Help me survive my new intense job!
January 4, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I need some mental strategies (and very probably need some managment strategies as well) to help me survive my new job.

I started a new position at my company in August. My previous job was very technical (engineering), with few meetings, few deadlines, and plenty of time to polish the analysis I was working on. My new job is much faster paced. I am now the operations lead for a major piece of subcontracted hardware, so I am now managing a small team (3) plus a few other occasional-assignees, now have 20-30 hours of meetings every week, have constant interaction with a somewhat distracted, not up-to-speed-yet and thus tardy subcontractor, an always-watching-over-my-shoulder customer, and a miles-long list of products and documents to produce before a major program design review in the fall.

So my question is, how can I survive this major change to my work habits and style? I used to work primarily on my own, and now I spend so much time managing, in meetings, solving urgent problems, prodding the subcontractor, calming the customer, and tracking down answers to urgent design questions that I come home every day totally exhausted and too drained to exercise or do any of the other things I enjoy. I don't even have my own office anymore, so I can't shut the door for a break to get some real work done. The thing that has helped me the most so far when the sub-contractor doesn't have their act together and the customer is being annoying is a comment someone made to an AskMe Q a couple months back (can't find it now, of course) which suggested treating work interactions as a game--when I remember this, it actually makes a HUGE difference in my stress level (still just as exhausted though...).

So please: advice on mental strategies, small-team management, dealing with constant people-interaction, how to find time to do some actual work between the meetings, how to unwind enough to have a life in the evenings/weekends.
posted by lemonade to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 20-30 hours/week in meetings is WAY too much, if you are also expected to produce other stuff as well.
Are you the Project Manager? If not, who is? It sure sounds as though a lot of what you're doing is PM work!
I'd say analyze the substance of these meetings, and cut them in half (at least). Perhaps you can attend 'virtually', and be on the phone doing other work while listening in. (This works best if you have a headset for your phone).
I'd also suggest you break down your team's deliverables into weekly chunks, and meet daily (SCRUM-style) on those chunks to track progress *as a team*. This last bit is important, if your team starts meeting as a team, and you can all feel/understand how your work affects others (who may be waiting on it), often people start to perform at a higher level. You can also quickly discover blocking issues, and may even get volunteers for help with particular issues.
posted by dbmcd at 11:39 AM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: Someone recommended to me this book. It covers many of the things you mentioned. I wish I had read it sooner.

Time Management for System Administrators
posted by anti social order at 11:46 AM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: Firstly, if those meetings aren't clearly spelled out and are all internal or with the contractors, ditch the ones that do not have specific agendas. Any meeting you are in, ensure that there's something to be accomplished, and if the meeting starts stagnating, attempt to get everyone back on point or ask that when the rest of the information becomes available that there be another (short) meeting scheduled then and leave. If the meeting is with customers or vendors, make sure that there's an agenda and a point, otherwise you're either wasting people's time (including your own) or just schmoozing, which you can do after hours, should you want to. Ask that any meetings you need to attend be no longer than one hour. If there's a lot of information to cover, break it up, giving yourself a 30 minute break between hours so that you can fire fight for your team in between meetings.

It may sound odd, but eat lunch an hour later than everyone else or an hour earlier, and use the quiet time when everyone else is eating to get some work done without interruption.

Use headphones when you're at your desk working - big ones, not ear buds. You don't need to be listening to anything, but it signals to co-workers that you're focusing on something and are less likely to be interrupted by trivial interruptions. Also, let them know that when you have the headphones on you are trying to concentrate and to please email for things/problems that are not blockers for them.

Schedule time in your day to be problem solving, running around, talking to people. Make that at least 50% of your day in your own schedule.

Let your team know that you need the first 30 minutes of the day to read email and make some phone calls. Ask that unless they are completely blocked that they either send you an email with their problem or that they wait til 9:30 to talk it over with you. Understand that people won't actually completely leave you alone for the first 30 minutes of your day for several weeks, perhaps months.

Keep a to do list either on paper or on your computer/phone/pda/anything really, use outlook tasks with reminders. Break tasks into daily, weekly, and monthly recurrences, create a list for one off things that need to be done. Learn which tasks you can start to delegate out to other people. This may seem like a time sink at first, when you have to explain the task to someone a couple times, or answer their questions, but once it's off your plate and completely on someone else's, hooray!

All in all, it's best to figure out how to manage your day so that you're still able to accomplish all the things you need to accomplish for the day. Make sure you keep your own to do list updated and cross off things when completed. And scale down those meetings!
posted by kirstk at 1:21 PM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: This book is priceless - Managing Humans. I even linked to the Google Books copy of it so you can read some. About a software engineer's learnings of management. Funny read, and definitely helpful!
posted by lizbunny at 2:51 PM on January 4, 2010

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