Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Once your friends become used to your providing technical support and assistance it can be difficult if your situation changes. I'll offer some ideas.
I am a techie. I have numerous close friends that seek technical help from me and I am more than happy to help a friend out. But things have changed for me. I now have a 1 yr old baby and don't have time to help everyone out. I get frustrated at the volume of requests I receive from friends. But since I have helped them for so many years, they have become dependant on me. How do I stop being the techie everyone relies on? I understand why they come to me, but when does casual help turn into common abuse. (Since i can fix, install almost anything, my friends think things are easy; when in-fact it takes extreme amounts of time and energy). I am sure you get plenty of people in your personal life asking for technical advice. How do you handle this?
You could start giving out bad advice. Perhaps lose some data here and there? Blame it on pressures at home, of course.
No, no, I'm not really being serious about that. Although it would solve the problem it would not only lose you a few friends, it would simply be wrong (tempting as it may be).
My solution was to start a web site, but if you think trying to help a few friends takes time, you can only imagine what an enterprise taking questions from the entire world has turned into. (It also helps that I have fairly techie friends.)
But I absolutely do understand your situation, and I'll share what little advice I have.
"I'm sorry [insert friends name here], I'd honestly love to help, but with the baby and all I simply don't have the time. The problem you're having sounds like [whatever your gut instinct is], and you might [some ideas for them to act on], but I just don't have the time to do it for you right now."
If they're really friends they'll understand.
I wouldn't blow them off ... they're your friends, after all, and that counts for something. That's why:
I would include your gut instinct on whatever problem they've just told you about. I know you have one, and if you're as good as you sound (making the difficult look easy is one sign ), it's probably accurate more often than not. Sometimes that alone is enough to direct the less technical in the right direction. (In many ways, since I can't see people's machines, it's a lot of what I really do here at Ask Leo!.)
Giving them some concrete next steps to take themselves is similarly helpful. It serves two purposes, actually. The first is the obvious: it allows your friend to gather data or try things that may or may not resolve the problem - perhaps coming back to you with a more specific symptom. Of course, you'll only want to iterate so many times, I get that, but sometimes that first round of data and additional questions can also lead to solutions for many, many problems. The not-so-obvious side effect is that you're training your friends that they can be somewhat self reliant without really being overbearing about it.
What I wish I had, and perhaps you do have or can find, is a trusted "someone else". By that I mean someone who's abilities you trust that you can send your friends to when things get more difficult. Here on the web site, I often mention seeking out "a local technician" for more hands-on diagnostics. A qualified referral could make your friends quite happy - remember, all they really care about is that a problem gets fixed, not necessarily that you be the one to fix it.
But I do understand that it can be a difficult situation to find yourself in.
The best advice I can honestly give is that you're not really helping your friends by trying to or saying you will when you can't. Gently at first, but more bluntly as needed and they'll come to understand that you have some other priorities that have to come first.
And of course, when appropriate, send 'em to Ask Leo! for some on-line support.
I know that many of my readers often find themselves in similar situations, so perhaps some of them will contribute their thoughts on how they handle it.
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