Carpe diem in the data center

Seize the Day Roy Harryman

Learn to seize the day and be productive by taking the initiative.


This article originally appeared at

In the movie “Dead Poets Society,” actor Robin Williams implores his boarding school students to “carpe diem” – a Latin phrase meaning seize the day.
Seizing the day – whether in life or the data center — is no small task. In operations, an onslaught of interruptions, barrages of e-mail and crisis calls can pour cold water on the best intentions.
“We’re always looking for more time,” says Shirley Sunday, a business analyst with Acxiom and president of the Chicago AFCOM chapter.
Certainly there are factors on the job that can’t be controlled. But there are many areas of your work that can be managed effectively through personal initiative. As New Year’s resolutions begin to fizzle out, here are some tips to help you excel in the data center in 2006.
Recognize the value of your time
 It’s easy to let an hour or even a day slip through you fingers by aimlessly or frantically drifting from one task or meeting to the next. It’s harder to do this when you truly understand Ben Franklin’s saying that “time is money.”
What is an hour of your time worth to your company? MindTools, a London based human resources consulting firm, suggests taking your salary and benefits and adding other costs including payroll taxes, office space and equipment. If you speculate a little and add in any profit your job may help the company accumulate, the pot grows larger. Compile the total and then divide by the number of days or hours you typically work in a year. (Three are about 245 work days in a year if you take off four weeks for vacation and holidays.)
The point of this exercise is to help you realize that your time is truly valuable and shouldn’t be spent on low-yield activities. Because of the investment in your position, make the most of each moment.
Plan proactively every week
It’s easy to tear madly into your workload each Monday. But at week’s end, what have you accomplished?
“When you just dive into the pile you don’t get any guidelines,” says Jeff Wolf, president of Wolf Management Consultants, Skokie, Ill. “You are going to continue to be mired in minutia. Without a plan for the day, you can easily get distracted and your plan becomes serving the loudest voice.”
Harold Taylor, president of Harold Taylor Time Consultants in Toronto, suggests planning five to seven business days ahead. If you’re only planning for today’s tasks, you’re behind already. However, planning more than 10 days out for routine activities will result in having to change your schedule as new demands are made on it.
In addition to weekly planning, Wolf recommends taking a few minutes to determine daily goals.
“Too often we walk out of the office feeling confused and saying ‘I really didn’t get anything done today,’” he says. “When you accomplish one or two key items, you leave feeling positive.”
Write everything down
This sounds simple enough, yet it is often not practiced. You need a systematic way of recording instructions, appointments, tasks and goals. Don’t rely on your ability to remember things. This doesn’t necessarily require an expensive PDA, although some people may find this works best. A paper planner may do the trick. Taylor, who publishes “Time Management Report” and has invented a planner, recommends using the same planning tool for office and personal life because the two arenas are constantly intermingled.
Once a to-do list has been compiled, it must be continually prioritized. Broad goals should be reduced into bite-size chunks so that accomplishing them becomes realistic.
Schedule absolutely everything
By themselves, to-do lists can become unwieldy. A key to time management is getting items off of a list and onto your calendar. This applies not only to appointments with people, but to any task that needs time allotted for it.
“Those things should be scheduled like appointments with major clients,” says Taylor. “To-do lists are intentions, but scheduled blocks of time are commitments.”
Allow more time than needed for projects because of interruptions. Don’t schedule every minute because urgent tasks – downed servers and the like – will pop up to claim your time.
AFCOM New York Metro chapter president Dominick Regina says he has found this approach effective.
“In an operations environment, you never have time for anything but operations,” says Regina, associate director of infrastructure services for KPMG in Montvale, N.J. “By actually scheduling that time in the calendar, it’s been a good way, 90 percent of the time, to stay on track.”
Put limits on responding to e-mail and other messages
The convenience of e-mail and PDAs are offset by their demanding ubiquity.
“As much as you love e-mail, it can be rather time consuming,” Sunday says. “It’s a big challenge for everybody when you have 300 e-mails. You try to figure out which ones are important.”
Taylor’s suggestion: Schedule a limited amount of time to answer e-mails each day. Don’t go near them unless you have time to fully respond to requests.
“Don’t let it control your life,” he says. “Schedule it.”
Wolf suggests setting aside two or three 15-minute increments daily to fully concentrate on correspondence.
Limit interruptions
In operations, interruptions are a way of life. But some can be minimized by simply closing your door and delegating where possible.
Regina says he strives to keep a balance between accessibility and productivity.
“When the door is open, people are free to come in and say what they have to say,” he says. “I try to make myself as accessible as possible to a point.”
Regina has also found that occasionally working from home or from another office helps him find time to focus. In addition, he’s found that a two-letter word can come in handy in keeping the schedule clear.
“It’s hard to say no,” he says. “You want to help people. But I think the right thing to do in many cases is to tell them this is something they should be able to handle themselves. The more you keep your door open, the more of a crutch you become for other people. It’s difficult but is the right thing to do at times.”
 Take advantage of energy and creative peaks
 If you’re a morning person, schedule your most challenging tasks then (or afternoons if the converse is true). Don’t give your most productive time away for optional meetings.
“When you are at peak time you get peak performance,” Wolf says.
Take Baby Steps
If these tasks seem overwhelming, don’t fret. Strive for small improvements. Patience is needed because we are not really mastering time, but ourselves.
Some personality types may find time management more challenging than others, but everyone can improve, Taylor says. The important thing is to act.
“There will never be more time than there is now,” he says. “The time to start a time management program is now.”