Technology burnout

Burn out and frustration are common ailments among people who support technology. I’m lucky that these ailments only hit me once or twice a year. For people working help desk or desktop support jobs, it’s a year-round thing. In the 21st century, I’m still amazed that there are people who don’t know their way around a computer. And they are afraid or unwilling to try to figure them out. The people who try, I go out of my way to help them.

When people call for technology support, they are not in the best of moods. There are generally three possible scenarios. One, something broke and they need it fixed and they may have lost something important in the process. Two, they just realized they need to do something involving the computer and they don’t know how and rather than reading the ubiquitous documentation, they call you. Or three, they have tried to use something and it’s not working for them, can’t log in, getting an error when they try something; it’s not broken, it’s just not working.

The first scenario, I’m completely sympathetic with. Things happen. Computers crash. Programs quit. Printers stop printing. Still, there’s frustration when the person calling (or emailing) doesn’t understand enough about their computer to help you diagnose the problem. They don’t know, for example, the steps they go through to print or where their documents are saved. When that happens, you’re in a situation where someone has to physically go see them. And that takes a lot of time. And then it turns out that the printer wasn’t turned on. And so the person leaves and thinks, I wasted an hour of my time because they can’t turn on their printer.

The second scenario I find really frustrating. Much of our summer (and other times too) is spent trying to anticipate what people will need to know when they return to campus and we try to create simple, easy to understand instructions about how to do those things. We send out email with instructions and we include links to even more instrutions. We send out flyers. These are all ignored. And then sometimes, this turns into, “I don’t have time to do this. Can’t you do this for me?” (Sometimes it starts this way, which is even more frustrating.) When the ratio of IT to faculty is better than 1 to 160, I’ll be happy to do whatever you want. Until then, I’m going to send you instructions. And can I just note here that if a student behaved the way some of you have behaved, you’d be incensed. Just saying.

The third scenerio sometimes turns out to be the second scenario in disguise. Sometimes they just haven’t followed directions. Sometimes the directions are confusing and use terminology they don’t understand (this gets to two things: one, tech people could learn to speak English and two, people could learn more about their computers). Or sometimes, it turns into scenario one, something is broken. And most of the time, there’s an actual problem with their account or with the system and something needs to be fixed. And I’m okay with that.

Still, even if you’re dealing with scenarios where the person legitimately needs help, it can be frustrating after you’ve answered the same question a hundred times. Generally, people work the help desk for about a year and then they move on to something else. That’s a pretty short lifespan.

The thing is, I know the help desk people can be frustrating, too. They speak another language. They speak too fast. They talk about things you don’t even know how to define. Sometimes there’s that tone in their voice. You can tell they think you’re an idiot. It’s not you, it’s the person before you, really. It takes forever to get a response. Yes, we could do better. But if they help you and it fixes your problem or you learn something or you’re finally able to log in, say thank you, even if you don’t want to.

Making a life for ourselves

Regular readers know I stress out over trying to balance my life. And for me, that’s not about doing less, but doing everything I want without completely shortchanging any particular piece. It’s why I think about all that organization stuff. I want it all–really I do. Today, Elizabeth at Half-Changed World said what I think about all the time:

There are people who are happy focusing all their energy in one part of their life; I’m just not one of them.

She talks about how she appreciates the many different facets of her life and that she feels fulfilled by all of them, even she does none of them perfectly. Where the heck does this strive for perfection in all things come from? What happened to good enough?

That lack of desire on my part to focus on just one thing is one reason I can’t be an academic as it is currently constructed. In order to really succeed, I think I’d need that kind of focus and that’s just not going to happen. I like my odds and ends, thank you very much.

From a slightly different corner, but still, I think, at its root, from the same underlying desire, Jody writes about needing to refill her cup. I remember when she wrote about this before. I sense a theme. For now, she’s focusing on her dissertation, trying to gain some closure on a project she started. I know that feeling, for sure. But what I really like about what she writes is the gutsiness of it, the expression emotion that I know I, and many other parents, have felt:

Truly, I’ve been holding on by my fingertips for the last two years. I haven’t written much about this on the blog lately, because it’s embarrassing and miserable, but I’m so burnt out, I can’t stand myself. . . . Finally, with kindergarten starting, the kids are in a place they seem to love, with people I trust for now, and I can turn my attention to healing all the broken bits of myself.

I’ve felt that way very recently and it took some therapy and navel gazing and long conversations with my husband. I had shut down, unexpectedly quit, to use a geeky metaphor. I think we all, parents or not, get to that point in a world that pushes us to do, do, do, not for ourselves, but for others. Doing for ourselves is not something that’s valued in our society. Taking time off, whether it’s from work or from your kids, is important, but is often seen as a bit verboten.

When I was at home with Geeky Boy too, I felt pretty worn out. I just had very little connection with the outside world and that made me feel so invisible. Sometimes I long for the relative freedom I had then and think that I want that back again. But then I remember how lonely I felt, how I just couldn’t make myself be one of those moms who obsessed over every little detail of their kids’ lives. Things might not be the same now as they were then. I’m a different person with more interests, more mobility than I had then. But I enjoy the energy I’m putting into my work. I think if I’d continued to stay at home, I would have put that energy into something besides my kids even if I didn’t get paid to do it.

I hope Jody refills her cup. I have faith that she will.

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Getting Organized

With as much as I have going on this semester, I obviously need to organize my time well. I may have poked a little fun at my friend who had her kids’ backpacks ready to go, but the truth is, I need to be that organized too. It’s just a matter of priorities. School supplies are not a priority for me. It’s something that can be delegated to the kids. In truth, I need my kids to share the burden and be a bit self-sufficient. If they weren’t, I’d be in big trouble. And I’m lucky that for the most part, they take on responsibility without a complaint.

With a blissfully me  eting-free day yesterday, I was able to get back into  my GTD system at work. I’m using Airset to track my lists a la the GTD TiddlyWiki, which I liked, but which I lost when my computer died a while back. I’m planning to reconstitute my treo to use just as a palm or buy a stripped down palm to sync everything together. 

Here’s what I’m doing so far:

  1. First thing in the morning, I go through email.  Anything that takes less than five minutes to deal with, I take care of and respond to immediately.  Other things get filed into one of the many email folders I have.  One of those is a to-do for tasks that don’t fit into a project.
  2. Next, depending on the schedule I have for the day, I like to continue in the email vein and send emails. 
  3. I will then look at my to-do folder and schedule longer tasks.  Some tasks I may jot down on a piece of paper or put into my airset lists with reminders to make sure I get them done.  These I will often do when I have some time before meetins and whatnot.
  4. I have project folders, both physical and virtual.  When I do my weekly review, I go through all of these and brainstorm about what needs to be done with them and determine next tasks for those.  If they’re not already on a list, I add these to the list.
  5. I carry around index cards and/or pads of paper.  During the collection process, I make sure these get added to a list.

Some things I haven’t quite worked out yet:

  1. I’m trying to make time for reading, for keeping up with journals and blogs in my field. What I haven’t really decided is how often I should do this–every day? And what should I do when I get interrupted? Should I make sure I don’t get interrupted by going somewhere else?  I feel like this is an important thing to do and I am doing it in bits and pieces, but it feels disconnected.
  2. Scheduling a review time.  Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee an hour or so a day that will be free to review.  My folders are languishing a bit because of this. When things get busy, this is the first thing to go.  I think what I need to do is to go week by week.  On Monday, I need to say, what day looks good as a review day. 
  3. Delegating. I have students and colleagues whom I can pass tasks on to.  The hard thing is figuring out which tasks are appropriate to pass on and how much information I need to give the person in order to complete the task.  I also need a way to check in and make sure the task is complete.  I’m thinking for my students, I’m going to use a blog.  I rarely pass on tasks to colleagues since we kind of work in silos here.
  4. Figuring out what tasks just shouldn’t be done. This is a tough one, especially when it comes to doing things for faculty.  On the one hand, I want to provide the best support I possibly can.  On the other hand, I’m not here to do your work for you. Over the last week, I’ve received many requests to do things which faculty have the ability to do, but they may not know how to do the task.  I’m always torn between sending along instructions and just doing it for them.  Occasionally, I’ve sent instructions and the person on the receiving end has not been happy about that.  Also, the general boundaries of my job are not always clear, typical in a small organization, but I think I need to prioritize a bit more.

That’s just the work life.  At home, I’ve put the kids to work more and I’m also using airset for the family calendar.  Getting Mr. Geeky to use it is another story, but we’re getting there. We also have a physical calendar on the fridge.  The school blogs are going to be huge for me. No more piles of paperwork!!  Home is the place I’m always trying to tweak into a more organized machine, but it’s also the place where a lot of the rigidity I impose on myself at work can fall by the wayside.  So I think I’m satisfied with the way things are there for the most part.

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Nothing like waiting until the last minute

I’m working today. Yes, on Labor Day. It’s the first day of classes and as someone who supports the work that goes on in those classes, I can’t really miss. Plus I missed Friday because of the mystery illness.

School begins for the kids tomorrow and my own class begins tomorrow.  None of us are quite ready. The kids were to read at least one book and write a book report. They read a ton of books over the summer and they are just now writing their reports. It will be their main goal today. I’ve been saying something to them about this nearly every day for the entire summer. They’ve waited until the day before school starts. Mr. Geeky says, but they’ve read a ton of books and then I say, yeah, but if they don’t do the cheesy assignment they’ve been given, it won’t make a difference how many books they’ve read. Which, of course, pisses me off. Because not only do they have to do these reports, but they have to read “certain” books. Can you think of any better way to make a kid hate reading than to say, “You can only read these books and you have to write about them in this way”? Yeah, me neither.  I don’t see why the kids can’t be encouraged to read as much as they want and to turn in a list of the books they’ve read and if they really need further proof, maybe they can write or draw something about their favorite. The structure of public education is beginning to wear on me.

The kids went shopping this weekend for clothes and school supplies.  I dropped Geeky Girl off at a friend’s house on Saturday and the mom informed me that she had packed all 4 of her kids backpacks already.  (Please, you SAHMs out there, tell me this is not normal behavior.) When she asked me if we were ready. I said, nope, I’m going to buy stuff now. I think she was a bit flabbergasted. I explained that I’d been pretty busy getting prepared for my college’s classes to start. I had actually planned it this way. Unless I’d done my shopping back in July, this was the only weekend school shopping could happen. We’d lost Geeky Girl’s list, so we had to make some educated guesses.  I’m sure she’ll come home on Tuesday with a new list.

And it’s not just the kids who are pushing things to the last minute. I, too, am still tweaking things for my class and only have the first three weeks of the syllabus worked out. Actually, I don’t like to be too structured in my syllabus and allow the class to determine some of the direction. For now, the rest of the syllabus will consist of the order in which the readings will be read.

Does all this waiting until the last minute stress me out? Yeah, a little, but to me, when you have this much to juggle, you just have to learn to deal with these last minute things. It will get done and really, what harm will come if it doesn’t?

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So, I was playing around with my template–obviously–and I accidentally nuked the whole thing and had to start from scratch. I guess this will do. I like it okay. I wish I had the time and energy to personalize a little more. I need a Geeky Mom banner. Anyone want to volunteer to create one? I can’t draw and don’t really have appropriate pics right now. Sigh. Something with an iPod and a computer in it? Books too.

So how do I look?

Geeking out on a Friday night

I’m under the weather today with a mystery disease (more as I know more; it’s nothing serious). Mr. Geeky went to a movie I didn’t want to see (and didn’t feel up to it anyway) and so I was reading through the Teaching Carnival. It’s awesome. I, of course, gravitated to the technology section, which eventually (through a journey of discovery) led me to this post about various tools for classroom blogging. And so I ended up trying out Flock. And, well, in a word, I’m in love. Seriously, it’s like really cool. I’m sure the love will fade after the honeymoon, but right now I think it’s wonderful. I’ve been reading about it for a while and many people have been singing their praises, but installing a new browser hasn’t been at the top of my list. But on a rainy Friday, it’s the perfect thing to do.

So what’s so cool about it? Built in RSS reader with a very nice interface. Fully integrated with other Web 2.0 goodies, like Flickr,, and Technorati. Built in blogging tool (which I’m using right this second). I mean, I have a little Flickr band with pictures of my kids that I can scroll through. How cool is that?

I live in my web browser. Shouldn’t it make me this happy?

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Friday Reflections, or RBOC

It’s been a long week. I’ve attempted to start working on those resolutions I’ve made. Let’s see how I’ve done:

  • I got up every day at 6:00 this week and made progress on the dissertation. This plan seems to be working. We’ll see how it goes next week when the kids start school and things might be more hectic in the morning. But I definitely like getting that work done first. That way, if I need to come home and collapse, I can.
  • The exercise isn’t happening. I’m planning to do this in the evenings instead of the mornings. I’ve been sick this week on top of everything else, so I don’t feel too bad that exercise fell by the wayside.
  • We wanted to go geocaching last weekend or this weekend, but the weather is not cooperating. We’ll aim for next weekend.
  • I think I’ve been doing a good job this week. I’ve been responding quickly to emails and trying to resolve problems and accomplish tasks quickly. I’ve had some excellent one-on-one sessions with people that started out as “learning the technology” sessions, but ended up being more about effective use of the technology. Very happy about that.
  • One kid event this week–middle school orientation. It was a scavenger hunt around the school which Geeky Boy kindly let me join him on. I thanked him for not ditching me and for not thinking I’m too uncool to hang out with him. And I told him it was fun and that I was glad to have the opportunity to see the school. Bonus: the school has a blog. Do you know how happy that makes me?
  • No real inadequacy this week. Though I did feel a tad uncomfortable at the new faculty orientation. I was at a table with the provost and a very untalkative bunch. Two people did all the talking. The provost tried to elicit conversation, but that wasn’t happening. It just felt weird and I wanted to participate in the discussion about teaching, but felt like it would seem out of place. Sigh.

So, a pretty good week overall. A good way to kick off the academic year.



I’m a talker. I like talking. I like telling stories, making people laugh. I have lots of ideas and I like to share them. But lately, I’m trying to do more listening, to really hear what people are saying and what might be behind those words. The talking I want to do is to ask questions, to seek understanding. This is a hard thing to do for someone who likes to talk, okay, for me. Often, when someone says something, it reminds me of something similar that happened to me or an idea and so I start talking, explaining the idea and at that point I’ve quit listening. The thing is, it’s not that I’m trying to rude. If I start riffing off of something you said, it’s because I’ve been inspired by it; it’s made me think. But I think it’s important to really hear what someone says and to allow them the opportunity to speak further before I start riffing.

The other side of this, too, for me, is to respond appropriately, to think about what someone is really saying and to say the most appropriate thing in response. Sometimes this is in a request someone has made and I have to think about whether I should take on that request and how I should take that on and when I should indicate that I can complete the request. Sometimes this is to make sure I’m heard–ironically–by responding in ways that will be heard rather than in the usual riffing I do. And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s responding in ways that defend myself, that make clear that I deserve respect and consideration without responding in kind.

I’ve had an interesting few days as I’ve tried to do this, but I still have a long way to go.


Sibling (un)rivalry

One of the things I’ve always liked about my kids is that they get along. Oh, there are moments where they each get on each other’s nerves, but there is not the constant nagging nor are there moments of sheer meanness that I have seen among some other siblings their age. Geeky Boy was genuinely happy to have a sibling when Geeky Girl came along and has been quite helpful in helping her grow up, from learning to walk to learning video games. Geeky Girl, too, looks up to her big brother and helps him stay on track and worries about him.

Last night, as the kids were going to bed, Geeky Girl was beside herself, crying in that way that one has trouble catching her breath.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m afraid Geeky Boy hates me.” Bursts into tears, and I can’t get any more information.
I walk over to Geeky Boy’s room and he’s standing there, his eyes red and filled with tears.
“What happened?”
He sticks his bottom lip out and the tears start to fall down his face. “She lost the DS charger.”
“I’m sure it’s somewhere and besides, we can get another one if we need to.”
“We can?”
“Yes. Now go tell your sister you don’t hate her because she’s really upset and feels bad that she lost the charger.”
“Okay.” He walks past me, sits down on Geeky Girl’s bed and gives her a big hug. I can see Geeky Girl’s face over his shoulder. It’s softened and she’s beginning to smile.

I couldn’t ask for better kids.