Time Management…

Over the past few months, I've been fighting a major issue with time management...

Since being promoted to Controller/Director of IT in September last year, I've been effectively doing the job of two people.  We made an attempt to hire someone to fill the Senior Accountant/Systems Administrator position, but it didn't work out.  So basically, I've been running a position down since that time.  Fortunately this will come to an end on May 12, when I have a new person joining us as Senior Accountant at Fairwinds.

The problem I'm fighting now is that I have a HUGE list of things to do, and I'm almost feeling paralyzed.  I have so many things on my list that I don't know where to start.  What I'd like to do is to try and place the major milestone items on a calendar, work out the estimated time to complete, and figure out how much of my time is committed.  From there it should leave me some holes that I can fill in smaller tasks around, or delegate.

The problem I'm working with is that I have some deadlines that are carved in stone, and some that can bump.  As I do primary systems support for Fairwinds, my job is very interrupt driven; something that is not going to go away since we've given up on hiring someone to be a systems/accountant hybrid.  In all the training I've had in management skills, time management and project management are areas that are lacking.

I'm curious to know what other people do?  What methods do you have for:

  • Keeping track of miscellaneous tasks? (I use Outlook 2007)
  • Prioritizing tasks?
  • Managing larger projects?
  • Balancing everything so that you don't feel that you just have sand slipping through your fingers?

MVP Summit 2008 – The trip home

For the last time, we were up at 6AM again, this time to catch the ferry home.

Boarding was pretty uneventful, really, but part way home we got a message... 5 inches of snow at my inlaws. (They only live 3 minutes from us.)

When we got to Victoria, it was snowing like crazy. Our friend Andrea picked us up, and off to her place we went, where we checked the Malahat (semi-mountain) web cam. Snow all over the roads, so we decided to take the Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay ferry, avoiding the Malahat. We missed the ferry by 6 cars.

After counting out that it would take us about an hour and a half for the ferry to go over, return and then get us to the other side, we decided to brave the Malahat after all. I've never seen so much water coming down that road, as the snow was melting like crazy. A couple of near hydroplanes, and we were over, and on our way home. By the time that hour and a half had elapsed, we were about 15 minutes south of Nanaimo, so it was the right move.

By the time we drove into Nanaimo, most of the snow had already melted, but the devastation is wrecked showed everywhere. Nanaimo's main city trail has ornamental cherry tress planted all the way down it, which are in full bloom right now. Many had fallen over from the weight of the snow, some had split in half, and I saw at least 5 where the crown of the tree had simply snapped off. As mentioned, very little snow remained, but these huge tree crowns, covered in pink blossoms, were just lying at the foot of the tree stumps.

Overall, my boss, (who lives 3 blocks from me,) tells me that we received 20 inches at my house. Only 3 minutes away, but closer to the ocean, my inlaws had received 5-6 inches. I understand that in our landscape fair at work that weekend, one of the tents we rented collapsed under the weight of all the snow.

It was a long day of travel, and we got home too late to take pictures of our yard, but I do have a picture of the tulips in the snow at my house from Sunday morning. Of course, Dee has already shut her computer off tonight, so I'll upload it tomorrow.

All in all, a very good and worthwhile trip, packed with fun, food, drink and information. The summit is March 1-4 next year, only 11 months away. By then I need to have someone ready to take my month end duties over so that I can be back down in Seattle, and you'd better believe I'll do everything I can to make that happen.

Not that I'm counting, or anything, but...



MVP Summit 2008 – Friday

Officially, the summit was over.  But we'd booked an extra day, and a few of the Excel guys were still around.

We got up at 7AM, for breakfast at Lowell's at 8AM.  (Really slept in!)  Strangely, I never took any pictures, but breakfast was with myself, Deanna, Smitty Smith, Zack Barresse, Bob Phillips, Andy Pope, Nick Hodge and John Walkenbach.  (Would have been the only picture I had of Zack this year... had I realized, I would have taken one!)

After that, Bob, Smitty, Zack, Dee and I wandered through Pike Place market.  I don't know if you've seen the Fish video used for team training, but they come from the Pike Place Fish Market. I saw this great looking "Monk Fish" there, and had to take a picture... got nice and close... and the guy pulled the string behind it that I didn't know was there.  Damned near gave me a heart attack!


At any rate, we went from there to Ye Old Curiosity Shop... which is an interesting place.  The stuff they have for sale is pretty much just trinkets and souvenirs, but the stuff they have hanging from the ceilings and walls are pretty neat.  From whale bones to mummies, this place has a bunch of weird stuff.

We spent our afternoon just hanging out... Dee went for a nap, and I chatted with Bob Phillips for a good long while.  From array formulas, to data validation, to SQL and BI infrastructure, we got into some quite deep technical conversations.  Excellent stuff.  😀
Of course, in the middle of Dee's nap, the hotel decided to have an evacuation drill, so that pretty much put paid to that!

Dee, Bob and I then headed out to dinner at Il Fornaio, through the SNOW!  It's April, for crying out loud!  At any rate, great food there, and better conversation.  🙂

When then actually all turned in before the bar closed... about 15 minutes before, but still...

MVP Summit 2008 – Thursday

Another day, another 6AM rising for breakfast.  This time it was at the Washington State Trade and Convention Centre, and the breakfast was pretty good.  A full buffet that actually had fruit at it.  The only complaint I have, cause I'm an MVP and have to be critical of something, is that I couldn't find any plain black tea in the morning.  They had all kinds of fruity versions, but I just wanted plain black tea.  No such luck.

After breakfast, we had a couple of keynote speeches.  So in we funneled to the big room, where the Canadians were all corralled into our seating area so that we could make our usual ruckus.  We're so NOT Canadian down there, being quite obnoxious.  It's kind of fun.  😉


So we had keynotes by Ray Ozzie, the chief software architect, (he is taking over for Bill Gates,) and Steve Ballmer.  While Ray Ozzie is a tech guy, Ballmer surprised me.  He's quite engaging, and full of energy.  What impressed me most is that during a long Q&A session, which was open to questions from the floor, Ballmer was taking notes at every question.  Each time the camera panned off the asker and back to him, there he was, noting every point to respond to.  A great job really.

One of my Canadian colleagues asked if he'd wear his jersey, and Ballmer was happy to play game with him:


After the keynotes was a closing lunch, followed by a couple of optional sessions.  And then.. off to dinner.

The Excel folks that remained crashed the UK MVP dinner at Etta's Fish Place.  I think that there was a many of us as there were of them.  And then, because it was too late to hit Rock Bottom, we closed down the lobby bar at the Westin for the 5th night in a row.

MVP Summit 2008 – Wednesday

Another early morning, another hotel breakfast.  This time eggs in a bagel, with a muffin and an apple.  Again, something to be desired, really.

After another bus ride out to Redmond, they threw us in to a session with a bunch of Sharepoint MVP's.  The main reason, I think, was to get the Excel guys into a room with people that actually use Excel Services.  (Although I could be mistaken here, I don't believe that a single one of the Excel MVP's actually has access to a Sharepoint server running Excel services, so it's kind of hard to provide any feedback there.)  It was interesting, and I could certainly see where we might be able to use some of the functionality at work, but I find the cost of putting in another server, just to lock down an Excel report, kind of ridiculous.  I'll just PDF things and send them out.  (Okay, I realize that it's a bit more robust than that, but still...)  Maybe once I've had the chance to play with Excel services I'll change my mind, but for now, that's where it is.

Beyond that, I'm not even going to mention the session titles, due to NDA.  I will say that there are some things I'm really looking forward to in Excel 14, and especially in Excel 15... There's some really compelling stuff there.

The afternoon left the Excel folks without a session at one point, so we headed off to the Microsoft Store.  Pretty neat place, where software, hardware and books are pretty reasonable.

Beyond the best sessions I've ever been to, Thursday also offered a big party at the Experience Music Project (EMP).  This was kind of interesting, with live Rock-a-raoke.  (Basically Karaoke with a live band behind the singer.)  Some of the singing was pretty bad, some great, and some so bad that it was a riot just to see Bob Phillips writhing on the floor in horror!  Here's some pics from the evening:

This is Ed Ferraro, sporting a nice new hair piece.  (Funny enough, I didn't know he was there, saw him over my shoulder and didn't recognize him at all. Only when I looked away did I just about give myself whiplash as I recognized who it was!)


A large portion of the Excel MVP team is shown below... from left to right are Andy Pope, Roger Govier, Rob Bovey and Bob Phillips. Myself and Robert Martin are in the black shirts above Debra Dalgleish, then Ed Ferraro (sans extra hair), Jan Karel Pieterse and finally Ron Coderre.

Here are the RibbonX authors at the party... myself, Teresa Hennig and Robert Martin:


And here's Teresa feeling a little dippy at the party...


Finally, here's one of the MVP's pretending that he's Michael Jackson:


I distinctly remember Rob Bovey and Bob Phillips writhing in pain at several of the performances.  It was almost as amusing as those on stage!  😉

After the party closed down, a large portion of us headed back to the Westing by following the monorail tracks.  Apparently, we crossed to the wrong side when we tried to get into a bar that was still open.  We were there about 30 seconds before walking out of it.  I even remember the bartender yelling at one of his patrons "SHADDUP!" when the guy asked what the hell we were doing there.  Mike Alexander announced to us upon departure that the place smelled of scrotums... LOL!

After a while we found our way back to the Westin lobby bar again, and proceeded to close it down for the 4th night in a row.

MVP Summit 2008 – Tuesday

Tuesday again dawned too bright and early.

Breakfast was at the hotels this year, which was nice in one regard. Last year they bussed us out to the MS Campus for breakfast, which meant that you were waiting over an hour to eat anything after you got up. (I find that makes me feel a bit sick, so took to eating a muffin on the way.) This year, we ate in the hotels before they bussed us though. So that was better, but honestly... whomever picked the food...

It's kind of an accepted fact that there is going to be some drinking in the evenings. As cool as this is for us to be able to give feedback to MS on their products, the best part, by far, is meeting your friends from around the world, sharing stories, experiences and such. It's typically done in the bar in the evening, right? So the hotels decide to feed up breakfast burritos for breakfast. Yep... take a room full of geeks with sour bellies, stuff them full of eggs and black beans, then send them into confined meeting rooms for the day. I'll bet someone thought they were pretty funny!

At any rate, after breakfast, we were bussed out to the Microsoft campus in Redmond (it's a city, really,) where we were involved in sessions all day. As I signed an NDA, I can't tell you any details that were shared inside those rooms, but I will say that I thought the Ribbon session was pretty good. I'm looking forward to seeing Office 14 beta whenever it is released.

After the sessions, we were invited to dinner with our Product Group (the Excel PM teams.) Robert snapped this picture and, while not the most flattering (of me, anyway,) this one sums up my week quite nicely:


The guy in the black Office sweatshirt is Dan Battigen, who is a lead on the Excel team. We had a great discussion with him at the table, and as you can see here, we were pretty intent on listening to him when we weren't giving him our feedback. The dialog that went back and forth at this meal was great. Honestly, for a tech geek to get to sit down and actually have conversation around your favourite product and it's future, with the people who can actually make it happen, is really quite a thrill.

This also happened to be the place that we were able to pull together the entire RibbonX team for a group photo:


From left to right are: myself, Jeff Boyce (Access MVP - Tech Editor), Teresa Hennig (Access MVP - Author), Robert Martin (Excel MVP - Author), Nick Hodge (Excel MVP - Tech Editor) and Oliver Stohr (Access MVP - Contributor of the Access section in Chapter 16). And go figure, Teresa just happened to be carrying around a copy of the RibbonX book in her pocket!

Once again, we went from the dinner to bed via the Rock Bottom and Westin lobby bars. I finally rolled in around midnight again, I think.

(And if you'd like to support my MVP beer idea generation fund for next year, you can do so by clicking the RibbonX link at left. Don't forget that not only do you help encourage our brainstorming sessions, but you also get a book out of the deal! 😉

I was hoping to finish catching up on all the posts tonight, but sadly I have to be back at work tomorrow. (Actually I was back today already, but I'm still pretty tired.) I'll try and finish off the rest of the days tomorrow. 🙂

MVP Summit 2008 – Monday

The day dawned bright and early, and we headed down to Lowell's for breakfast. The funny part about it was that Niek Otten had declared the previous night that last year's breakfast at Lowell's was the best breakfast he had ever had in his life! He was so excited that he got up at 6:30, and had to go right way without waiting for the rest of us. 🙂

After breakfast, we headed up to the Seattle Convention Center for the opening remarks. Getting stopped part way along the route, as the Dali Lama was exiting his hotel. I have pictures of his motorcade, but since it could be anyone in there, I didn't bother to put them up.

After attending one of the "Open Space" (aka BS) sessions in the afternoon, we decided to have our own Open Space discussion at Rock Bottom, so Debra, John, Dick Kusleika, Nick Hodge and myself headed off to do that.

Following our open spacing, which did turn out to be productive, (at least in my opinion,) it was time for the Regional Dinner. As we're all from the nation of Excel, we commandeered a couple of tables. I have three pictures of each to get the whole crew here...


Clockwise from bottom left: J-Walk's pony tail, Bob Umlas, Mike Alexander, Dick Kusleika, Bernard Liengme, Shane Devenshire and the back of Niek Otten's head.

Same table, clockwise from the hat (Dick Kusleika), Bernard Liengme, Dick Kusleika, Bernard Liengme, Shane Devenshire, Nick Hodge, Ed Ferraro, Jan Karel Pieterse, Bob Umlas, Mike Alexander.


And again from bottom left in the blue sweater is Shane Devenshire, Nick Hodge's nose and mouth (strangely he's talking...), Ed Ferraro, Jan Karel Pieterse, Niek Otten, John Walkenbach (pulling Canadian Tire money out of his wallet,) Bob Umlas, Mike Alexander (who you can barely see behind) Dick Kusleika and the back of Bernard Liengme (in the red hockey jersey.)

And at the other table we had:


Clockwise from Andy Pope's face on the left we have Bob Phillips, Rob Bovey, Roger Govier, Debra Dalgleish and Ron Coderre (whom I never did get in pictures last year.)


At left here is Bill Manville (saluting with his beer), Curt Frye, Debra Dalgleish, Ron Coderre and the back of Bob Phillips head.


And here is Ron at top left, someone's empty seat (for the life of me I can't remember who it was,) Andy Pope, my empty seat, and Bob Phillips.

Not pictured, but present, were Zack Barresse (who I don't have in any photos this year for some reason), Smitty Smith, Matt Vidas, Patrick Matthews, Brad Yundt and Kevin Jones.

As you can imagine, once we finished this dinner, we adjourned to Rock Bottom, then again to the Seattle Westin's lobby bar once the Rock Bottom closed. As I recall, the night ended at about midnight, with a 6AM alarm for breakfast the next morning.

MVP Summit 2008 – Sunday

Now that I'm home, it's time to try and catch up on the blog posts that I should have made last week.

So, as promised, we spent a pretty lazy Sunday morning. Robert and I met up and headed off to registration, which was a pretty quick affair in all. We then headed back to the hotel, and reconvened in the Westin lobby later that evening.

When I got down there, Niek Otten and John Walkenbach were already there, and a few others joined the fray a little later. After a bit of socializing there, we headed off to the TapHouse Grill for dinner. Dinner was pretty good, the beer... it was okay, but the company was great.

Here's the crew that were there for dinner:


From left: Chris "Smitty" Smith, Robert Martin, Niek Otten, John Walkenbach, Dee (my wife), Ron Coderre, Bob Phillips and myself. The picture was taken by Smitty's wife Cindy.

From there, we headed out to our usual haunt: The Rock Bottom brewery.

I don't actually have any photos from the Rock Bottom that night, and my memory is a little... er... hazy... but I do remember that we found Andy Pope there, and Jan Karel Pieterse and Debra Dalgleish swept in at some point that night too. And once they kicked us out of the Rock Bottom, we ended up closing down the bar in the Westin lobby too. I believe that I headed for bed about 2AM that night, with instructions to meet up in the lobby at 8AM for breakfast at Lowell's (in Pike Place market.)

I’m in Seattle

Yesterday was an event filled day, but I'm finally here...

We started off our morning at 7AM, heading out to a plant and tree sale in Qualicum. Twice per year, a (semi) local nursery has a huge sale, with plants and trees being sold for about 50% of their regular retail prices, direct from the grower. As we'd cut down the tree in front of our house, we wanted to replace it, and this seemed like as good a time as any. We managed to pick up a 12' Sunset Maple tree for all of $35, which is a great deal. (The 15' ones were $189 regular, so that gives you some idea of the prices.) After packing our car full of rhodo's and other varieties of plants, we began to head towards Fairwinds.

The reason we were heading in to work is that we were having a grand opening of our newly renovated cafe/pub that afternoon. I was going to miss it, and it had been a long time since Dee had been to the cafe, so I was taking her to show her around. We also wanted to stop by the pro shop to pick up some logo wear for the summit, so it all seemed to tie together. But as we were heading there, things started to turn... well... you be the judge...

There was an accident on the highway. So we all came to a screeching halt, turned around through the median, and went the long scenic route through the backroads to get there. I said to Dee at the time... "There's always accidents on that part of the highway. And every time there is, it knocks out power to Fairwinds." The location is MILES away from us, but for some reason, it seems to be tied in to the grid.

As we're clipping down the backroads, my cell phone gets a text message... "UPS on battery power." Damn... Then another "UPS battery is low and will soon be exhausted." Nice timing is all I can say. We were going to stop in briefly, then head to Seattle via the Victoria ferry. At this point it is 10AM, and we have to be on the road out of Fairwinds no later than noon.

Another text message comes in... "Cold Start sequence initiated." This is good. The UPS is back online and should be rebooting.

Now, we've got our stuff set up so that the MSA (Storage Area Network Drive Array) boots back up when the power comes on. After 6 minutes, my two VMWare ESX servers boot up. After they've booted up, the system slowly starts to bring up, in order, the following virtual servers: Our two Active Directory servers, the File & Print server, the SQL server, the Exchange server, our two Citrix servers, and finally the Citrix secure gateway (remote access) server. The whole process is staged in increments, and should have the system back up and running from a cold start in about 25 minutes tops. (Yes, it seems like a long time, but we put delays in so that everything can settle down nicely, and that nothing runs into issues by being too quick.)

So with the restart sequence initiated, we arrive at the cafe. I talk to the staff, let them know that things are in process, and even stopped by a terminal to make sure I could ping my two ESX servers. All looks good and I give my wife the tour of the place. I'll admit that I was a little surprised that things were taking so long to come back, but had every confidence that it was going to work. After a while, we moved on to the pro shop.

At the pro shop, much of the same. I talked to the crew there, assured them things were under control, and picked up some shirts. I then decided to stop by my office on the way out, just to check. And this is where things went to hell in a hurry...

The ESX servers had booted, but they could not see the SAN. This is not good, as all of my virtual servers reside on the SAN. Without it, I'm kind of dead in the water. So I placed a call to my VMWare tech guy in Vancouver, and we rebooted the ESX servers. After waiting 10 minutes for a "can't sync time" error on the ESX hosts (VMWare, fix this issue!) we were finally back up to where I could log in to the VMWare Infrastructure client on the host. Although it could see the servers, it still couldn't start them.

Down go the ESX hosts again... down goes the SAN. We reboot the SAN, and it takes 10 minutes (give or take) to settle down. I reboot the ESX hosts again...

By this time, it is 11:50AM, and I have to leave... like NOW. The ESX server is about 5 minutes into the time error message, we still don't know if that's all that needs to be done to fix things, and I have to go... I called up Kelly, (her husband is a tech, but not her,) gave her a 3 minutes lesson on how to switch consoles, what server was what, and where the power was controlled from, and sprinted out the door. I jumped into the drivers seat of the car while dialing my local support firm, and got instructed by Deanna to pull over about 50 meters down the road. She drove, and I made calls.

After 45 minutes, 2 calls to the emergency support line requesting support for a critical "business down" issue and a phone call direct to the support company's president, I had a tech dispatched to Fairwinds.  (I won't go into the frustration around that, but after 40 minutes, I escalated the issue to the very top of the support company, as I wasn't getting anywhere.  Funny how quickly things get in action when you do that!)  So out went a tech to relieve Kelly from the console. His instructions were basically to work with the lead from Vancouver, and do as instructed. The thing here is that the local support guys don't have a good knowledge of VMWare or our setup, and the Vancouver guys do. So what I needed at the time was someone on the ground with tech savvy to be able to relay messages back to the Vancouver lead, and recognize if something might be problematic.

They got the system back up an running within another half hour, and the "all clear" light was issued as I was about 1/2 hour into my drive down to Victoria.  I fielded a few more calls yesterday, but nothing urgent, and now I'm just praying that things go smoothly.

We caught the Victoria Clipper down to Seattle, which was an interesting experience. We cleared US immigration in Victoria, and the guard there was, by far, the friendliest border guard I have ever met.  She smiled, laughed, and was genuinely happy!  A fantastic "border crossing" experience, I have to say.

When then boarded the ferry, and sat next to a collection of frat boys on their way to a drinking event, I think.  Honestly, I have no idea what the heck they were going down for, but I hope that the local hospitals are equipped to deal with four serious cases of alcohol poisoning, as I see that in there immediate future.  They were hilarious... the instant the boat cut loose from shore, they were at the bar.  "Give us the darkest beer you've got."  They returned to the table with four Heineken.  LOL!  I'm thinking that the Kokanee beer they had later is darker than Heineken, but whatever.  They seemed to have a good time playing cards, even though one guy kept dealing one guy six cards instead of five.

They pretty much drank their way across the 2.75 hour trip, even pulling beer out of their bags after last call on the boat.  And then they each bought a litre of spirits from the duty free for their party.  All in all, though, funny guys.  They weren't obnoxious at all, and were having a good time.

The weather for the trip was incredible.  I've never seen the ocean so calm, it was beautifully sunny, and the sunset was gorgeous.  We got in to Seattle at around 8:45 and cleared customs with ease.  Again the customs guy was super nice and friendly.  We had a short conversation about the MVP summit, (he asked where I was going,) and let us go on our way.  A quick cab ride, and we're at the Westin.

From there, we headed out to dinner at the Palace Kitchen. The food was great, and then it was time to turn in, as both Dee and I were pretty exhausted from being up early, and dealing with the stress of the Fairwinds server issues.

Today's plans include a lazy morning, (already partly accomplished,) a little bit of shopping, and meeting up with Robert before heading up to the summit registration.  After that we've got plans for dinner, rounding up some Excel MVP's and the Rock Bottom pilgrimage, although not necessarily in that order.  😉