . . y'know, things like unique server quirks and workarounds, certain recurring bugs that you have the fix for, etc. . .
      • by kardar (636122) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @06:04AM (#6812244)
        I've worked at a company like this. The problem started because there are so many layoffs, that you end up getting overwhelmed trying to do your job, and then the jobs of all the people who got laid off.

        The problem is that there is not enough money to pay for the people that are actually necessary to get the job done. It's not that the things are unimportant, they are all important, and there should be more employees on the job handling the requests, but there are not because people can't afford them. I think in this situation it sounds like the company knows that they need to hire more IT staff, but they are not doing it because they can't afford it.

        I don't know if there is really any good way to deal with this problem other than get another job - depending on how much you care about your sanity. It's amazing how it all tends to get done at the end of the day!

        My greatest concern with this kind of thing is that when being short-staffed is a modus operandi, the employee is never able to excel - the employee is never able to really do their best, it's like being "set up" or something. This might leave you with references that are not 100% of what they could be, and it certainly may lead you to a situation where you are not leaving the positive impression on others that you are capable of leaving on others.

        A long time ago, I worked at a limousine company, and we got a new manager (the drivers made more money than the managers) who was fairly overzealous when it came to taking orders. We got to a point after a few days of this guy working for us where we were about 25 minutes behind on every order. 25 minutes late for a pickup, you can forget about a tip. You can't do that. You take as many orders as you can, and then you don't take any more. Sorry, we are booked up. That way, everything you do is done on time and done properly and done well. Overbooking yourself is pointless, you try to do too much, and none of it ends up getting done on time, or being done well. It's not worth it!

        A hairdresser is another good example. How many hairdressing appointments can you schedule? Only so many. After that, forget it. Booked up. And the nature of how hairdressers get paid means they get paid more if they work more. More appointments equals more money for them. In many of these new dot com jobs and jobs like the one in this article, there is no "appointment book" and an employee's time is easily misunderstood. Right now, in jobs like this, it's learning who you can blow off and who you can't, who you can string along and who you can't - lots of people will just not say anything, and some people will bitch all the time. Those are the ones that get their stuff taken care of. It's the only way to do it. In this case, the timid get blown off. It's a horrible thing to do, some of the nicest people being ignored because they are not being difficult.

        Companies have been doing this recently, and it is very irritating. It's almost to the point where going independent, selling some gadget on Ebay, or landscaping, or some other self-employment kind of thing is going to be easier than it is to work that hard for someone else. If you are going to do the job of three employees then why not open up your own small business?

        This issue is really about the proper management of your own human resources. You have to be your own agent, and make sure you are not getting taken advantage of. How do you 1) pay your bills and 2) not get taken advantage of at the same time? Much harder than walking and chewing gum, especially in this time of economic hardships and crappy economies.

        Even if you did document how much time you spend doing this or that to prove that you need assistants, the company knows this already, but they won't hire someone. Makes you wonder why we have these blackouts. It's irresponsible from the employer's side.

      • don't "underestimate" this advice!

        Yes; this is good advice.

        Saying no is usually a bad idea and practically impossible irl with more senior personnel,managers, directors. No, creates bad feeling on the part of the rejected requester. It is much better to help them understand their request in context. You should seek to priorities this workload into what is Urgent and what is Important. Many things that are urgent, are not important, and many things that are important are not urgent. Understand the di
    • by blunte (183182)
      But you have a lot of projects that your boss is hot on right now, so you'll want to consult the boss to make sure he doesn't mind you doing this "little thing" "real quick".

      Then you're sort of playing good cop/bad cop, using your boss as the bad guy :)

      You can't do this on everything, or you'll really get on other employees' bad sides.

    • Re:Give estimates (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Gaxx (76064) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:58AM (#6811741)
      Absolutely - it's really just a case of making people aware of the resource implications of what they want. I tend to work it along the lines of "Yes, no problem, we'll just need 21 man-days and a new baseline workstation for that". It allows you to say 'yes' without any 'but's. You get to be the positive one as it forces someone else to say 'no' if the resources can't be met :-)
    • by Sircus (16869) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:59AM (#6811750) Homepage
      Or, to elaborate:

      1. Give an estimate of how long (in man-hours) it'll take to do project D.

      2. Point out (nicely) that you nonetheless currently have A, B and C to do.

      3a. If A, B and C are all from the same person who's currently asking you to do D, ask them which they'd like done first.

      3b. If not, send them to discuss it with whoever wants A, B and C. Taking part in the resulting discussion/turf war/semi-automatic weapons fire is optional. Obviously, there's leeway here. If A, B and C are "tidy up and label the patch panel"-style tasks, and D is "Fix the file server 50 people use", you know what to do. But if it's not patently obvious that D's more important, a discussion's warranted. If you *think* D is more important, call the person who wants A, B and C and let them know that someone wants D and ask if it'd be OK to do that now and come back to A, B and C. If they say no, get person-for-D and person-for-ABC to discuss it.

      4. Waste time on Slashdot only when you *don't* have four tasks on the go.

      5. Pro^H^H^HHappiness!
    • Outline risk (Score:5, Insightful)

      by the_duke_of_hazzard (603473) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:02AM (#6811754)
      Although my experience is slightly different because we are customer-based and not internal, our approach is to say "it will cost you". Then, if they insist it can be done faster you outline the risks. If there's money at risk they usually capitulate, but if they make unreasonable demands, the only thing you can do is go along with it making it clear you're not comfortable. At the end of the day it's 'their' money and 'their' responsibility. If the problem is that they expect you to do more hours than you think is reasonable and won't hire help then the problem is not how to say no - it's your unreasonable employers.
    • Re:Give estimates (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Cheech Wizard (698728) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:12AM (#6811785)
      I agree. I have used project management software, and even Excel, to show my plans and to define my workload. Years ago I was called to task by a corporate guy who came in to ream me for being several months late on a project. I pulled out my pert chats and showed him I was, in fact, on schedule. I was informed that my boss gave him different dates. My boss was fired 2 months later.
    • by darnok (650458) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:27AM (#6811823)
      As the parent poster implied, use MS Project (or whatever project planning software you've got) and put everything you've got to do on the plan.

      **Keep it maintained at all times** - it only takes a few minutes to maintain it once you've got it set up.

      **Be realistic with your time estimates** - if you don't know how to build a firewall, then allow a lot of time to do it.

      **Remember that you aren't productive 40 hours a week** - depending on your role, you'll probably only do productive work 30-80% of the time, and if you're the only techo guy in the shop I'm betting you'd be somewhere below 80% productive. Reading email, going to meetings, cigarette breaks - they all chew into your 40 hours per week. Once you decide how productive you truly are, factor it into the project plan by saying the resource (you!) is only e.g. 60% available.

      Then, when someone comes up and asks you to manually install virus checkers on these 43 new PCs, put it in your project plan, show how every other task you've got blows out by 2 weeks and see if your boss is prepared to accept the delay.

      If you're at a place where they pay for overtime, enter all your time estimates in hours and do a few "what if" scenarios on your resource allocation (i.e. you!) to show how long things will take if you work 30, 40, 50, 60, ... hours per week. Either you'll get lots of overtime (if that's what you want), or they'll hire you an assistant.

      Without a doubt, the best/only way to get out of a situation where you're overworked is to be extremely organised and able to show anyone at a moment's notice exactly how busy you are. Once your boss can see the true impact of giving you "just one more" task, in terms of the slippage that will impact other projects, you'll be amazed how that extra work will no longer be as important ;->

      PS If anyone knows an OSS MS Project replacement that can do all this stuff, please speak up. I've been dying to replace it for ages, but it's a really good fit for this particular problem space
      • by Richard_at_work (517087) * <richardprice AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:48AM (#6811880)

        PS If anyone knows an OSS MS Project replacement that can do all this stuff, please speak up. I've been dying to replace it for ages, but it's a really good fit for this particular problem space

        DotProject [dotproject.net] is almost there, still in beta tho but ive been using it for a few weeks and its perfectly usable.

      • OSS is different (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SHEENmaster (581283)
        No boss could make me work this long, with such little pay. I doubt I'll ever learn to tell myself "no" at 4am a terminal in front of me.

        40 hours a week!? Productive for 30% of that!? You panzy. I have worked 40 hours in two days on many occasions. (Yes, I also have a "real" job.)
        • Re:OSS is different (Score:5, Informative)

          by Malc (1751) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @06:22AM (#6812273)
          Yeah, so've I. But what's the point? It's not maintainable over any real length of time. Personally, I prefer having a life outside of work, and that's never going to happen when you work that hard. And, what are the rewards for working stupid hours? Stress? Fatigue? More work? Effective pay cut?

          In my experience, and observation of those around me, it's really hard increasing a 40 hour week to 50-55 hours. Adding 12 hours probably only adds a further 8-10 of real work. Beyond that it gets easier as most people are then unable to maintain a life outside work too. However, adding 10 hours more probably only adds a max of 5 hours real work, and it's gets worse as the hours pile up. Tired people are slow, mistake-prone and unproductive. Furthermore, once social life outside work stops, people start getting the social contact they need at work. They stop for more short chats, joke around more, etc. It's great for the work environment and back-slapping cliques, but it's not good for productivity.

          What do you do? Work to live, or live to work? Do you work ridiculous hours just to make somebody else rich, or do you have your own business? Sorry, but this whole macho "I work more hours than you" routine is just stupid. It doesn't garner any respect from me - it means you have no life and are probably somebody else's whore.
    • Re:Give estimates (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Zemran (3101)
      I always say yes with a big smile and a revised estimate of the cost. If they want to pay more, I earn more so I am happy. If they do not want to pay more then the work will not get done. Yes, people always want something for nothing but I am not very good at hearing them. I just give them the new estimate...
    • Re:Give estimates (Score:5, Interesting)

      by heironymouscoward (683461) <<heironymouscoward> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:45AM (#6811870) Journal
      This is one of the basic rules of consulting (before there were IT consultants), and it applies as well to employees as independent contractors.

      How to refuse work...

      Never say "no" to a client, since you will lose the client. To refuse work, raise the cost until the client decides it is not worthwhile. It is not a problem to appear "expensive" so long as this is always related to "quality" and "performance" in the mind of the client. Perception is everything.


      For an employee, the pressures are different ("do this or I fire your ass") but the trick is the same: make your boss responsible for the tradeoffs that too much work implies. Give him a choice: "OK, I can do this or that, which do you prefer?"

      Don't complain about getting too much work. It's really a much, much better situation to be in than to have too little work, and you will often find that many "urgent" issues get relegated and finally abandoned when the boss actually has to make a choice.

      Lastly, always appear to make the best effort you can, since what counts at the end of the day is not how you actually performed, but how people perceived your performance. Smile, agree, react quickly and professionally, work well with your colleagues, never blame others but be quick to take blame on yourself, and you will find that your boss / clients respect you and value you.

      Personally I have not found project management software any use at all, software projects being far too chaotic (in the mathematical sense of being unpredictable due to complex interactions) to be planned. But in more operational work, scheduling tools are indeed very useful.
      • Re:Give estimates (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MosesJones (55544)
        Personally I have not found project management software any use at all, software projects being far too chaotic (in the mathematical sense of being unpredictable due to complex interactions) to be planned.

        Which indicates, sorry to pick on you, that you don't have a defined process. This is part of the saying "yes" and meaning "no" art, having a process ensures that people know that A is followed by B. If your project is chaotic and not properly managed it is easier to place additional demands as the amo
    • Re:Give estimates (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Daath (225404) <lp@co d e r . dk> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @04:20AM (#6811983) Homepage Journal
      Yes and no. As another one put this would be a good way to work: Have a project manager assigned. All he does is to keep track of your departments assignments, timetables, deadlines, milestones etc.
      All requests go through him. Noone else. He should then get a clear picture of what they're asking, and then come to you to help you estimate the assignment.
      If there is a "no", you should always give elaborate reason as to why (i.e. make the customer realize what a bad idea it is).
      It's a good thing to do the estimate anyway, in case the customer just says, "I don't care, do it anyway!"...

      The biggest mistake is to talk directly to the people that do the assignments. A lot of those people don't know how to say no, or have the customer realize that it isn't a great idea.

      I've worked in such enviroments for at least 6 years. I was one of those who had a hard time saying no. After I got kids, it got a lot easier ;)
  • Leave that job (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:32AM (#6811409)
    Sounds like you're being taken advantage of. Tell them they need to provide the resources if they want the support. If they won't staff the department properly, you need to be vocal about it or else they're just going to blame you when things inevitably start deteriorating.
    • Re:Leave that job (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Worminater (600129)
      Leave that job? Is that truly viable in the current job market right now? A friend of mine graduated with solid marks via comp sci from a decent school a year and a half ago. 40+ interviews later, he just started school back up to pad his resume more as he has not had anyone express interest on the east coast. Im not sure leaving what sounds to be a stable job in my opinoin would be prudent right now:-p In the 90s? Hell ya, but now?
      • by edward.virtually@pob (6854) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:49AM (#6811499)
        Leaving a job in this economy is a fatal error. You won't get unemployment insurance (or food stamps) and you won't find another job. Nobody will care that the expectations were unfair or the working conditions intolerable. Put up with it somehow or become a bum. Your choice. I speak from experience.
      • Re:Leave that job (Score:5, Insightful)

        by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda&etoyoc,com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:17AM (#6811603) Homepage Journal
        Actually the job market for people with experience is pretty good right now. You may take a pay cut, but jobs for seasoned admins are never hard to find.

        Entry level jobs on the other hand are very scarce. I would not want to be a college grad right now.

        Now amount of stability is going to save you from burnout. You have to be your best advocate of your interests, health, and safety. Employers often rely on you to let them know when enough is too much. Great employers never let things get that far. Places to leave are the ones that ignore your needs.

        And I don't buy for a minute that the economy is that bad. Especially for network admins. Just pick up the want ads.

        • And I don't buy for a minute that the economy is that bad. Especially for network admins. Just pick up the want ads.

          I won't lash out, I'll just assume you're ignorant. I've got 5 years of admin experience, and I've had a grand total of FOUR interviews in FIVE months. Still unemployed. If you know something I don't, please let me know, I'll be all over it.
          • Re:Leave that job (Score:4, Insightful)

            by gujo-odori (473191) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @04:49AM (#6812061)
            Geography and flexibility may have a big influence on that. I have about the same amount of admin experience as you, plus network engineering experience (mostly Cisco) and live in the southern half of California, which is where I'm from, although I spent a number of years abroad and just returned to California in June.

            Bad time to get into a bad job market? Yes, absolutely, although signs of recovery are around. For the first month or so, I only applied for jobs in my county (which, due to population distribution, effectively meant jobs within 30 miles of my parents' home, where I'm crashing on the computer room floor while I search for work). Things were tough. No calls, no interviews. Not many places even send form rejection notices anymore.

            About that time, I decided to broaden my search to include all major job markets in Southern California. While I didn't really want to move, I didn't want to stay unemployed, either. As a result of that broadened search, I've had two interviews in the last three weeks. The second one, just last week, was a waste of my time. The company I interviewed with first made me an offer today, and I've accepted it. I start in two weeks, as soon as my boss gets back from vacation.

            I have to move about 100 miles away, and I'm not getting the kind of money I would have seen in SoCal a few years ago, but I'm now employed and the money will get better down the line as the economy does.

            In closing, to respond directly to the comment to which you replied, it's true that there are certainly ads out there for sysadmins and network engineers. The problem is the ratio of positions to those seeking positions. There are a lot of unemployed sysadmins, underemployed sysadmins, and poorly paid sysadmins out there who are all applying for those jobs. The competition is truly intense. In my entire life, I have (before this job search) only rarely failed to get an interview anytime I applied for a job, and was subsequently hired in almost every case. My overall success ratio was about 80%. I've never experienced anything like the current job market. Since mid-June I've applied for over 50 jobs and only had two calls. Granted, one of those two hired me, but the ratio of applications to calls was still terrible. That's more jobs (by far) than I've applied for in my entire life previously. I have a job now, but my success ratio is shot :-p
        • Re:Leave that job (Score:4, Insightful)

          by assaultriflesforfree (635986) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:32AM (#6811839)
          I'll echo that. My first advice is to at least start looking for a new job now. I know your time is scarce, which makes even doing that difficult, but I know they can't be paying you enough to do what you say you're required to do, especially when you factor in all the stress, and general unhappiness, that it brings.

          Second, before you start worrying about saying "no" to clients, I would worry about saying "no" to your boss. Tell him or her that the conditions are intolerable, and if they won't do anything about it, maybe you should start refusing to work overtime. You'd be surprised how much leverage you can have, especially being the only one in your company that can do your job.

          Here's another thing I've learned in my experience: they almost certainly have the money to pay for extra staff or whatever. They know it, and they don't want you to know it. They have it because they've made a practice out of overworking people and underpaying them, and if you press them, make them realize that's not a real possibility any longer, they'll bend. I routinely convince my supervisor into paying me nearly twice what I make per hour for an overtime shift. I get away with it because I'm valuable, because they have made it a practice of stretching staffing so thin that when one person calls in sick, they are absolutely desperate to fill the place, and because they realize that even with giving me bonus pay they're paying less than they would to bring in someone from an agency.

          I would guess you actually have some similar power in your job, if for no other reason than the cost of bringing someone in to replace you is probably high. I'd recommend going to your boss and telling him or her, "These are the things that need to get done, and there is no possible way for me to do all of this alone. If I can't get another 1 or 2 staff members to help me, then these things simply will not get done."

          Learning to say no to your boss is, in my experience, more important than learning to say no to the people you work with. If your boss were doing his or her job, you wouldn't need to tell clients no.

          In the meantime though, I agree for the most part with what's been said, especially about requiring requests to go through office supervisors. That can help immensely.
  • Tell the truth!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Basehart (633304) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:34AM (#6811415)
    I've told customers in the past that we're not taking on any new clients until our production system has been upgraded to handle increased workloads, and in almost all cases they were willing hold until we were ready. They appreciated the fact that we weren't spreading ourselves too thin, risking long term failure for the sake of padding our short term coffers, so just tell the truth.
  • What I would do... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Worminater (600129) <worminater@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:34AM (#6811417)
    Is simply lay out the time. Say, "Yes i will do it, once i have this done as well as this" No need to say no, just show them that for you to say yes will require them to wait for it to get done an unreasonable amount of time. They complain? Then you may get staffed correctly soon enough:-p
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:35AM (#6811420)
    The BOFH [ntk.net] will show you the way to happiness and funds whenever possible.
  • Cover your arse. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PeteABastard (542565) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:36AM (#6811426)
    Make sure you have a list of priorities from your boss.
    Follow the list.
    When someone asks for a low priority task, let them know that your boss has chosen your priorities and you have three months work before you will get to their task.
    Try to help them to get their task done themselves quicker than you doing it.
    Of course you will probably not be thanked for this. Peter
    • Re:Cover your arse. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Aceticon (140883) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:54AM (#6811899)
      I second this.

      Also, if you have multiple bosses asking for your time make them fight it out amongst themselfs (ie "Sorry Sam, but i'll be fully occupied with this project for John for the coming 2 weeks. Maybe you can talk to hime about it?"). It's majorly entertaining.

      Additionaly i would like to address the Try to help them to get their task done themselves quicker than you doing it. thingie:
      - Some people (for example, the "one specialist in a certain code base" or the "fireman of the company/department/group", or just anybody that's good at solving problems and is helpful) will be constantly interrupted and asked to "help me out with something for a moment" or "I can't get this to work, can you help me?" or "can you explain this to me?".
      - Although this might at first make one feel good (you're "needed", you're "important"), it soon becomes to much and starts eating you your time like crazy - 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there, 20 minutes somewhere else soon adds up to a lot of time.
      - Now, the problem with "helping others time" is that it's not in the budget. No mater how much usefull your helpfulnes is (and sometimes it's counter productive because it can breed a culture of dependency), you still have the same amount of project work to do (just less time to do it).
      - That's were the "help others help themselfs" thing comes in. It's the single most efficient way i know of actually helping others while wasting the smallest possible amount of time.

      The things to note with the "help others help themselfs" system:
      - At first it will eat more of your time than just "doing it yourself". "Doing it yourself" will fix the problem faster but only this time around - the people you just helped don't actually learn anything from it and will come back again (and again and again) whenever the same or a similar problem pops-up (plus they won't be able to help others with that problem)
      - Thus the gain in time for using the "help others help themselfs" system comes with recurring problems/questions/whatever.
      - Also note that even when you teach people how to solve a problem, a lot of them still tend to come back to you to have you solve it for them. That's because for them it's easier and simpler to just get you to do it. To solve this, just make it harder to get your help for those you have already taught how to solve the problem (for example ask: "Have you tried what i told you last time?" "No" "Go and try it, if it doesn't work come back to me with it")

      There is a lot more stuff about time management and avoiding overwork - however, this will help contain some of the "sneaky time wasting" stuff.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:36AM (#6811427)
    If you can get support from management, you can do anything. Unfortunately that means you end up at their mercy if they still want you to do EVERYTHING. Not much to do about it there.

    At my last job I would often be asked at 5:20pm to do dumbshit stuff like get a full OS reinstall done on a half dozen machines in a department that needed an upgrade. No amount of explaining that this is not just an extra half hours work would mean a thing to those above me. If it were a one off I'd be fine with it, but from day one my job consisted of staying back insane amounts of time to get these things done, when the people who used the machines had set hours that never varied. No overtime either.

    I ended up quitting, and while you might not consider that an option, if it comes down to working yourself dry and being used/abused then it's an option. Get on management until they relent, to get another IT person if you need. If you don't do it now changing later is all the harder. Hell, you're new at this job - do you know if the last person quit because of insane expectations like this?
    • by bigsteve@dstc (140392) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:33AM (#6811841)
      If you are working insane hours, you need to take a hard look at how you are interacting with your line manager and/or clients. If the root problem is that clients expectations are ridiculous, you need to get your manager's help in exerting some pushback. For example, you and your manager can formally prioritization work requests.

      If the root problem is that your line manager has ridiculous expectations (or hasn't the guts / seniority to stand up to unreasonable clients), you could take two approaches. You could escalate the workload issue up the management chain, or to your HR dept (as a health and safety issue). This risks getting you into your line manager's bad books.

      The other approach is to exert pushback against your manager's unreasonable expectations.

      • Get into the habit of giving your boss written estimates of how long it will take to do things, and keep a log of the actual time taken. If your boss knows you are doing this, he may think twice about overworking you.
      • If your boss sets you unreasonable deadlines, don't be afraid to miss them.
      • When your boss demands that you work excessive hours, don't. He cannot FORCE you to do this. Indeed, the chances are that he won't be in the office when you be leaving ... so leave earlier. If he asks why, tell him the truth; i.e. that you were too tired to work effectively.
      • If you are overtired or stressed out because of overwork, take a sick day. If you can get a doctors certificate that says "work related stress" or "exhaustion", even better.
      If your boss unreasonably threatens to sack you for not working hard enough, don't walk, or threaten to walk. Instead, bide your time while quietly start looking for a better job. Remember, if your boss actually sacks you, he / his business will take a big hit in a number of areas; time / money to recruit a new person, loss of productivity, loss of morale, etc. If he has half a brain, he will know this.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @05:45AM (#6812198) Homepage
      I ended up quitting,

      why didn't you simply say no first?

      I used to be in your position... so I started to be out of there at 5:00 sharp, when asked at the last second to do something I simply would say "no" and I'll get to it in the AM.

      most employers want to see how hard they can whore you.
  • by tambo (310170) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:37AM (#6811431)
    In almost every type of employment, your job is to make sure your supervisor is satisfied with your work. Their job is to oversee you and make sure you're doing a good job for the company.

    Now, if you drop that into the guise of any client-oriented job - be it law, medicine, IT, or even a lowly customer service job - satisfying customers is not your primary and sole responsibility. You have to balance each client's interests against those of the company, other clients, and the priorities of your boss.

    If a client is expecting too much, your mission is not to do everything they say - that's a great way to throw your priorities out of order. You're letting them detract from your other responsibilities. If you don't feel right telling them that they're not your only client, then apologize, tell them that you have other duties as well, and refer them to your boss. Let him deal with it. That's why he makes more than you do.

    Really - I can't stress this enough. Keep your boss up-to-date on what you're doing, and let him guide your priorities. If anything or anyone is straining those priorities, let him deal with it.

    It's really that simple.

    - David Stein
    • by arnie_apesacrappin (200185) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:56AM (#6811530)
      Really - I can't stress this enough. Keep your boss up-to-date on what you're doing, and let him guide your priorities. If anything or anyone is straining those priorities, let him deal with it.

      This is the absolute truth. I'm the sole Network/Network Security person for a company of about 1000 associates, spread across four sites in North America. Production down emergencies come first, but after that everything is prioritized.

      I keep a list of every outstanding task I have, and regularly ask my supervisor to look at the list to see if priorities need to be changed. That way, when people come to me with what they consider to be emergencies, I can decide where I think it should go on my list. If they find that unacceptable, they can talk to my supervisor.

      I think it also helps to explain risks when I push back on requests. When poor planning results in someone wanting a network change during the day, I explain to them that if they change they request doesn't work, it could affect all 1000 people in the company and ask if it is really that important. Anything that is actually that important usually gets support from my supervisor, his supervisor, etc.

      Trying to manage people's expectations will also help. If people know that task X takes Y days, it helps them plan and also gives you better ground to stand on when you have to push back. One of the best things I did was to put in place a policy that non-emergency changes would only occur Wednesday and Sunday nights. It fits my schedule and forces people to plan.

      A good phrase is, "Poor planning on your part does not constitue an emergency on mine." If you can figure out a nice way to say that, let me know.

    • by mcdrewski42 (623680) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:10AM (#6811587)
      I can't agree more here. The only difficulty with this approach is that in a service industry the number of requests typically far outweigh the number of times or emails you can take to your boss.

      If you make sure that everything you are given is allocated a priority, though, then you'll be getting well ahead in the game. The key thing is to define in black and white what those priorities mean

      Once you have agreement on a set of PUBLISHED priority definitions, almost nobody will argue with you when you tell them that their request will be performed AFTER some other request. What's more, if they complain you can simply direct them to your manager for an exception (raise the priority based on an ad-hoc decision).

      For example:
      Critical = More than one employee/system unable to perform their primary business tasks. No workaround is available.

      Very High = One employee/system is unable to perform their primary business tasks; OR More than one employee/system unable to perform their primary business tasks but a workaround is available.

      High = One employee/system is unable to perform their primary business tasks but a workaround is available; OR More than one employee/system unable to perform their day-to-day business tasks and no workaround is available.

      Medium = Employees or systems are unable to perform their day-to-day business tasks.

      etc.
  • Where I work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phorm (591458) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:37AM (#6811432) Journal
    We avoid this problem with a simple rule: Any work for "the techie" for has to be passed by "the techie's boss." Really, for anything not sopmewhat urgently needed, only management-level personnel should be able to assign longterm tasks.

    After all, your manager is supposed to, well, manage. And if not him/her, then a project manager of some sort. Any decent sized corp I've worked for had one of those. If you're getting snowballed with lots of work, then at least those above will be aware of it, and more can be done to manage your time.
  • I know. (Score:5, Funny)

    by fruity1983 (561851) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:38AM (#6811434)
    I recently saw a very good video on the subject of telling your boss (and thus your customers?) when enough was enough.

    It was called Fight Club, I think.

    Me? I'd be very careful who I talked to about this. It sounds like someone dangerous wrote it... someone who might snap at any moment, stalking from office to office with an Armalite AR-10 Carbine-gas semiautomatic, bitterly pumping round after round into colleagues and co-workers. Might be someone you've known for years... somebody very close to you. Or, maybe you shouldn't be bringing me every little piece of trash you pick up.
  • Document! (Score:5, Informative)

    by faust2097 (137829) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:38AM (#6811439)
    I will share with you a tidbit of wisdom from those of us in design: keep track of how you're spending your time. Keep a detailed record of what you are spending your time doing and who is asking you to do it. Show this document to your manager and have them prioritize your time so that there are some rules in place. Managers are there to make sure you can do your job, make them work for a change.

    I'm reminded why I bill hourly now.
  • NEVER SAY NO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ozzee (612196) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:38AM (#6811440)

    The right way is to propose and alternative.

    Scenario 2

    PHB says - "I want X done asap".

    overworked IT engineer - "No problem, which one of A,B,C,D, .... W would you like me to hold off on while I do X ?"

    PHB ... goes away and does not come back until it's more important that A...W

    Scenario 2

    Customer - "I have this way out idea that will really be cool to do !"

    Overworked engineer saya - "Fantastic, you know, we have a procedure for new projects, go fill in the form and we'll prioritize it".

    Customer goes away and forgets the crazy idea.

    Most of the ways to deal with anyone it to give them your problem. If you do this then you filter most of the nonsense. The golden rule is to never say no but to "Prioritize"! No-one will ever complain that you don't do your job if you are "prioritizing!".

  • by chill (34294) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:40AM (#6811449) Journal
    You'll need to speak management speak (and that means Powerpoint and Project) to get your point across.

    Make a list of all the existing items. Put them into some form of project timeline (Mr Project, MS Project). Show the dependencies, requirements, funding estimates and man-hour estimates.

    Make management assign priorities to tasks. I don't mean broad categories like "high" and "low", but actual numerical order. No equal priorities.

    Generate a nice GANTT chart that shows you'll finish sometime around 2015, if and only if no new projects crop up.

    You need nice pretty charts and graphs with lots of primary colors and some nice page-transition effects to catch the attention of most management types.

  • policies? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cballowe (318307) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:41AM (#6811455) Homepage
    I think what you're looking for are policies. You want something endorsed by whoever is above you that details what you are and aren't supposed to be working on as well as what work gets priority. Maybe from 8-noon you handle new requests and 1-quitting you're on project stuff? Make it known that helpdesk stuff isn't the bulk of your job.

    Also -- consider talking to people in each of those groups you outlined earlier. Maybe a couple of developers could be roped in to screening questions from their fellow developers before passing them up to you. It sounds like you're with an IT heavy company - the individual user groups can probably take some responsibility for their own actions.

    Implement LDAP or AD and give a user from each group power to manage users within that group. That way you don't get called for password changes etc.

    There's lots of things that you could work on to take load off of you. People do need to understand that you can't do everything. If you can get a work priority policy past the boss, at least you can start keeping track of the piles and whe a user says "why isn't X done" you say -- management says it's not a priority so it will be done when P D and Q are finished. ("when will that be" -- "6 months to a year") The users will go to their bosses and ask about the policy -- either the policy will get changed by your management, or they'll stick to it and back you on following it.
  • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:41AM (#6811456) Homepage Journal
    'Hey Abbott, hey Abbott! I think the recession is over!'

    'Why is that Lou?'

    'I just heard an IT guy say he's not available for overtime.'

    (Okay, to avoid downmodding, it was originally 'I think the war is over (wwii)' 'why' 'I just heard the woman next door talking back to her maid'. The idea was that if someone gave a maid a bunch of shit, she could go be a Rosy the Riveter. Sorry, google no help. Go find some old time radio mp3s. Or tapes. Or CDs.)
  • by greggman (102198) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:42AM (#6811458) Homepage
    and not just in jobs.

    What I mean is my friends will ask me to fix their computer or install a new hard drive but they would never think of asking their lawyer friends to write them a contract. What's up with that?

    • What I mean is my friends will ask me to fix their computer or install a new hard drive but they would never think of asking their lawyer friends to write them a contract. What's up with that?


      I have a policy with all my friends:

      Windows Work: Pay my consulting rate, with travel time.
      FreeBSD Desktop Work: Free.

      I can install FreeBSD, with openoffice in under 30 minutes, and I rarely have to visit the computer again, and if there is a problem, remote diagnosis is quite easy.

      Windows has to be installed beh
    • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda&etoyoc,com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:58AM (#6811542) Homepage Journal
      What I mean is my friends will ask me to fix their computer or install a new hard drive but they would never think of asking their lawyer friends to write them a contract. What's up with that?

      Simple: Lawyers, Plumbers, and Car mechanics are viewed as professionals. They charge an exorbinant rate for fixing things. In business and at school IT is freely given out like candy. When folks aren't used to paying for something, they assume that it in fact costs nothing.

      It also doesn't help that we (myself included) are often all to eager to volunteer our help. If we as an industry were populated by cynical and legalistic mercinaries we wouldn't have these problems.

  • by LadyLucky (546115) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:43AM (#6811461) Homepage
    I can really only talk about my own experience here.

    I've recently become development manager for one of our company's products. As such, it has taken a while to find my feet, both when interacting with sales & consulting internally, and when interacting with customers. I certainly erred on the side of saying yes too often, because I wasn't sure about saying no.

    Not anymore. For me, it took mistakes, stress, and all sorts of complaints directed at myself or the company, whether or not it was my responsibility. It is this realisation that sometimes, I need to say no. People do get pissed off at you when you say no. But your job isn't to please people, it's to get a product out the door (well, for me it is, anyway).

    So, you learn to say no when from the experience of getting a yes thrown back in your face.

  • by aradke (155615) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:43AM (#6811465)
    This is an incredibly important skill in the IT industry.

    The only good way I've ever found to do this is as a team. You have to know that your teammates and team leader will back you up. Your manager is not part of this as the request may come from them but hopefully they'll learn to trust your 'no' statements and start backing you up on these too.

    If you are on your own then it's more difficult but generally that requires showing the requesting party why you are saying no. This may include asking them to seek approval from someone else to drop what you are doing, sign off on the risk, etc.

    And if you are a contractor or similar then you need to supply your reasons and if they still insist then do what they want after making sure they are fully aware of the consequences (and you have a written communication to them including your objections).
  • by aeoo (568706) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:43AM (#6811470) Journal
    Instead of taking the full weight of the decision, why don't you tell your manager that clients want A, but you already have B, C, D in the queue, and ask the manager to prioritize these items for you. Something will have to be delayed, maybe it will be client's current request, or maybe one of the things that were previously in the queue, but you won't be the one deciding what gets delayed.

    If you are in the position of power, then you should have enough power to make a decision without fear. If you are shaking in your boots, then shift the burden to the client by letting the client prioritize things for you. Obviously this is complicated if you have more than one client. Then you'd have to get them all in a room and have them talk it out.

    The rule of thumb for power is that power should match your responsibility. That means, if you are, say, responsible for cleaning the floor, then you must be empowered to move things off the floor, to access cleaning supplies and so on. If you are a manager and it is your job to prioritize items and yet you are not empowered to say "NO", then something is terribly wrong, and perhaps, your project is going down the tubes anyway, and you should look for another job. Alternatively, you can just shut up and sort of roll with the punches and hope that clients will drown in the endless bureaucracy (let the thing that's holding you down hold your clients down as well) and eventually run out of steam. It really depends on the environment you work in. .02c.
    • by okock (701281) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:38AM (#6811674) Homepage

      I've made best experience with this technique. Whoever asks me to do anything (usually this is a small number (~5) of different people) I ask back for the priority of the job.

      If there's 50 tasks I'm pesting them for 50 different priorities, not just 3. Everybody understands that I can't do more than one thing at a time, everybody seems thankful that they can set priorities and don't rely on my priorities.

      From time to time (if I believe something doesn't fit or someone misuses this power) I check back with my boss, but usually this is not necessary.

      Another hint would be: Don't keep backlogs. Accept work for a month, not more. Nobody (especially not you) is happy to see that a task will be performed in a year. (and when the year is over it will be another year, because so many new tasks came up). When the month is over, get more work. Some recommended reading on this topic comes from xprogramming.com: http://www.xprogramming.com/xpmag/PetitionTheKing. htm [xprogramming.com]

      Good Luck.
      Olaf
  • Keeping on task (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chuckcolby (170019) * <chuck@rn o c . net> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:44AM (#6811473) Homepage
    There are going to be those that tell you "just say no". I know personally that sometimes that tactic isn't practical/feasible/whatever. I run into this quite often as a consultant; multiple clients have problems that require immediate attention.

    The only diplomatic way I could find around this was in a prioritization scheme based on adverse impact. For instance, network issues supersede server issues, server issues supersede workstation issues, workstation issues supersede printer jams.

    My initial problem was in trusting my clients to be understanding enough to "get it". To my surprise, when I laid it out, they were amazingly receptive, as most of them knew when it was their turn to have a network or server problem, they'd be at the top of the list.

    I'm not sure how well that will play out in a corporate environment, but like my customers, your users may be more understanding than you are willing to give them credit for. You are one IT person. Everyone in the company can count to 1, I'm almost sure. They're also keenly aware of how out-of-whack the user/nerd ratio is. Conservative (read:CHEAP) companies will let it get to 70:1, users:nerd. Good companies will go 40:1. Exceptional companies will go 20:1.

    I don't envy you your job, you've got to focus on efficiency. Good luck to you, it'll probably be either highly rewarding or we'll all see you on the 6 o'clock news pinning down your coworkers with an assault rifle. Let's hope for the former.

  • Say Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by clockwise_music (594832) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:49AM (#6811497) Homepage Journal
    From the words of a relatively experienced consultant:

    Don't say no, say yes, and explain how long it will take (3 months) and when you can get started (in 6 months). Of course you must be very polite and empathise with them. Tell them that you understand how annoying their current problem might be.

    Write a list of jobs, prioritise them, and then stick to the damn thing like superglue. If anyone has a request, listen to them, write it done, forward it onto your boss. Or alternatively if your boss is useless, stick the item at the bottom of the list. (my boss was so useless I ended up writing a small web-app to do this for me, and then for other people, and then for other people in different projects). But most importantly if you stick to your prioritised tasks you'll actually get some work done instead of constantly task switching, which wastes everybodies time.

    Alternatively, if the request is just stupid, don't say "No, that's dumb", say "Maybe we could also (instead) do this, which would result in also having these positives, on top of what you've already said.". Diplomacy is the key!

    Another important thing is to not let these users prioritise your tasks. They will all end up "super high" or something equally useless. Just use your own numbering scale from 1-10.

    The alternative is to piss off all of your users, say yes to everything, look like you never get anything done, stress yourself into a heart attack by 40, write crappy buggy code and to hate your job. It's your choice.

    Welcome to the real world!
  • Paper Trail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzybunny (112938) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:49AM (#6811500) Homepage Journal

    Most of the comments in this thread are entirely accurate. Do not say no, but rather, document exactly what tasks you're doing, ask your manager to prioritize, and have customers go through him/her to get to you.

    If your manager is unreasonable, you will have to do the prioritization yourself. Most important, though, is that you very clearly document the time estimated and actual hours spent on fulfilling a task.

    What I have also found to be extremely useful (consultant, yeah yeah...) is, before starting a task, outline the actual task deliverables. When finished, do a quick writeup on what you did, who it was for, how long it took, etc. Doesn't have to be long, just look reasonably nice

    This takes a bit of getting used to and initially may seem like a waste of half an hour per task, but I have yet to speak to anyone in any level of management who didn't appreciate that sort of thing. It gives them concrete proof of what you're doing, it gives you a paper trail to fall back on when people claim you don't have enough to do, and it makes your boss look good, because they have something tangible in their hands to present to their management.

    Also, though I know it's not entirely relevant, it helps me to occasionally look at Stokely's Golden Rules of Consulting [stokely.com]. It's more geared towards independent contractors, but contains some very wise principles.

    Whatever happens, don't get frustrated. I guarantee you, eventually your customers will begin to understand that everyone and their mom wants you to do things for them, and will learn to stand in line. And my experience has been that when something is truly truly earthshatteringly urgent, they become even more appreciative if you can bend the rules a bit. That's how we kept a fairly extensive bar stocked during my last operations role :)
  • by pastpolls (585509) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:50AM (#6811501)
    One employer I had told me never to say I could not... let them know under what circumstances I could.

    I have lived by that ever since. I am a supervisor that is responsible for not only my time but the time of others. I never say no, I just let people know, without whinning, where there project stands... and what possible delays there may be. I have neen known to tell someone that I was planning to shelve their job for a week, and if they want they can give me materials now, or wait until I am ready to start. I usually let people know that I am just trying to be honest with them and not lend them false hope.

    In my small firm I keep my schedule posted as well as the tasks of my subordinates (I don't put their exact shedules... can of worms I won't open). Most of the time people can tell where on the totem pole their project falls and will often hold the job themselves seeing that something more important is in front of them. Ultimatly communication is the key, not bitching. If people see things getting done and you working hard and working snart, they will rarely (I won't say never) get upset at how long something is taking.
  • Don't say no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by El (94934) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:50AM (#6811506)
    Say "I'm inserting that into my prioritized queue of tasks to be done in slot #98, right behind fixing the mail server virus filters..." Your problem is you're letting people's new requests take too high a priority.
  • by fuali (546548) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:51AM (#6811512) Homepage
    As far as the customer is concerned there are three elements that concern them. Time, Quality, and Money.

    On any product they can't have all three. Example: If they want it quick (time) and the want it cheap (money), it will be lacking in quantity. Or If they want it cheap, and they want qulity, the delivery time will be long.

    Saying "No" is not always the answer. But if you explain how their request will affect the one of the three elements (time, money, quality) they will either:

    A) Give you more money.
    B) Give you more time.
    C) Expect less at delivery(cut-corners)
    D) Withdraw their request.

    And everyone wins.
  • Prioritize! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Redking (89329) <stevenw@redki n g . com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:53AM (#6811524) Homepage Journal
    Remember the 80/20 rule while you're slaving away. 80% of your users are serviced by 20% of your work. Since each Slashdotters work environment varies, what specific task you should be working on will vary too. From what background information you've provided, I think it would be a good start to prioritize security because it would affect everyone on the company LAN and those connecting on the VPN. Find/resolve security problems, implement user documentation for smart password maintainence, standardize software used for secure tunnels, etc...

    Once that is resolved, you should move on towards the next immediate problem that affects the most users. Maybe it's upgrading/fixing the server(s). You'll probably have to upgrade hardware or install new patches to keep the developers happily developing on a fast machine while the administrative staff can wait for the MS Office update, etc...

    Good luck.
  • by xmark (177899) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:54AM (#6811526)
    You need to read Peopleware, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. Although it's about software development, and not IT support per se, it speaks directly to your situation. No new age crap, no six-point programs, just smart, experience-based advice. It's a short read that will leave you saying "of course" on nearly every page.

    You probably already understand one of its key points (or will very soon): it's not sustainable for you or anyone else to work more than about 40 hours, week in, week out, without turning crispy. Work is different from time in front of keyboard or slumped in your chair. You can rack up a lot of hours north of 40/week, but in the long run will have almost nothing to show for them. Additionally, the book will tell you how to say no, as you requested.

    One more thing. If you are supporting 100 people, then your days are unquestionably one series of interruptions crashing into each other. There's strong practical advice here about how to minimize interruptions, and work toward having an environment in which you can actually get something done without having to use "hiding" tricks. One of the stories in the book is about a developer who was so bugged by interruptions in his cubicle that he took to working in a toilet in the men's room for an hour at a time. I hope you aren't near that point yet.

    Here's the book at Amazon: [amazon.com] but you can get at the library, and probably faster.

  • by bofh468 (628006) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:57AM (#6811533)
    Myself and my co-worker work for an educational services company. We manage a smallish network of ~150 UNIX machines and are responsible for maintaining them, the network gear, and network security. We also solve every problem that the applications developers can't figure out (which amounts to a lot). On top of that, we're continually striving to improve our network infrastructure. We're often dragged into meetings to plan and develop infrastructure upgrade projects.

    Management's priorities are all over the map, and priorities can change every hour. This makes life incredibly difficult for us.

    Our solution was to grab a big-ass whiteboard (you know, 4 feet tall, and 16-feet wide) and write down all of our tasks. No real detail... just enough to indicate what the task is. We mark which task we're currently working on. Whenever management comes by to give us more work, we take them to the whiteboard, write down the task(s), and insist they prioritize what's on there.

    The amount of incoming work was enough to keep four people busy. We spent 2 hours daily discussing priorities with management. All tasks were important enough to keep on the board, and our Ops Manager maintained the priority list.

    Then one day, the whiteboard filled up.

    Management got the hint when we insisted on a second whiteboard. Instead of providing us with a second whiteboard, there's now whitespace available on the first board.

    Just keep a list of tasks at hand, and make sure your manager knows what you've got on your plate. If you're given a new task, insist that he looks over your current list and assigns some priority.
  • by sakusha (441986) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:57AM (#6811538)
    I had an insane boss once, each day as business started he'd roam around the office for his morning ritual, he made each employee look him straight in the eyes and say "No" three times in a firm but neutral voice. If he didn't like how you did it, he'd make you do it again. Yep, he was totally nuts.
    • Mr Burns: I see it all, now. You're just a bunch of yes-men. I was making the wrong moves and you were too gutless to tell me! Isn't that right??

      Yes-men: Oh, yes, sure, etc.

      Smithers: Right on, sir.
  • by shivan (12148) <.slashdot. .at. .hype.be.> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:00AM (#6811557) Homepage
    yes, i will get a million geeks on my neck for saying this, and heck, before i became a corporate whore i was against this. But now i've seen the usefullness of this.

    make up a system which includes procedures for change managment and incident managment. Everytime someone asks for something, ask them wether it is an incident or a change (or decide yourself), if its an incident (in which case you have break/fix situation), you know its a valid/urgent request and you can work on it. If its a change, you put it into a change managment system, together with the rest of the work you already have. Make this work visible (give out ticket numbers and such), so next time they want an update, you can refer them to your change managment webpage and they can see which project(s) are still to be fixed before theirs is started. This way, you dont come off as a sluggish worker AND you keep your customer happy.

    ITSM, love it or hate it, but it sure is usefull.
  • It's not a 100% solution, and it raises some chicken-and-egg challenges, but the only way I've been able to say "no" (and have them listen instead of overruling me) is to establish a really good rep with them first. Sometimes this does mean doing the impossible and sucking it up and plowing through some impossible workloads at first, simply to establish that you're a force to be reckoned with, you know your shit, and you're not afriad of "putting in the hours". The last one is perhaps the most important; if you say "no, it can't be done" often their first thought is, "he just doesn't want to do the work" so you have to establish yourself well enough to push that thought out of their heads.

    Of course, this course of action can also have the opposite effect if done wrong... if you meekly take on superhuman workloads without a whimper you might establish yourself as a doormat and then you're never gonna be able to say "no". So you need to stay very assertive and communicative (not combatitive!) during the whole process- you're willing to bust ass for the company, but you're not a doormat either.

    Also, don't just say "no"... have REASONS for what you've said, as well as alternate solutions. If you offer constructive solutions they will respect that and even if they disagree they'll see you're trying to work WITH them and not AGAINST them.

    Of course, if your bosses are just especially cruel, exploitative, and/or clueless they might never have the sense to hear the word "no". But... they're just out to make money. They're willing to listen to almost anything that will make them money. You have to convince them that the occaisional "no" is necessary, because the alternative is often a burned and angry client whose unrealistic deadlines you agreed to meet, but failed. Burned and angry clients don't stick around very long, unless it's to file lawsuits.
  • Status queue (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:41AM (#6811687) Journal
    Put together a quick, simple web-thingy that you can administer, and give permission to your boss to assign priorities to items you get.

    Somebody puts in a request? Great! Post it on your web-thingy, and notify your boss to assign priorities for the request(s).

    Then, when user NNN sees their priority bumped to position #37 (ETA==never) they can take it up with your boss... while you just appear to be clean, professional, and attentive.

    This is the kind of thing you could hack together with Linux/Apache/PHP/Perl in a matter of a few hours, if you really are any good.

    Heck, put in a submission form so that you don't even need to type it in!
  • by uroshnor (443541) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:52AM (#6811725)
    given an appropriate allocation of time, money and resources.

    There are a number of things that are key :

    1) agree with senior management on broad priorities
    2) draw up a list of what needs to be done
    3) re-order the list in terms of the agreed priorities
    4) present the prioritised list to management, and have them agree to the priority
    5) Give an honest indication of how far down the list you'll be able to get

    Go off and do stuff, and report progress on the list and re-prioritise the list say once a week, with their input.

    IF they are half way decent as a manager, they will rapidly understand to either accept the level of capability they have, OR accept the need to increase that level of capability to meet their performance expectations. If they can't arrive at conclusions similar to these, in general you should be looking to work elsewhere.

    If they want X to be done, explain what is really needed to achieve X. If some or all of the pre-requisites, give a honest estimate of how that will impact their timelines.

    Oh - and plan on, and only commit to, 35-40 hours of real work per week per person, otherwise you'll burn people out, AND have no spare capacity to surge to meet the occasional urgent deadlines.

    Another thing that can help, is to help filter the crap out, by getting agreement from management for allocation of resources to issues.

    No system is perfect, but if you can demonstrate an understanding of the businesses needs and priorities, and be up front, but constructive, about the implications of meeting those, you can often say no without really saying no.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:59AM (#6811747)
    I was in your situation about 10 years ago with my first ever IT job. I agree with posts recommending a project plan, keeping your boss informed of what you're doing, and also escalating impossible work requests to your boss to manage so that you do not look like you are being overly obstructive (just busy!).

    At the end of the day I tend to forget what I just spent 12 hours doing, so write everything down as you go along, and mail this to your manager at the end of the week, so they are aware just how busy you are.

    BUT - my main area of expertise is DEFINITELY the route of underpromise and overdeliver. This is a technique for making yourself look more efficient than you really are. So - a user asks you to come and troubleshoot - say a missing share they used to have set up on their workstation. You know you can get round to them in 1 hour. Tell the user you will definitely come to see them in 2 hours time. Turn up in 3 hours and the users unhappy. Turn up in 2 hours and you've met expectations. Turn up in ONE hour, and hey - you're an hour early - RESULT! The user is v pleased that he is important enough for you to see quickly! User is happy. Now you knew all along you'd be one hour... but you've managed the perception of the user effectively, and he's a lot happier because, at the end of the day, you've psychologically out-manoeuvred him :) This CAN backfire if you do it too consistently, as people will start to think you don't have enough work to do, or that you are pretty poor at managing your time... but if you have 100 users, you can try it at least once on all of them :)

    Couple more things - when you helldesk phone rings, smile when you answer. You can hear it in your voice, and you will come across as a happy + confident employee, even if you're the opposite. This gives people confidance in your abilities, and they will enjoy dealing with you - and this costs you no time or effort. The more highly people think of you, the better your life will be.

    Remember people. This is easy for you - I work with 5000 people, you only have 100. Bear in mind that at the end of the day, everyone wants to be adored *no, really they do!*, so you can use this to your advantage in a smaller way - treat users nicely, ie: as if you like them, and they will generally like you back. People who like you generally will let you get away with more... how much more quickly would you forgive your best mate letting you down, compared to a stranger?

    I know none of these are super-practical tips, but you've already had tons of them - I promise they'll all make your job more enjoyable!

    Good Luck.
  • by kris (824) <kris-slashdot@koehntopp.de> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:10AM (#6811777) Homepage
    There is no "No" in the workplace. But there is a lot of other things.

    For example, there is the current list of your tasks, with a timeline and priorities. If your management comes with new projects, have them look at that schedule and ask them to reorder priorities and timelines, if necessary. That will give them an idea of what the new project will cost them in terms of delay of other projects, messed dependencies and other consequences.

    For example, there is the simple question of money. If an external customer comes to you with a new project or a new idea that will mess up the current project, show them the consequences of their doing, and attach a price to this. "Your new idea will fit into the current project here, here and here. It will use up to x mandays of work, costing $$$ each, and will delay the first shipment of the deliverables by y days. Also, the new things will need adjustments to the project documentation, the handbooks, the testing procedures, costing another $$$. That comes down to a total of $$$$$$ for you at this point in time. Another alternative would be a separate project adding your features to the finished product. That might be slightly cheaper because of ... and will not stall us with the current project."

    The basic idea behind all these techniques is to make the internal structure of your projects and your schedule as transparent as necessary for the person asking you. It enables them to understand that their idea may be good (it probably even is), but that it is not suitable at this point in time. It also makes transparent for them the ressources they allocate and probably waste, if they insist on it now.

    Which is much more effective as a plain "no" anyway.

    Kristian
  • Never say "No" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cyclometh (629276) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:14AM (#6811792)
    Nobody likes to be told "no" when they request something, especially from someone (like yourself) who is seen as a resource within the organization that is supposed to respond to requests.

    I'm going to echo what others have said, and that is essentially, communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. Don't whine, just explain the facts:

    Fact 1. You are a human being, and you have a limited amount of time to accomplish tasks, just as any other human being does.

    Fact 2. When you have responsibilities, those responsibilities take time. Additional responsibilities will require more time.

    Fact 3. If tasks are expected to be accomplished at a higher rate of speed, management must either allocate more resources to accomplish those tasks, or must properly prioritize.

    Fact 4. You should not be expected to work 70 hour weeks to keep up with the basic demands of your organization. This, it seems to me, is the most important one in the situation described- it points to a failure on the part of the organization to recognize that in order to accomplish their goals, they must be willing to allocate the proper resources to those goals.

    Speak to your boss/manager, and explain the situtaion in simple, concrete terms. Don't be afraid to say "It is not reasonable to expect a single FTE to accomplish the tasks allocated." Document what you're doing, explain why (in simple terms) it takes the amount of time it does to do things, and be prepared to explain your reasoning. You are the subject matter expert, not management.

    What it comes down to is that when the rubber meets the road, an organization that wishes to have tasks accomplished in a timely manner by any division, IT or not, must be prepared to support that goal with resources. If the organization cannot or will not provide those resources, you MUST explain (politely) that it is not possible to accomplish what is expected in the timeframe alloted.

    I realize that not everyone is in the position to say "give me the resources I need or find someone else to tell you what you want to hear", but the alternative is to eventually fail; in a case where you simply cannot make management see the facts, it would be prudent to seek employment elsewhere if possible.

    I speak from experience here- I tried to be Superman and Scotty all in one to a number of organizations. I suceeded for a while, but only by totally destroying anything I had resembling a life outside of work, and that led to long-term health problems, both physical and emotional.

    Trust me, you'll burn out long before anyone takes any notice of your plight, unless you make it perfectly clear what you bring to the table, and what you do not- 70 hour work weeks shouldn't be in that package.
  • by yroJJory (559141) <me AT jory DOT org> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:18AM (#6811804) Homepage
    I am a contractor doing freelance tech support, sound design, and web app programming. I've found that the best way to keep clients from taking advantage of me is to charge a lot.

    Seriously! When clients have to feel their pocketbook getting lighter, they stop asking for piddling things and keep requests to important items.
  • The 90% rule (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Andy Smith (55346) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:36AM (#6811847) Homepage
    Okay as much as I agree with a lot of the prioritisation advice that has been given so far, I'm going to offer some different advice.

    Wild guess... you're a perfectionist?

    Me too.

    It's a problem.

    Seriously, aiming for perfection is a genuine personality problem in a work environment. Why? Because perfectionists can never achieve their goal but they'll spend twice as long as everyone else trying.

    Here's the solution, tried and tested.

    Follow the 90% rule.

    Know exactly what you instinctively want to do to complete any task, and then aim for 90% of it.

    Do this once.

    Then ask yourself, honestly, have I really done a bad job here? The answer will be no, you've done a job that is the same as you'd have achieved if you'd aimed for perfection. But it took you half the time.

    Perfectionists waste so much time aiming for that extra 10% and they never achieve it because it's a form of psychological self-punishment.

    Get one thing absolutely clear in your mind -- you are NOT aiming to cut corners or be lazy. You're going to achieve exactly what you would normally, you're just freeing yourself from that nagging burden of an impossible goal.

    Finally, consider this...

    When you wonder about "how to say no" to people, are you worried about letting them down or letting yourself down?

    See what I mean? :-)
  • by bushboy (112290) <lttc@lefthandedmonkeys.org> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:37AM (#6811848) Homepage
    It's called Negotiation and is one of the hardest things to get right in business.

    If it's a client, you have to politely inform them that while you may not be able to get the job done for the time they are requesting, you can certainly aim for 'x time' - never mention other projects that you are working on for a client as you always want them to get the impression that they are the most important.

    Never say No to a client - if you no you can't do it, then outsource it.

    If it's your boss, you have to negotiate more heavily, as the boss is certain to 'pull rank' to get his/her way. Again, you need to request more time, however at this point you can indicate all the other project that you are working on and set a priority list :-

    Ok boss, if this job is so urgent, I'm afraid I'm going to have to put X job on the back-burner to get it done.

    Finally, if it's a marketing person who said to the client "Sure, we can get that done by next week Tuesday easy !", you have to hunt that marketing person down and kill them - after all, marketing types are a dozen a dime and really have little use except for blood-sport...
  • by DrSkwid (118965) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:39AM (#6811856) Homepage Journal
    My solution to this was to make a "to do" application.

    If my colleague wants something done I tell him to put it on the to-do list with a priority rating.
    I then work top down. That way he knows what I have / haven't done and what he's going to delay by wanting new things.

    Managers should manage. I let him choose which work I'm doing next.
    And I can't stress enough how well that appraoch works in a bigger company. Bump requests up to your manager and let him choose which you do next. It reduces your stress because you aren't trying to juggle a bunch of peoples feelings and with luck, if you are overworked, they will do something about it because they can see the situation rather than people bitching about you never doing their tasks when they think that their tasks are the only ones you have outstanding.
  • by ayjay29 (144994) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:59AM (#6811919)
    >>I've searched the web, but most of the sites that supposedly have information of this type just want you to sign up for their seminars.

    There's a great book "Rapid Developemnt" by Steve McConnel, I recomment every developer/project manager to read it. I remember reading a good section on how to say 'No' in a professionl way.

    He has a bunch of exerpts and articles here:
    http://www.stevemcconnell.com/

  • What helps me is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zeddicus_Z (214454) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @04:28AM (#6812007) Homepage
    Wow, you're in almost the exact same position I'm in: the sole admin for your mid-sized organisation, responsible for anything capable of generating a spark.

    These are the guidelines that help me achieve my goals, and my boss' goals, without going nuts in the process.
    • Use a trouble ticket system!
      I can't stress this one enough. ALL requests for work should come through your trouble ticket system. Mid and Long-term projects don't need this as they should *only* come from your immediate boss.
    • Failing above, do everything via email.
      Having everything in writing allows you to keep track of who requested what and when. It also leaves a paper trail should the user/client claim you did not meet their request on time/to spec. Last but not least, it enables you to justify your time management.
    • Practice good time management.
      I know this sounds like a verbal wank, but it's true. If a task is not important, don't prioritise it above those that are. Keep in mind that your priorities are not those of your boss, and your boss' opinion of your work is really all that matters as far as doing well goes.
    • Meet your boss' priorities, not your own.
      To be happy and successful in your job, you need to meet the priorities of your boss. If there's something that needs doing and it's not your boss' priority, make it one. Do this by explaining what it is, why it needs to be done, the impact on the organisation/yourself/your department/whatever if it's not done, the urgency and why it's so urgent.
    • Ignore normal comm channels
      When you're working on very important tasks under ultratight deadline, put your phone on "do not disturb" and ignore email. This helps your concentration greatly and, bottom line, if it's important enough people will walk into your office to see you. This is doubly effective if you're trained your users to do everything via TTS or email; they'll be reluctant to ask you in person, knowing you usually tell them to repeat it all in an email. Thus they'll only come to you when it really is important.
    • Priority list is sacrosanct
      Following the above point, your prioritised list of tasks is sacrosanct - stick to it! The *only* tasks you should even consider inserting into the priority list you and your boss have previously agreed on, are those that can be classed as "DoMeNowOrElse". Before you class something in this way, ask yourself "would i be willing to do major (>2hrs) overtime to get this done ASAP?" If they answer is yes (e.g. downed email server), then it's worthy of insertion into the priority list. Also keep in mind these insertions should always go above existing priorities - it'll help dissuade you from arbitarily adding tasks because someone other than your immediate manager says they're urgent.
    • Regularly check relevence of priorities
      Meet once a week with your boss and ensure your priority list is still relevant with his needs. He or she usually knows much more about whats going on and what's important at a strategic level, so while you may think disabling that ex-employee's account isn't more important than upgrading a mailserver, your boss may know different.
    • Never be unpleasant
      This may sound silly in a discussion about workload management, but it's core to everything you do as a sysadmin. Remember that the only time most people see what you do is when they come to you with a request. They dont have the vaguest clue what your job entails - the difficulty, the hours, the stress, none of it. All they'll remember is the grumpy way you dismissed them with a "no" and went back to working on your "DoMeNowOrElse" task. Which to them of course looks like you're just goofing off at your workstation. While this seems the easiest, I find this point by far the hardest to stick to.

    And, last but not least, remember this phrase: "A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part". But don't ever say that to your users unless you can figure a nicer way of putting it ;)
  • by pvera (250260) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @04:47AM (#6812059) Homepage Journal
    Especially if you are a programmer. At least a sys admin can get away witih saying no maybe 10% of the time. The second a programmer says no he has attitude and teamwork issues and eventually becomes Fredo's Kiss of Death.

    There was a time when it was possible for us programmers to hide behind a project manager whenever the requests were unreasonable or just did not make common sense, but that is no more. When the mass layoffs started the first thing that happened was at least half of these project managers got the axe and many programmers got stuck in PM duties. This is why to many of us this job is turning us into politicians, because it is the only way to survive.

    Of course, one could get high and mighty, but the only thing one would get out of this is a pink slip or a bad performance review (like it just happened to me).

    The only possible escape is instead of just plain saying no, to deflect the issue with alternative approaches to the problem. What sounds better? "Can't be done.", or "This is not going to work because of ... but if we do it this way we can get the same result."
  • by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @04:53AM (#6812076)
    This is a test of your management, not you. That is what management is for, for heavens sake.

    You should have a line manager to whom you report. Yes, of course you provide a service to a zillion different departments, but there should be one person to whome you report. Possibly the guy who hired you. Or the guy who says you can't have any more budget. This is his problem.

    If that guy is totally pointy-haired, then there is nothing you can do. Start looking for another job. Because even if you solve this problem, another will come along, and another, and another... Better to jump early that to drop out from exhaustion.

    But assuming your boss is not totally pointy haired, then all you need to do is to dump the stuff on his desk. When people come and make the excessive demands, package the whole lot up, take it to him and say "this represents 200% of what I can possibly do - please choose the half you want me to do, and prioritise it, the tell the other half they cannot have what they want", It is his job, not yours to palacate the enraged user. There may be a few iterations, as different users use their different powewrs to escalate their requests (or drop them because they weren't that important, or there is another way to do them).

    Obviously, your boss will try to get a bit more out of you - ask for 110% of that 200%. Don't give in to this. Make that 100% honest, then stick to it. If your boss fires you for an honest statement of what you can do, then he is too pointy haired to work for. And don't let him squeeze your estimates - if you say four days for a job, it is four days, not three. You are the techy, it is your job to make those estimates - and to get them more or less right. He is the manager, it is his job to use those estimates to get the best value for the company from your skills. Respect his skills - do the things he prioritises, not the ones you would like to do. But demand that he respect your skills and doesn't override your technical judgement.

    To summarise: you need to learn to say no to only one person: your manager. If you cannot set up a decent relationship with him/her, the job has no long term prospects: head for the lifeboats fast. If you can set up such a relationship (and it is a core function of technical management to have such relationships), then you can simply pass the buck upwards.
  • Documents! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @05:05AM (#6812100) Homepage

    It's the difference between software engineering and hacking. They want a new feature? Fine, ask them for requirements and use cases. Hard copies. Signed. Put a positive spin on it by asking them they'd rather you did it right, or did it twice. Document everything, confirm every conversation by email, attach your schedule to every document, actually move your completion dates every time a piece of new work hits you, and never, ever tolerate the scam that you're only scheduled for (e.g.) 80% of your time, and you can fit in the extra work (along with holidays, training (hah!), sickness and meetings) into that other 20%. It's bullshit, and management need to be called out on it.

  • I got fired (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bigattichouse (527527) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:38AM (#6813937) Homepage
    I told someone no, I wouldn't create a system that used a Social Security # for a login, and a badge number for a password... no no no. Had to do a sit down with my boss, their boss, and their boss... and I explained that 1) that information is definitely NOT secret, and 2) it was unethical to use information like that... it could compromise other aspects of the employees lives.

    and I got fired... for "breach of ethics". apparently "pandering to a customer's silly whims and tantrums" is an article of ethics in that crowd.

  • by rivendahl (220389) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:27AM (#6814544)
    I'll try not to sound too much like a therapist.

    Basically, no one has the right for any reason to violate your emotional and mental boundaries. Given this information, any employer who would expect you, the only IT employee, to work miracles on a budget with 70+ hour work weeks would either be insane, satan, or taking advantage of you.

    In any of these cases in it not right. I assume you are salary which means you work whatever they tell you too. They can fire you because they feel like it. And basically, you owe them for giving you a job in such difficult financial and job market times.

    Therefore, here is a practical solution. Explain to your customers, clients, employer and co-workers that you are one person doing the job of several. You are more than happy to get to their requests (which I can assume are typically easy user account resets, PC checks, LAN crawls) but to please be patient. And if you must tell them "No, I cannot do that." Be sure to add, "No, I cannot do that right now. I have too much work to do. Perhaps we can revisit this at a later date."

    Keep in mind you do not want to upset them. So yelling "NO!!! GO AWAY!!!" as the BOFH would, while quite humurous, and honestly quite theraputic, would probably get you fired. You want them to be considerate of your time and your work so please be considerate of theirs (and it sounds like you are, otherwise you wouldn't be so willing to do the work and find it so hard to say "No.")

    I hope this helps.

    Rivendahl
  • A few pointers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by salesgeek (263995) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @12:25PM (#6815781) Homepage
    A) In a small firm, get a little service ticket tracker and make sure everyone can access the prioritized queue report. That way they can see what is on your plate short term. Also make sure you put out a monthly email that lets people know what's up in IT land including *and this is critical* a summary of tickets closed, project status and so on so people know you are working your ass off. You are a stud if you can include downtime and causes on the report.

    B) Self-Service Rules. If you work with 40 developers, focus on providing resources so they can solve their own problems. Make sure things are documented and available so people can find things. Make it so users can self-install software and so on. Don't be a control freak. With programmers and sales/marketing departments it wont work.

    C) Become a horse trader for budget. When someone's got something that needs done, and it requires an upgrade or new purchase THAT IS AN OPPORTUNITY to get another department to fund you. Let people buy priority with budget dollars. I've diverted funds from advertising or sales training to buy servers because I NEEDED ECOMMERCE ONLINE NEXT MONTH!

    D) Don't be a no guy or a yes guy. Ask questions like "How will this help make your department more efficient?" , "Will this change enable us to increase capacity?", "Explain how this will help the bottom line?", "What alternatives have you considered... why did you settle on this decision?", "This will have impact on ______. Have you discussed the impact with ______ in ______?", "This looks like a really good idea - what drove you to consider doing this?" A lot of times people will talk themselves OUT OF DOING ANYTHING or put the project on the back burner.

    E) Don't be heavy handed with end users. Don't ever say to anyone that they or what they do are not important! When you have to say no, just be honest: "Accounting is down right now, can I get to this later?" "Do you need access to something you don't have to fix the problem?" "I think this is a great idea, but before I'm comfortable signing off on it, I'd you to discuss the idea with _______ and ______." And finally, you can always say, "No, I can't do it."

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