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Time Management Tips for System Administrators

System administration is a unique job, there are almost no other jobs that require you to handle a constant stream of so many requests (all of them urgent, obviously) from so many people all the time while still working on long term projects, it’s no wonder system administrators often feel like they are drowning in work.

Lucky for us, there are some simple techniques that can help.

Serialize

You can’t do two things at once, sysadmin work requires concentration and attention to details – you need to do things once at a time.

Write a to-do list - you can use a PDA or a small notebook – and carry that list with you all the time, whenever someone needs something form you write it down – and continue with whatever you were doing, when you’re done take the next highest priority item from the to-do list and work on that.

You may think people want you to work on their problems immediately and will be offended by the task list approach but the truth is that people just want you to acknowledge their problem and take responsibility over it – this can easily be accomplished by making a show of writing it down in your to-do list.

Prioritize

The task list approach will only work if you can prioritize and you know when something does require immediate action, don’t leave a major outage unhandled because you are busy tweaking server performance or doing some standard maintenance.

Schedule

There are a lot of reoccurring standard maintenance jobs – from handling backup tapes to installing server patches, schedule them in advance, use a calendar (again PDA or paper) and write down all the reoccurring work, also add to this calendar all meeting and everything that can be scheduled in advance.

Now use the calendar, carry it with you all the time and stick to the schedule, this will help you both know where you have to be and avoid, or at least delay, useless meetings (because you can tell – and show - people your schedule is full).

Don’t Work Insane Hours

Many researches show that effectiveness of people who work for more than about 40 hours a week degrades quickly, 8 hours a day for 5 days a week is about the maximum a human can work, working more for a short time can be productive but after a little while you become tired and make more mistakes resulting in lower productivity.

Studies show that after around 2 month a team working 8 hour days and a team working 12 hour days accomplished the same amount of work – and the 8 hour team could continue working while the 12 hour team was completely burned out.

Personal Life is Not an Optional Feature

I stole that headline from the book Time Management for System Administrators, if you are a sysadmin and you care about your sanity go buy it now

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