The network is down. Someone is impatiently standing in your office door. The phone is ringing, and your wife is expecting. You have your fourth Microsoft certification test tonight. It’s 3:25 P.M., and the tuna you brought for lunch didn’t make it to the company fridge.

Smell familiar? Probably, if you’re a systems administrator or network manager. It’s called system overload, and it’s happening more and more often in the IT industry. How much more can you take?

If you live in California, Governor Gray Davis is going to bat for you. He just signed a new bill that restores the 8-hour workday and restructures overtime pay. According to Governor Davis, “Working men and women deserve honest pay for honest work, but also need options to juggle family and career responsibilities.”

That’s great if you live in California, but what about the rest of us? How do network operators and systems administrators keep their jobs without losing their minds in an industry that keeps reinventing itself?

According to Dr. Joseph Loizzo, a psychiatrist and director of Columbia Presbyterian Center for Meditation and Healing in New York, network managers often feel they are in the hot seat and their jobs are “among the worst imaginable in terms of stress.” In a February 1998 article published by Data Communications , Dr. Loizzo cites the constant introduction of new technologies “which forces them [network managers] to constantly master new procedures and adapt to new situations.” Network managers are “change experts” who must continually adapt to new situations without any chance to rest.

Mastering stress and managing deadlines is tough, especially if you’re someone who just can’t say no to a project.

To stay out of this jam, stay focused on open communication with upper management. If you clearly communicate your concerns regarding your workload and the nature of the work you’re handling, it makes the expectations of your output more realistic.

Dr. Loizzo, however, warned that upper management isn’t always on the same page with you.

“When technologies are new, upper management doesn’t have any idea of what’s reasonable to expect,” said Loizzo in the Data Communications’ article. “Net managers become the ultimate can-do folks in a field in which no one knows exactly what can be done.”

OK, so you’re still expected to do a lot with a little. If you don’t have a plan in place to manage your time, you could end up pulling the rest of your hair out. Here are some tips from SmartBiz to help you take control of the uncontrollable:

  • Set priorities: List what needs to be done first, second, and third in your work schedule. Work on the most important items first.
  • Don’t procrastinate: Sure, routine things become boring. But they must be done. Find a way to focus on the outcome, knowing it will feel great when you’re done.
  • Delegate: How is the workload distributed in your group? If you’re taking on too much, maybe someone else isn’t doing enough.
  • Avoid distractions: If you’re swamped, close the door. Move your desk so it’s less inviting for others to distract you.
  • Handle each piece of paper only once: Take action immediately on paper work that crosses your desk. File it, sign it, revise it, pass it on, or throw it out.
  • Use the 80-20 rule: The 80-20 rule states that 80 percent of your accomplishments come from only 20 percent of your efforts. The trick is to figure out what makes that 20 percent so productive.
  • Adjust your schedule to your energy levels: Most of us have certain times during the day when we’re more alert and perform better. Once you’ve determined your pattern of physical and mental energy levels, try to adjust your daily schedule to mesh with it.

Of course, the trick is to actually do these things. Find a way to weave them into your current workload. And if you’re still stressed out, Dr. Loizzo suggests trying meditation or yoga to calm your system and refocus your energy.

Before you know it, you’ll be using words and phrases like, “Sure, no problem,” “I’ll have it to you in just a minute,” and “Glad to do it.”

Good luck with the tuna.

Scott Render works as a marketing specialist for IXC Communications and as a freelance writer. He strongly believes in commuting by bicycle.