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The computer provided to me to do my work on is mostly a workstation that accesses a virtual machine hosted elsewhere. Occassionally, about once or twice a month, there are software updates that requires an external system to log onto my environment. During this time I get a warning on my log-on screen that under no circumstances should I attempt to log in myself until prompted. This can take anywhere from 5 to over 40 minutes; you never know in advance. If it takes longer than 10, I am expected to log this under Technical Overhead.

My main issue is that this means that a couple of times a month I am basically sitting at my computer waiting until I can work again. A couple of times I have tried to do my secondary tasks (that take me away from my workstation and have only about 10% of the production:time value) and returned to find the update to already be done.

It is at the moment a balancing act of staying at my workstation and doing nothing so I can start again the moment my resources become available, or spend the time doing less so but still valued work at the risk of missing time I could do my main tasks.

What is the ideal way to handle this sort of balancing situation?

  • 5
    Go make coffee, have a smoke break. Things like this are unavoidable. – Snowlockk Feb 22 '17 at 9:43
  • Not going to lie: my "shop" is currently a government organisation of 30k people. Yeah, I may be able to find something to do, but any additional downtime will definitely reflect badly on us. – Weckar E. Feb 22 '17 at 12:43
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    Is a maximum of 40 minutes twice a month really going to significantly impact your overall productivity? – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Feb 22 '17 at 14:16
  • Can you take a lunch break during this time? When I had similar updates I would always do them over lunch. – enderland Feb 22 '17 at 14:27
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    There's always the xkcd option... – Daniel Roseman Feb 22 '17 at 19:32
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What I usually do when things like this happen is to review all my notes. A notebook always stays on my desk, and I note everything I have to do, to think about, and so on with little checkbox on each item. So, when a temporary shutdown comes (or anything that prevents me from using my computer), I can go through all unchecked boxes and foresee my upcoming workload.

Sometimes, it can be time for a welcome coffee break, too.

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  1. Plan workload
  2. Arrange meetings (if you get a timeslot of when the upgrade is)
  3. Secondary Tasks
  4. Get a coffee

It sounds like you do a decent job of utilising your non PC time. But if it only takes up a small portion of yoru time, then you will just need to do these tasks then get a coffee or something. If you need your PC to do tasks and it's unavailable due to something that's out of your control, then i'm not sure what else you can do apart from the things above/the things you already do.

It strikes me as odd that they do these updates in work hours though and not out of hours?

  • 3
    I agree with the last sentence in particular. Why can't these updates be scheduled to avoid prime working hours? At least if they happened at lunch-time, it would be easier to do something else.... – user44108 Feb 22 '17 at 11:14
  • We have a strong suspicion that this 'external system' performing the updates is just a guy at a desk who logs into our accounts to change some settings and kick off installations. So that would explain why it is during working hours. Problem is, though: They are never announced - they just happpen. And moving to secondary tasks or coffee would not guarantee I'm back when the resources are available again which is the crux of the issue. – Weckar E. Feb 22 '17 at 12:02

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