Iterative improvements win the race

Date May 9, 2011

“Life moves pretty fast.
If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
--Ferris Bueller

Oh, the happiness a person could have if they just took the messages from that movie and inculcated them into their daily lives.

When you look at your ticket queue (mine's at 42 - I take it as a sign), sometimes it's easy to get dejected. Actually, I don't get that dejected about tickets as much as the horrific list off things on my todo. These are things that don't really deserve a ticket, but definitely should get done at some point or another, but it seems like they always get put off.

I've decided that I'm going to take the credit-counseling approach to getting things done.

A while back, I used to be terrible at money. I mean, I was awful. You'd think anyone who could do math would be OK with money, but I was bad. And to tell the truth, I wasn't that great at math, either. But nevertheless, I had troubles because I didn't really know how to manage money, so I slowly sunk into debt. It wasn't until someone explained it to me that I went, "oh, duh. Why didn't I think of that?"

The key to getting yourself out of debt is actually pretty simple.

  1. Stop accumulating new debt
  2. Don't take out more credit cards, don't spend money you don't have, tighten your belt, suck it up, and get through the "right now" part, knowing that better times are coming.

  3. Pay off your highest interest loan first
  4. Once your highest interest rate loan is paid off, pay the next highest off, meanwhile make minimum payments to the rest. Because interest is nothing except a fee you get charged for borrowing money, it is automatically the least-valuable thing on your balance sheet, so get rid of it as soon as possible.

After I finally internalized those ideas, it didn't take all that long to get out of debt. Spending less money was the hardest part, but I got through it, and now I do alright. I'm still not great, but it's manageable.

So what does this have to do with system administration?

Here we go.

Although money is a valuable resource, for sysadmins, the most valuable is usually time. You can't get back time you've previously wasted, so making the most of it early in the game becomes more important. Look at your todo list, and find the one thing that would save you the most time. Dedicate yourself to it, and do it first, and get it done. That removes an item from your list, plus it frees up the time you would have spent performing the task before you optimized it. Use the extra time to get the next biggest time-saver done. Repeat ad consummatum.

By not being overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks at hand, and mentally concentrating on one thing, we can whittle this unmanageable bulk of jobs into something a bit less unwieldy. That's better for us, our jobs, and our sanity.

How do you handle dealing with the bulk of things thrust on you? Comment and give the rest of us tips!

  • Olivier S. Masse

    Here were my two golden rules which made me very appreciated when I was a sysadmin. I was able to take on my shoulders a lot of load that way.

    1. Do simple things right away. I call them quickies. And unless you have an emergency in the oven, that means right now. If a request takes 10 minutes to do, better do it now and be done with it. You'll have less chance of forgetting it down the road, and the customer will be happy.

    2. Script every task that becomes recurrent and document the ones that are either too complex to script (it happens), or those that come back only once in a while. By "document" a text file will do, this isn't for management. This lets you do #1s even more often as they become quickies.

    3. When something takes longer to do, give a really conservative estimate. I usually double the time I'm expecting so If you plan two weeks, give a month. You'll be able to squeeze in time for quickies and if you come back in two weeks, you'll be a hero. On the other hand, if it takes a month, at least you won't be late.

    This will work if your management is able to appreciate work done fast, and if they actually do understand that what you're doing is complex work. If your bosses have no clue of what you're doing, they might think you're useless. I call this the sysadmin dilemma, and that's why I moved higher up the food chain. http://omasse.blogspot.com/2010/03/syadmin-dillemma.html

    Good luck

  • http://blog.friocorte.com Goozbach

    I took the Dave Ramsey method.

    While similar to your approach above, instead of paying off the highest-intrest, pay off lowest balance. (you get a lot of little things done, and start building momentum).

    --
    Derek
    aka goozbach

  • http://telecom-and-it.blogspot.com/ AJ L.

    I prefer the huddling in a corner of a room sucking my thumb asking it all just to go away....lol ;)