Related link: http://www.EverythingSysadmin.com
We are just a few days away from the first shipment of O’Reilly’s newest book, “Time Management for System Administrators”.
When I started writing the book someone told me that time management is impossible for system administrators because we can’t define what a system administrator does.
Actually, we can.
In general, I find that everything system administrators do fit somewhere in 4 categories:
- Easy things, that happen rarely.
- Difficult things, that happen rarely.
- Easy things, that happen often.
- Difficult things, that happen often.
Category 1 (easy/rare) are things we should do manually.
Category 2 (difficult/rare) are things we should document on our internal wiki. For example, when I replace a bad disk on one of my RAID systems there is a complicated series of steps I must take. It happens rarely enough that I’ll never memorize the exact sequence. Therefore, I record it. The next time the issue comes up, I can refer to my notes. It goes after the next time.
Category 3 (easy/often) are things that should be automated. Because they happen often, the time spent creating the automation will pay off quickly. I remember once recognizing that there was going to be a growth of requests to move home directories from one server to another. This is a procedure that requires care and takes a long time, but isn’t particularly difficult. By automating the process we improved our ability to move homedirs without error, and saved a lot of time.
Category 4 (difficult/often) is where you want to delegate the task. By using off-the-shelf software (commericial or open source) you get the best of both worlds. Since the code is difficult to write, that ‘cost’ is divided among all the customers. Since the task is done often, it is worthwhile to automate. For example, we use workdprocessors constantly, and they are difficult to create (after the initial features are done). So we use vi, emacs, OpenOffice, or MS-Word. Backups are another situation. There are so many oddball combinations of hardware and since backups must happen accurately, succesfully, and very often, it doesn’t make sense to write our own backup software. That’s why we’re glad there is Backula, Amanda, and other such packages. We still have work to do (installation, integration, testing, etc.) but certainly not as much as if we were to write these systems from scratch.
Now, as Jon Stewart says on The Daily Show, I’m gonna blow you mind.
Documenting something turns a difficult task into an easy task.
The first part of automating something is to document the steps. Documenting the steps is often the most difficult part. When we can accurately document a procedure, it becomes easy to automate. It crosses over to the easy/often category and now becomes worthwhile to automate.
Documenting a process has another big benefit. Once we document it, we can delegate it. Until I had documented the process for replacing a disk in my RAID system, I was the only person that could do the task. Once it was documented I can ask a junior engineer to do it for me. They can come to me with questions, but the task can be taken “off my plate.”
The best time management techniques result in giving the task to someone else.
And it reduces my stress-level too.
System administrators often have a difficult time taking vacations. When we do, it’s difficult to de-stress because we’re still “on call”. You can’t relax if you are staying mentally prepared to spring into action and fix a problem. You might as well be back at the office.
However, if I’ve documented all those processes that “only I know how to do”, then other people can do a better job of covering for me. I can go on vacation with confidence.
Finally, I can also feel less stressed because I feel less trapped in my job. Nothing creates more stress for me than feeling trapped. I start getting grumpy, irritable, less productive and less fun to be around.
When I document-as-I-work (particularly easy when I use a wiki), I maintain a good record of how things are done, I can delegate tasks to others easier, and I feel less trapped. I am less grumpy, irritable, more productive and much more fun to be around.
What wiki do you use?