Finally, some time management advice that goes beyond theory and gives you solid techniques for managing your time better.


All the time management experts out there would have you believe that all jobs are created equal and that time management is just a matter of changing the way you deal with things. But, let’s face it, some jobs are so ruled by external factors that our work time is not ours to plan or manage.

I recently came across a book, Time Management for Systems Administrators, that recognizes that sys admins often have competing goals: the concurrent responsibilities of working on large projects and taking care of a user’s needs.

The book’s author, Thomas Limoncelli, explains that the difficulty of time management for sys admins is that, basically, they’re always getting interrupted:

“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’re infinitely available to customers, you will never have time to complete the projects that management wants to see completed.”

But Limoncelli maintains that sys admins can tackle time management. The six principles that he bases his techniques on are:

One “database” for time management information. He advocates finding an organizing tool (PDA or PAA) and using only that tool.
Conserve your brain power for what is important. Don’t clutter your brain. If you clutter your brain with all the tasks you have to do instead of putting some of that in a physical organizer, then it will lessen your focus.
Develop routines and stick with them. The author explains the benefit of routine in terms of writing code. If a bit of code works, a developer will reuse it as often as possible. He recommends managing your time the same way — establishing a routine saves you time and reduces the thinking you have to do every week. This could mean something as simple as scheduling a regular weekly meeting with your boss instead of playing phone tag all week.
Develop habits and mantras. Limoncelli offers up a great example of how developing a habit can cut down on time and repercussions in the long term. He relates the story of how he used to have to periodically empty the water-collection bucket on a portable air-conditioning unit in a small computer closet. In the interim before he could install a drain pipe, he made himself empty the bucket on a specified day and time. This helped his time management because if he waited until the bucket was full, it would be harder and take longer to carry. Also, what if he waited until just before he had to leave for a meeting? He’d be late to the meeting. By scheduling a set time for this simple task, he avoided it becoming more of a time sink later on.
Maintain focus during “project time.” Interruptions are the natural enemy of focus, and time returning from interruptions is wasted time. Limoncelli says we should act like an operating system. “When time-critical operations need to be done, the kernel locks out all other tasks and works on exactly one task until that task is complete. For example, when memory is being allocated to a task, the mernel locks out all other memory-table access so that this one happens correctly, without multiple processes all trying to modify the allocation tables at the same time.” You want that kind of focus when you’re working.
Manage your social life with the same tools you use for your work life. The author doesn’t want your social life to become regimented but says using time management in that area will be good practice.

I really like this book because it does something a lot of resources don’t — offer meaningful and concrete examples of how to put theory into action.

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