How to Balance Database Management With Your Day Job

That feeling when the database gets lumped in with your day job 🙄.

What’s one thing that devo staff, volunteer coordinators, operations managers, HR and Program people all have in common?

At any time, we can become the database admin, too.

“Accidental admin” is the term we’ve lovingly coined to all the data peeps who never signed up for this. These are the folks who were standing closest to the database at a time when their org needed the help.

Obviously, I dig this work. But not everyone does. And it’s no fun when it gets lumped in with the rest of your day job!

So here are some tips on how to weave this new responsibility into your workflow in the short-term.

How to Balance Database Management With Your Day Job

Employed for Good - Duck Photo
If it walks like a duck, and acts like a duck…it could also be your database admin.

1. First, understand what it means to manage a database.

This job tends to get offloaded to the nearest victim staff person: an extra item on a long list of duties! But database management is a lot more than our directors typically realize.  

Here’s what it really means to take this on.

  • Owning the tech behind your system – which means getting the back-end to work smoothly
  • Overseeing the data & keeping it as clean as possible
  • Managing the processes through which data gets entered – in the form of rules, best practices and user permissions

2. Carve out time each week to devote to the system.

When it’s not the job you signed up for, it can be verrryy tempting to approach data administration ad hoc.

But a database is like a high maintenance plant. If you don’t give it the right amount of sunlight each week, the thing will shrivel and die.

Besides, work in your database is never ‘done’. As long as staff log into it, you will have an infinite (albeit invisible) laundry list of tasks to keep that system useful and usable.

3. Spend time on the mundane maintenance tasks.

Deleting duplicates, mass uploads, mass updates. This is the work that no one will properly appreciate…until you don’t do it long enough. Then, everyone complains that the data in your system is bad.

You can skip all that by committing to maintaining your system. And yes, it takes time…but it goes much faster when you do it on a regular basis.

p.s. I’m a full-time database admin and even I find it challenging to carve out the time! So you’re not alone. The trick is to be consistent.

4. Start documenting today.

If you’re new to this world, all of us admins will tell you: we only wish we thought to document things in the beginning.

Why? Because the consultants are gone now, and no one knows what’s happening!

Yes, it’s more time. But documenting your work is the only way to guarantee that all the work you put into the system endures if/when the database is no longer your responsibility.

5. Figure out how long data administration is taking you.

Some leaders like to put on blinders when it comes to these systems. This is technology, which means it’s perfect, which means it doesn’t need lots of human attention. Right!

A system is only as good as the person who maintains it. If you can get clear on how long it takes to do that job well, you can communicate that reality to your boss – who will then have a more accurate idea.

For better or worse, data administration is a largely invisible job. It’s up to you to make your org see the light.

6. Give it your best effort and see where you stand.

Database management may not have been the job you signed up for. But one of two things will happen: you’ll rue the day your boss delegated this task to you, or you’ll realize this is awesome and uncover a brand new career interest.

As your org grows, so will your data needs. So where you fall on this spectrum matters.

If you hate it, work towards an exit strategy. Remind your boss that this is a temporary fix, and not something you can sustain long-term. (Related: this is a version of saying no at work.)

And if you love the work….see if this can become your gig down the road! Find ways to develop your data prowess, advance your tech skills, and become an org-wide resource for the system.

Share your thoughts!