After working in Information Technology for several years, you come to a certain understanding about the balance between work and personal time. For many people starting out in IT, the temptation to dedicate yourself 24/7 to work is hard to resist. There always seems to be a pending disaster or a deadline that must be met. With some experience you eventually learn that the world is always coming to an end. It has been that way since the beginning of time itself. Dedicating yourself fully to work is not going to change that! Once you figure out for yourself, where and when to draw the line and give yourself some time back, you end up tackling another dilemma, which I call the “Fix My PC” dilemma. When you are computer proficient, it is not just work that wants your skills, it is also friends and family. You end up being asked many times to fix people’s laptops or desktops. Since you are a nice guy, you have a hard time turning these people down, especially when they are your friends and family. However, just like work, you need to set some limits, since this is still taking away from your personal time.
Rule 1: It’s Not Always Free
It is a bad idea to let people think your skills have no value. In my case, I charge a modest fee to look at people’s computer problems outside of work. My time is valuable to me, and so charging a fee makes me feel better and I can invest the money back into my technology interests. It always amazes me when people balk at me charging them. It must be that they do not recognize the value of my work or they simply want something for free.
Rule 2: I’m Doing You A Favor
If you agree to look at someone’s computer, make sure that they understand you are doing them a favor. They have to make it convenient for you. The last thing you want to do is agree to something and then find out you have to drive to someone’s house at an inconvenient time for you.
Rule 3: Identify and Diagnose Their Problem
There are very few times that I have been asked to look at Macintosh. Almost always the computer is a Windows machine. After spending years working with Windows, there are multiple tweaks, fixes, and customizations that can be done to make Windows machines work better. You could dedicate multiple days to just tweaking Windows. Remember, you do not have the time and energy to fix every problem, just concentrate on the problem that they asked you to look at. Most often people tend to not communicate well, and so I have had many people tell me that they wanted their computer to run faster and then find out that they really wanted something else entirely. Once you find out what it is they want you to fix, tell them how it can be fixed and let them decide what they want to do. Many times you find that there is a component failure and there really is nothing for you to fix; they will have to spend money on replacing the component or buying a new computer.
Rule 4: Know When To Walk Away
Do not spend you time installing Windows Updates, running malware or anti-virus checks! These chores are something the user needs to do. If you can avoid these time consuming tasks do so. Where ever possible configure these things to run on their own; Microsoft and other software vendors provide schedule features in most of their software. If you cannot schedule these tasks, educate the user to do them on their own.
These days I devote most of my time to building my own computers, instead of fixing other people’s stuff. Every now and then I will do someone a favor and fix their Windows problem, but I resign myself to not having to fix every problem. Life is too short to spend countless hours in front of a keyboard.