Book Shelf: Time Management for System Administrators

Time Management for System Administrators by Thomas A. Limoncelli. ISBN 0-596-00783-3.

From the first chapter…

Time management is difficult for SAs because we are constantly being interrupted. How can we get anything done if we are constantly pausing to fix emergencies or respond to requests that arrive in person, via email, or via the newest source of interruptions, instant messages (IMs)? How many times have you told your boss that a project would take two uninterrupted days to complete, which means a month of actual time? Returning to a task takes a long time. If an interruption takes one minute, and it takes two minutes to return to your project, you’re actually traveling backward in time! H. G. Wells would be impressed! Worst of all, returning to your project after an interruption can lead to errors. Often, when I’m debugging a problem, I find the actual “error” was that I skipped a step after returning from an interruption!

Management judges an SA by whether projects get done. Customers, however, judge you by whether you are available to them. These two priorities play against each other, and you’re stuck in the middle. If you are infinitely available to customers, you will never have time to complete the projects that management wants to see completed. Yet, who approves your pay raises?

Why a book on time management just for SAs? This book needs to be different from your average “time management” book because SAs are different. In particular:

  • Our problems are different. SAs have an unusually high number of interruptions that prevent us from getting our projects done.
  • Our solutions are different. SAs can handle more high-tech solutions such as request trackers, email filtering with procmail, automation scripts, and other tools unsuitable for the average, non-technical person.
  • We lack quality mentoring. SAs need to learn the fundamentals of to do list management, calendar management, and life-goal management just like anyone else. However, our normal career path usually doesn’t lend itself to learn these things. Our mentors are technical peers, often on email lists, and often in different parts of the world. There are fewer opportunities to learn by watching, as a supervisor often learns from a director.

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