3 ways IT pros can prevent job burnout
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System administrators know what it means to be overwhelmed. I have yet to speak with an IT pro who tells me that they’re bored at their job. This may very well have to do with the fact that there’s many companies try to do more with less. And while less people equates to less costs, it can sometimes be at the expense of the IT worker who’s overloaded with hundreds of responsibilities. This is one of the core reasons I strongly promote automation; it’s far easier to write a PowerShell script to automate managing some AD users or Exchange mailboxes than it is to actually get your organization to hire another person.
IT pros are constantly juggling helpdesk tickets, project tasks, meetings and those “oh, while you’re here” moments—you know what I mean. It’s like a marathon from 8 to 5...6...OK, maybe 9 p.m. on most days. After a while, it becomes unsustainable. I know this because I’ve lived it myself. We all tend to get overwhelmed by the mounting pressure from project deadlines, keeping our ticket queue down while still being a “team player” and helping anyone who randomly pops their head in our office (OK, let’s be honest: it’s probably a cube, but one can wish, right?).
The reality here is that you’re probably not going to quit—you need a job. Although I’d argue that if you find that you can’t deal with the overwhelming stress, you should find another job. In any case, if you’re in this kind of position, how do you deal with it? How do you balance it all without going insane? Let’s take a look at a few helpful tips.
1. Automate everything
Surprise, right? The single best action you can take today is to automate everything you possibly can. Automation is the next best thing to actually getting more warm bodies in the department to help out. If you’re not automating now, get to it. The most common excuse I’ve heard from people is that they simply don’t have time because they’re too tied up with their other tasks. Yes, I get it, you’re busy. But do you see the problem with that statement? If you never take the time to push back on some responsibilities and automate them, how will you ever get ahead? You’re on a hamster wheel right now. So here’s what I suggest: Take a moment to breathe, dial it back a little and realize that in order to save time you must first find the time to automate.
2. Know your priorities
Engineers, IT, developers, scientists…anyone in a technical role—we’re all naturally detail-oriented. We want to account for every single detail in a project or task regardless of its importance. We feel like it’s not “done” unless everything is in the exact order it should be. I’ve heard a coworker at one time call this “completion compulsion.” It’s a constant struggle, but the fact of the matter is, how many of these details actually matter? Does it matter that you made a typo in that code comment or does it matter if your script isn’t the fastest it could be? No. It matters that it achieves whatever goal your employer set.
Know your priorities. Quit fiddling around with the little stuff that your employer will never care about. Stick to getting things to work and if you somehow have some extra time, then—and only then—go back and make it better.
3. Talk to your superiors
As in actually talk to them. It may feel like a foreign concept at first, but it can pay off in the long run. I’ve been in situations where the workload was immense; way too much for one human being. Since I was good at my job and was known as the guy who got things done, I was given more and more work until it was no longer feasible. I talked to my boss and outlined all of my responsibilities. Believe it or not, he didn’t realize I had so much on my plate. The “hats” we all tend to gather happen over time. What management sometimes doesn’t realize is all of the hats we’ve actually accumulated over the years.
An understanding manager will hear you out and will likely be surprised by everything you’re doing. If they’re a great manager, they’ll redirect that work to other places. If not, it may be time to type up that resignation letter.
If you found yourself nodding your head to any of this, I encourage you to take a step back and see the position you’re in. You’re never too old to change your routine. Realize when you're overwhelmed and do something about it. Starting now.