Coping with IT pressure: Try doing less with less

As tech workers are pushed to their limits, a concept called 'Slow IT' may help them retain their sanity despite a 'do more with less' mandate

How much more can IT do with less before IT breaks? That's the question the current recession poses, as it comes on top of other strong pressures on tech staffers, such as dealing with global teams that extend working hours significantly, competition from lower-cost coworkers and contractors overseas, and emerging competition from the cloud.

The daily challenges of downsizing, salary reductions, and project cutbacks make it difficult for IT employees to stay motivated, notes Suzanne Bates, an executive coach. As a result, tech workers often have difficulty thinking clearly, dwell on meaningless activities, can be hostile, commit impulsive acts, and develop a sense of incompetence.

Plus, IT still has the time-honored challenge of keeping up on frequent technology changes. "While you're dealing with all this stress, you're also having to learn the new technology," notes Dave Willmer, executive director of IT staffing consultancy Robert Half Technology.

[ Participate in the Slow IT movement: Rant in the Slow IT wailing wall. Read the Slow IT manifesto. Exchange Slow IT tips and techniques in the Slow IT discussion group. Get Slow IT shirts, mugs, and more goodies. ]

Technology management consultant and InfoWorld blogger Bob Lewis notes that the "do more with less" mantra from management puts IT in a tough spot. If you do more with less, the natural questions arise: Why couldn't you have been as efficient before, and why did you waste our resources? If you don't find a way to deal with the reality of lower revenues but constant or even increased business demand, you get the blame for the company's worsening situation.

Thus, smart IT staff "find it a lot safer to do less with less than to do more with less," Lewis says. The trick is to triage, to figure out what to not do because it is expendable in favor of what is truly important -- and then educate management about the difference, he says.

IT pros can make the same trade-off decisions in their own areas of control. As one example, rather than take classes or courses on a new technology, IT pros might instead volunteer the same amount of time to participate in a project at work using that technology, suggests Willmer. "What better way to get training than being part of that team?" he says, noting that employers value experience more than just training anyhow.

Asking for help is a smart move, as it can save time by avoiding unnecessarily long self-learning curves and by avoiding preventable mistakes, Willmer says. "Don't be a lone star," he says. But Willmer also cautions IT staffers to be "strategic" about asking for assistance: Always needing help is a sign of weakness.

Although Gartner reports that IT staffers are learning to do less with less, their CIOs aren't so enlightened. Thus, doing less with less is not so easy, cautions Willmer: "There's a lot of pent-up demand. Even if they need less in one area, they want more in others." Willmer expects IT may get a small respite later this year, as more companies realize they've cut IT so much that they're hindering sales, customer, marketing, and other revenue-focused activities. But he does not expect more than minor increases in resources as a result.

To help IT staffers under pressure cope with the "do more with less" dilemma, InfoWorld has launched the "Slow IT" mini-site at www.slowit.net, where tech pros can rant about today's pressures, get advice from experts and each other as to how to successfully do less with less, and relieve some stress of today's high pressures.

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