Most admins—even those with years of experience—occasionally lose sight of basic strategies for working effectively. After all, if you’re cramming for a cert, managing a major new deployment, and trying to stay afloat from day to day following a round of staff reductions, you probably aren’t going to stop and ask yourself, “Am I working as efficiently as possible?” But even though it sounds corny, sometimes you need to take a step back and revisit some of the basics. Here are five tips that can make the difference between being just another overworked IT pro and being an administrator at the top of your game.

Tip #1: Read before you act
Yes, you really should read that documentation. Before delving into a new setup or troubleshooting a problem, go to the vendor’s Web site to get the latest version of the documentation on the product and check for any changes in recommended procedure, known problems, and other issues. If you’re working with software, you’ll also want to make sure that there aren’t any new patches. Working with advanced software and hardware is not the same as your basic “put tab A into slot B” bicycle kit. No one will think any less of you if you read the instructions first.

Tip #2: Plan appropriately
This tip may sound like a platitude, but many organizations have problems simply because their IT people didn’t plan things out sufficiently. Think, plan, and develop your strategy on paper (or electronically) before acting. Whether you’re dealing with naming conventions, setting up group rights, or selecting default user templates, a carefully thought-out strategy will save you and others a lot of headaches down the road.

Simply put: Plan, plan, plan, and then plan some more! Once you’re through planning, revise the plans until you are sure that you covered most of the bases. Get some input on your plans and make sure that they don’t exclude anyone who will be affected by them. If you find yourself making a lot of exceptions once your plan is put into effect, you might need to revise it rather than weaken it with a lot of ad hoc changes.

Tip #3: Document what you did
Ah yes, documentation: the bane of our existence. It takes so much of our time and effort, but fixing a problem or implementing a change to a system when we neglected to document its configuration takes even more time. I don’t know about you, but I often forget exactly how I handled something once I start doing something else that catches my attention. I also know that coworkers who aren’t involved in my projects are even less likely to know what I did and why I did it. As a result, documentation is helpful for those who have to come after you to administer your organization’s network. You can contribute to your organization’s future success by keeping careful documentation.

Tip #4: Don’t go it alone
Sure, you want to think that you can solve problems by yourself. There’s a certain amount of pride at stake. But what good is your pride when it costs you two extra hours in the server room? If you run into a problem that you don’t understand within a few minutes, look for some help. There are abundant resources for you to take advantage of. You’ll find info aplenty on the Internet, from the manufacturers’ sites to places like TechRepublic that offer technical information, how-to documents, and even forums to ask others about situations or problems. And speaking of asking others, you can turn to your coworkers, peers, or even a mentor. Sometimes, a fresh pair of eyes will see things you may have overlooked.

Tip #5: Show the patience of a Zen master
My final tip brings all the others together. Take the time to do things right the first time so you don’t waste time doing them over again. This involves reading documentation, planning things out, being diligent about creating documentation, and checking all the angles before getting started on a task. Don’t take shortcuts like making exceptions to the rules that you included in your documentation. Take the time to develop good monitoring practices such as establishing performance baselines and building network diagrams that are helpful and easily understood.

We often feel a lot of pressure to finish projects early, and we get a lot of heat from management to put out fires as quickly as they occur. Just remember that if you slow down a little bit, you’ll be able to proceed with a better understanding of the problems and challenges you’re facing. And you’ll be far less likely to overlook key details, which may prevent those fires from starting in the first place.

Bottom line
As simple as these tips may sound, every top-notch administrator must demonstrate a solid mastery of these foundation skills. Doing so will make you more efficient, more effective, and more in demand.

What tips do you have?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.