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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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