Managing work/life balance is a constant challenge for those in the IT industry. As an IT engineer, the very foundation of my career was my innate ability to get things done. I was the Swiss Army of IT; the person called in when anything needed to be accomplished.
I didn't just understand the applications themselves, but also their role in the system, how they interacted with each other– and what changes would bring the entire solution crashing down. When you're that indispensable, it's easy to get lost in your work. My increased reputation as the IT savior was difficult to let go of. But it wasn't necessarily what was healthiest for me... or for the company.
Growing Within Your Role
Being the go-to resource for a company's IT needs is fantastic when you're new to the industry and attempting to demonstrate your value. It's not as great when your life is growing and changing in other ways. You have your friends, family, and your hobbies. Eventually you might have children. These priorities compete with your career as an engineer. Basically: you want to get out of the office and start living your life.
At this point you've become entrenched, however. By becoming the "go-to resource," you've eliminated all other options. At this stage, many people just double down. Their work consumes them. They become invaluable to the company, but by the same token, the company becomes everything to them. I knew that wasn't right for me.
Developing a Leadership Role
Being a constant resource is not a leadership role. In fact, in many ways it means you're everyone's assistant. My pager, email, and phone never rested– I was constantly on-call. My family life suffered and I realized more often than not I had to prioritize my work over my wife and my children.
Even though I was the most important resource the company had (and in many ways its most valued employee), I had absolutely no control over my personal situation. I couldn't even take a holiday or a vacation without it all tumbling down. I didn't want that for myself, especially not in the later stages of a fully developed career. I wanted the freedom to be able to reap the benefits of my years of hard work, while still being the indispensable company resource everyone had always seen me as.
Changing the Way People View You
Ultimately, it became obvious I was the problem. My job role had been created by me. I had allowed other people to take over my personal time by making it seem as though my own needs were less important than theirs.
Throughout the course of my employment, I had so relished the ability to be the "fixer" that I hadn't questioned whether I should always be on-call. This was actually incredibly liberating because I realized I was in control. If this was a role I had created for myself, then I had the power to change that role.
As I looked for solutions, I came across a saying by Michael Gerber which opened my eyes. It made me realize I was working in my business, not on my business. I had been hoarding documentation and building system obfuscation out of a misguided need to both retain control and future-proof my position. And like a dragon with a hoard of gold, this had locked me into the prison that I was now in; I was no longer mobile, too focused on guarding my treasure.
Working On Your Business
I had to change– though, of course, no one changes overnight.
I began to write things down. I began to document. I started to see how I could better interact with other areas of the business and started gaining a better picture of the business workings rather than just the technological infrastructure.
I started trying to create ways the system could support itself, rather than simply allowing everything to always fall back on me. Soon enough, I was able to regain control of my life by changing my focus from working in my business to working on my business. By improving the health of my business, I was able to free myself up to establish a proper work/life balance.
As I learned, documentation is always the key to a healthy business. One person cannot– and should not– have to control everything. Documentation doesn't make you any less valuable, it simply increases the overall health of the system and makes it easier for you to take a step back when you need to. One major component of a solid IT plan is an incident support flow chart. If you don't already have one, we’ll email one for you to download!