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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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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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