Downtime vs. Down Time

A friend of mine at work this week mentioned that he had to give a talk about taking time away from work.  In previous companies, we used to refer to this “maintaining a healthy work/life balance.”  This is the way I see it:  Downtime makes work and down time saves life.

I’ve always loved working in IT.  Something about getting computers to do what I want has always fascinated me.  Having that level of control and the power of information at my fingertips was something akin to magic to a young child.  Here I say young child, because I was seven years old when my father brought home our first “computer.”  I think that we had a grand total of 4 games – and two of them were educational, but the real draw for me?  BASIC.

After that I was done.  I saw what the computer was capable of doing for me and realized that whatever I did, it would have something to do with this type of technology.

Fast-forward twenty years and I’m sitting in a cube supporting thousands of people.  I job-hopped through the ranks and have made it to the esteemed rank of Network Engineer… with a side of Exchange Administrator thrown in.

The team on which I worked was staffed by some of the most intelligent people that I’ve ever had the privilege to know, the only problem was that there were so few of us.  Before I left, there were seven of us responsible for 30+ sites around the US and interlinks to our global offices.  It was a small, deeply committed, and talented team.  We referred to ourselves as Network Ninjas.

Here’s where things go sideways.  With an organization like ours downtime is unacceptable.  When you hear the phrase “time is money,” you are thinking of my previous employer.  The work was critical – that I won’t ever deny – but the hours could be grueling – especially when “the network” was always the culprit.

I constantly grind my teeth at people who say unilaterally blame “the network” for computer woes.  The only time that it’s ok to blame the network is when we are talking about FOX with regards to Firefly or Futurama.  In that case, blame the network.

Surely you can see where organizational downtime could be a problem when you work on a “network” team.  Since the network was always the scapegoat, we were always getting the off-hours calls.  This is when I learned the true difference between downtime and down time.

Downtime is a metric – it’s something that’s monitored, quantified, calculated, it requires post-mortem meetings on Mondays and conference bridges at all hours.  It’s a measurement of business stability and the underlying IT infrastructure.

Down time (two words) is not a metric.  It’s something that happens inside of you when you get to walk away from worrying about metrics and meetings and the upper management asking question after question.  It’s that time when your fertile imagination can take over.  Down time is what you miss when you only worry about downtime.

Your weekends aren’t there for you to prep for your Monday meetings.  They are there for you to recover from the previous Monday’s meeting.

I don’t care what you do with your down time.  Play a video game, visit a Renn Fair, hike in the woods, read a book, volunteer with animals – it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to do something for yourself.

I heard someone at Microsoft Ignite say “Your job is your boss’s, but your career is yours.”  I’d add my own corollary.  Your job is your boss’s, but your time is your own.”  Take that time and do something for you.

Remember – time is that one resource that we can never create.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.

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