The economic downturn has left IT managers feeling like they are the Last Man Standing -- and in some cases they are. If you're one of them, your mission right now is to figure out how to maintain an efficient shop when you're crushed by an avalanche of responsibilities and have little or no help. While I usually recommend looking for long-term solutions when making choices as the last or one of the last people in an IT shop, in this situation we need some short-term solutions.
Here are some career management techniques that can help an IT professional survive in today's workplace:
Don't squander time: When performing security assessments, I've found that it's not the technical vulnerabilities or operational oversights that are creating business risks; instead, it's people wasting time while they're at work. When you or other staff members are reading material unrelated to the job, or telling others "what I'm doing now" on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, precious time is being frittered away.
In order to stay afloat and keep your Windows shop running, first and foremost you have to work as if everyone is watching. This means making the most valuable use of your time all day long. Every single minute and every single action counts.
Get by with what you've got: Looking at the big picture, you probably don't need to upgrade to Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008. You don't have to buy new computers, and you can almost always push back those "nicety" projects that can wait.
Concentrate on the systems, software and tools you already have. A lot of people aren't taking advantage of the free admin and security tools that ship with Windows, IIS, Exchange and other applications. In all but the direst of situations, you'll likely find you can get by with the tools you already have, especially if it means keeping costs down and keeping your job.
Focus on IT basics: You can keep your head above water by sticking to the basics. This includes patching, disk defragmenting, running backups, maintaining Active Directory and grooming your SQL Server systems. The recession is tough, but never lose sight of the fact that everything comes in waves. You can spend time on new projects and take your systems to the next level as economic conditions improve.
Streamline your work area and equipment: Research has shown that a messy, disorganized work area leads to more stress and less mental concentration. Some people claim "that's just how I am," but it's been proven that we need simplicity and organization if we're going to work efficiently and effectively. The same goes for your computer. Cleaning and organizing your Windows desktop and your email inbox as well as creating folder structures on your Windows desktop and in email will make you more efficient because you know exactly where to go to access things.
Also, make sure you have enough memory in your computer. Defragment your hard drive periodically. Use tools such as FileLocator Pro and Windows Search to save yourself hours of work when you need to reference old email, documents and so on.
Don't catch every ball thrown your way: Richard Carlson wrote one of the most profound time management principles ever written: If someone throws you the ball, you don't have to catch it.
When you're busy, you have to learn how to say no -- or at least "later." Sure, you should empathize with the person making the request, but you don't always have to stop what you're doing to tend to his needs if it's something that can wait. Likewise, don't answer every phone call when it comes in and do not respond immediately to every email. When we're interrupted, it takes about 20 minutes to get back to the same level of productivity we were at before the interruption.
Focusing on one item alone can buy you hours of productive work each day. Most importantly, take mental breaks throughout the day, and when you leave the office, disconnect from all of your IT ills. Not doing so is a surefire way to get yourself behind the eight ball.
Focus on what's urgent and important: We've all got tons of stuff in our "inboxes." However, if we were to view our to-do list with a critical eye, we would see that only a few things really matter. You have to determine the things that must be done now (what's urgent) and the things that are of greatest relevance (what's important). If you're the last man standing, you don't want to major in minors. Setting reasonable goals and staying focused on your highest payoff tasks is the true key to doing more with less. In this time of economic uncertainty, you may feel alone and you may indeed be alone – physically – with your IT responsibilities, but people are still watching. Keep your managers in the loop about everything you're doing -- even if they don't seem to care. Showing management what you're working on and just how valuable an IT professional you are is a great way to earn respect and build credibility. It may be the way out of the situation you're in.
Kevin Beaver, is an information security consultant, keynote speaker and expert witness with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments. Kevin has authored/co-authored seven books on information security, including Hacking For Dummies and Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies (Wiley). He's also the creator of the Security on Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.