Five tips for taking advantage of holiday downtime

If your work slows down during the holidays, you may finally get a chance to tackle those projects you haven't had time for during the year. Here are some good ways to make use of those slower days.

It's a funny thing, but I have noticed that a lot of people seem to go into hiding when December rolls around. When I worked for the Army, for example, the base was like a ghost town in December. Even as a freelance writer and technology consultant I have found that many of my clients either shut down completely or greatly scale back their operations in December. Of course, this vacancy isn't necessarily a bad thing. For IT pros, an empty office may mean the opportunity to do some things that have been put off throughout the year. In this article, I will share five tips for taking advantage of holiday down time.

1: Perform comprehensive backups

One of my year-end rituals involves making a full backup of all of my servers. Don't get me wrong: I back my servers all year long. But at the end of the year, I like to make a permanent archive backup of each server.

I have found that the holidays are the perfect time to make these backups. Full server backups can be time consuming, so what better time to perform the backups than when nobody is around to complain about how the backup operations are affecting the server's performance? Besides, the holidays come at the end of the year when everyone is preparing to close out the year's business records.

2: Perform neglected server maintenance

As an IT pro, I like to think that I am on top of my game and that all of my servers are well maintained. Admittedly, the sad truth is that as hard as I might try to stay on top of server maintenance, I am busy, and some things are bound to slip through the cracks.

If you find yourself in this situation too, why not use some of that holiday downtime to catch up on some of that neglected server maintenance? For example, you could check each server to make sure that it isn't missing any patches. You might also take the opportunity to perform a basic health check on each server to make sure that all of the hardware is functioning properly and that none of your servers are running low on memory or disk resources.

3: Evaluate new products

As a busy network administrator, I am always on the lookout for utilities that can make my life easier. Every year, I attend several trade shows, and I always discover at least a few new applications that seem like they could help me do a better job of managing my network. In most cases, though, the day-to-day tasks get in the way and I never get a chance to sit down and really take a good look at those promising applications.

The holidays seem to be the one time of the year when my phone isn't ringing off the hook. In the past, I have occasionally taken advantage of the seasonal peace and quiet and seriously evaluated that software I meant to look at back in July.

4: Review your security policies

Security isn't a set it and forget it proposition. Threats to IT security constantly evolve, and an organization's security policies also need to evolve if they are to remain effective.

The end of the year is a great time to perform a comprehensive security audit. After doing so, you can look for any devices on your network that don't comply with your corporate security policies. You should also be on the lookout for settings that do comply with your policies but that are no longer effective. For example, many years ago, one of my security policies stated that all wireless communications should be WEP encrypted. Eventually, though, someone figured out how to decipher WEP encryption, so a new security standard was needed. Obviously, this example is dated. But I decided to use it anyway because it's a perfect illustration of the types of things you should be on the lookout for.

5: Attend a training class

In the ever-changing world of IT, we're constantly expected to learn new things. Yet the day-to-day job demands may prevent us from taking the time to attend training classes. If things slow down for you at the end of the year, this may be the perfect opportunity to take that training class that you have been putting off for so long.

Bonus tip: Enjoy the downtime

I didn't want to count this as one of my five suggestions, but it's important to keep in mind: Enjoy the downtime. Everybody needs a break once in a while. You worked hard all year long. The holidays may be your chance to take that well-deserved break.

Don't go overboard

Sure, there are lots of projects that you can stay busy with during the holidays, but you have to balance your desire to get things done with your staff's morale. I once had a workaholic boss who insisted that we perform server upgrades on Christmas Eve while everyone else was out of the office. Even though the job needed to be done, the boss's timing meant that we couldn't go home for Christmas. So even though you can use the holidays to catch up on tasks that have been neglected throughout the year, you shouldn't overdo it.

What's on your list?

What other types of chores are you hoping to tackle during the holiday lull? Or will you be as busy as ever, with no break in the action?