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How to Survive as the Family Tech Support Guy (or Gal)

How to Survive as the Family Tech Support Guy (or Gal)
How to Be the Family Tech Support Guy (or Gal)

    One of the most insidious pressures on tech-savvy people these days is the seemingly constant pressure to provide quick, top-quality computer and web support — to our families. If you happen to do web design, system administration, programming, or other vaguely computer-related work as part of your job, the pressure is magnified all the more.

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    It’s work we do out of love, and usually because we want our family members to succeed at whatever they’re trying to do. Most of the time, we feel more than a little obligated, since it was probably us that got mom to buy a PC, dad to upgrade to DSL, or brother to launch a website for his part-time weekend job in the first place.

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    But it’s a responsibility that can quickly grow to wreak havoc on our schedules. You soon find yourself barraged with calls, making house calls, and squeezing in last-minute requests. It’s like the freelancer’s worst nightmare client, except a) you’re not being paid, b) you can’t ask them to take their business elsewhere, and c) you’re expected to offer a lifetime guarantee.

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    Here are a few tips to help keep on top of demands for help from family members. Much of this is modeled after the way a freelancer handles his or her business relations, figuring that what works for a freelancer, who has to work hard to assure their client comes back with future jobs, ought to work well for us in dealing with our families, who (alas?) will keep on giving us work regardless of performance or attitude.

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    • Beware the Curse of Knowledge! The single most important thing to keep in mind when offering your services to your family is that you are a different kind of person than they are. Most people that understand computers well enough to be the “go to” person for their family’s computer woes are actually interested in how computers work and curious about what else it can do. Not so The Others; they’re in search of simple answers that don’t have to explain anything other than how to do task x. This can get frustrating — you say “click on the file menu” and they say “huh?” Don’t assume familiarity with even the most basic tasks (except the whole thing about not talking into the mouse). Don’t talk down to them, but keep it simple and clear. Try reminding yourself that this person gave birth to you/taught you to ride a bike/never told mom about the time you were smoking behind the gym/brought you into this world and can take you out/loves you despite your faults.
    • Get a brief. What exactly does your family member want you to do? Just like a designer wouldn’t start a project without knowing what her client’s needs were, you shouldn’t undertake a project for family without them taking the time to detail what they want. Otherwise you may find you’ve spent a lot of time on something that will never get used.
    • Schedule. Make the best estimate of how long the task will take and schedule it in just like a professional gig. It’s tempting to take on jobs for family members as either a) immediate-priority, drop everything tasks, or b) spare-time tasks. The first will cause stress and the neglect of other projects, the second will cause resentment in family members who feel you’re blowing off something that is really important to them. So let them know when you’ll be able to work on it, explaining that you’d like to give them the attention they deserve without distractions.
    • Learn to say “no”. It’s hard enough saying “no” to a boss or client, I know. But you have to be realistic, too — sometimes family work would be better served by someone else in your family (and boy will they appreciate the referral!) or by a professional. And sometimes you simply cannot find the time to do a good job.
    • Invoice. This doesn’t apply to all cases — when mom needs help setting up her new email account, for example — but some tasks are big and should really be done by a professional. If you happen to be such a professional, let your family member know that you can offer them a nice “family discount” but the job is too big to take on for free. Obviously you’ll want to use your judgment here, but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of — if taking on a task for a family member means you’ll have to give up paid work, you deserve to be compensated.
    • Know your limits. Don’t take on jobs that are too far beyond your own abilities. There’s a world of difference between figuring out how to install a new CPU on your own PC and doing the same on mom’s computer, screwing up, and depriving her of her online Boggle matches and email from her grandkids. Keep the experimentation at home and know when to turn your family member over to a pro.
    • Upsell. If you’re doing a logo for your sister-in-law’s in-home lingerie sales business, why not offer to throw in letterhead for half your usual price? OK, I’m just kidding — I suppose it is possible to take the whole “client relations” thing too far when dealing with family.

    Working for family can feel like extortion sometimes — it’s not entirely fair that everyone leans on you for help, and you have very little choice in the matter. Remember that, despite the frustrations, requests for help from family are a sign of pride in your accomplishments and a recognition of your value.

    Bonus Tip: install LogMeIn Free on all your family member’s computers and link them to your account. Then you’ll be able to log in to their computers from home and work on it just like you would if you were in front of the computer itself. This is obviously no good for problems when the computer won’t boot or there’s a hardware problem, but for little things like setting up email, updating a program, or troubleshooting a network connection, it’s just the thing. And it’s free.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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