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September 16, 2014
By Melissa McFall


Careers in information technology are some of the most demanding out there. IT professionals often find themselves working full work weeks plus off hours on-call or overtime to make certain users are not affected by upgrades, roll-outs, security patches and other IT issues. In fact, our recent poll showed IT workers report their workload (which comes with expectations of off-hours availability) is their biggest job stressor―and many would consider looking for a new job and even taking a pay cut to reduce that stress. With all the crazy hours, how can you leave some time for yourself and for the important people in your life? Here are a few quick ways to make sure you maximize your potential to spend time doing what you want to do!

Understand the difference between urgency and importance

While you might be a go-getter who is always looking to cross everything off your list every day, it’s necessary that you learn how to organize your “to-dos” based on both urgency and importance. First, stack rank your urgent items in order of time allotted for resolution. These urgent items most likely need to be accomplished immediately. Once you’ve completed these items, you can move to important items. Important items are activities that are critical, but that don’t have a specific, or within-the-next-day, timeline attached to them. These items can be addressed once all your urgent work is complete. Finally, anything that is not urgent or important can be moved to the bottom of your list. The bottom line here is that if you are looking to spend time outside of work, it’s OK to leave once you’ve met your regular expectations for the day and you’ve completed all your urgent tasks.

Stay focused during the work day

All too often I’ve noticed that the employees who end up staying to work extra hours are actually the ones who aren’t focused enough during the day. They’re the ones who get pulled into side conversations that aren’t work-related. They’re the ones checking the score to the baseball game. They’re the ones responding to personal emails or surfing the Web to pay their bank statements. Not only is participating in these things at work just generally not recommended, it also creates a distraction from completing the required work. Therefore, people are forced to stay at the office late in order to finish assignments. Instead of being distracted in such ways, work for 30-60-minute spurts, and then take a quick five-minute break to walk around the office, hit the restroom, or grab some coffee. Then get back to the task at hand.

Communicate with your manager to set expectations appropriately

We often get stuck in the trap of assuming our work days absolutely must be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Well, it’s time that we all enter the 21st century and accept that things have changed—if you’ve already proven you are an awesome employee. If you have an event such as a class you want to take, or your daughter’s basketball team you want to coach, or your son’s band concert to attend, then I recommend you have a conversation with your manager to discuss how you may be able to attend these activities. Offer some ways to make sure that you don’t lose any productivity, such as coming in an hour early so that you can leave an hour early once  a week. Or maybe you can work four nine-hour days and a half-day on Friday. No matter what, you want to offer a plan to work around your request for flexibility. In many cases, your manager will be happy to support not only your professional goals, but your personal goals as well.

Hopefully, these few tips have you thinking about some ways you can improve your work life and personal life. When things get crazy in IT, it’s great to be able to still fit yourself and your family and friends into the equation. Doing these things will make you a happier employee and a happier person!

Interested in learning what IT bosses can do to relieve employees' stress? Read our recent post, This Labor Day, will IT workers demand some new rights?

Melissa McFall has spent over nine years in the IT staffing and services industry, including six years as an IT recruiter. She is an expert in recruiter/client relations and service delivery.

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