If you are a System or Network Administrator, then you know that managing chaos on a daily basis is part of your job. You are at times inundated with requests from users and clients needing this or wanting that. You can't walk down the hall without being stopped and asked to do something. Managing these requests is a task unto itself, so how do you do it? Well, there are a few things to remember if you are going to survive as a System or Network Administrator. Here are some key factors to remember.

Keys to time management success.

  • Follow Through - This is the ability to make sure all requests are captured and then managed to their completion or rejection.
  • Stale Requests - Don't let requests become stale and forgotten, capture all of them. If a client sees you in the hallway and requests something, do not trust your memory. Record the client's request in your organizer immediately or ask the client to send their request to you via an email or request tracking software, also known as a Ticket in some organizations.
  • Forgotten Requests - This could go hand-in-hand with the last item. Nothing makes a user more upset than giving an administrator a request only to have that request forgotten.
  • Keeping Your Tasks Organized - It seems that the more tasks you have to handle, the harder these tasks are to track. Eventually, you will find that tracking your tasks is taking up as much time, if not more, than actually handling them.
  • Record Tasks Reliably - Record your requests in a reliable way and don't rely on brain power to remember them.
  • To-Do Lists Do Fail - They can fail for many reasons. Notes scattered can get lost. A growing list of requests can get depressing.
  • Use A Calendar - Using a calendar for meetings, dates and appointments is essential. Long term plans need some form of time-line to track their progress. A daily to-do list should only reflect what is due that day, not the entire list of to-do's, (see To-Do Lists Do Fail from above.) Scheduling for the current day helps you make sure you don't forget anything.
  • Invest Time Each Day To Plan - Taking about ten to fifteen minutes each morning to plan your day will keep you on track. This will help you decide if you have some additional time to knock out anything else on your request list if possible.

It is best to use three different schedules or to-do lists, but equally important to keep these three combined into one easily managed database. The three different lists should be comprised of: a to-do list and today's schedule, a calander and a list of long-term goals.

It is important to keep these together because:

  • These three databases will surely interact with each other and the ability to flip between them is important.
  • It is much easier to track the location of one thing rather than three things.
  • You need to keep the three databases with you all the time and keeping the three together is much easier.

The Human Brain Is Not Infallible

Face it, the human brain is not incapable of making mistakes. No matter how smart you think you are, you will make mistakes. Short term memory is within human nature. This short term memory capable of around seven items, plus or minus two. If your to-do list contains twenty items, no matter how hard you try, you will not remember them all. This is where some external storage is needed.

It is well advised to make use of some sort of organizer, (I know, this can't be stated enough) to organize your requests and tasks. When someone asks you to do something for them, write it down. Don't just say that you will "remember" to write it down. When you do this you will soon find yourself forgetting to write something down because of distractions or other external factors.

IF you receive a request for something and you find you don't have your organizer, ask the requester to send you an email reminding you of this request. This way you have placed the responsibility upon the requester to remind you and will remove you from the line of sight should this request be forgotten by the requester.

Other Systems Fail

Other systems of organizing your notes and requests are nothing more than a receipt for failure. These are the better known as the Scattered Notes System and the To-Do List of Doom.

The Scattered Notes System is the process of writing notes on any random bits of paper or the act of having multiple to-do lists scattered about. This also includes making more than one random list. For instance, you are assigned some new tasks while attending a meeting; you start a new list. Now you have multiple lists, and should one list get lost, you have lost other requests or tasks. Keep your lists together.

The other headache is the every growing To-Do List of Doom. This usually happens when it is discovered that having many lists or scraps of paper isn't a good way to track things. So a notebook is purchased and becomes your standard to-do organizer. At first it works well, but after a while it is discovered that it is difficult to prioritize these tasks and the list keeps growing day by day. Some items may be accomplished and be marked off, however the list never shortens; it just grows. This can be completely frustrating and create a sense of self-defeat.

Since the Scattered Note and the ever growing To-Do List of Doom are set to fail, you have to find a better solution, and this is the Cycle System.

Systems That Succeed

A good system will have the following qualities:

  • Portable: You can take it with you
  • Reliable: It won't fail you, unless you fail it.
  • Manageable: Not a batch of little notes or a large List of Doom.

These are the elements necessary to make a good system:

  • Calendar: Needed to record meeting dates and times, appointments and other notes.
  • Goals List: An area to keep both your long and short term goals listed.
  • Day-To-Day Lists:Needed for each day:
    • To Do List: Schedule for the day that is prioritized and only for that day.
    • Schedule: An hour-by-hour schedule for the day.

The most important part of this system is the Day-By-Day page. It should be large enough to hold both that day's schedule and to-do list.

The Cycle System

The cycle system consists of an organizer, electronic or paper. There are four basic parts to the organizer that are essential to keeping your hour, day, week, month and year in line. These parts are:

  • 365 To-Do Lists per year: Have one to-do list for every day of the year.
  • Today's Schedule: For each day, have an hour-by-hour breakdown.
  • An Appointment Calendar: This is used to record all appointments, meetings and other plans.
  • Notes: This part is for additional notes, lists and whatever needs to be jotted down and remembered.

The actual cycle should take only about ten minutes per day and should be done at the start of your day. It should play out similar to this.

  1. Create today's schedule - Schedule out the day for all meetings, appointments or other things that need to be taken care of this day.
  2. Create today's to-do list - List all of the items that need to be completed this date.
  3. Prioritize and Reschedule - Determine how much time each item should take to complete and if the totals exceed the time allowed for the day, reschedule individual items to a more convenient time making sure that the importance of the task is taken into consideration.
  4. Work the plan - Work on the list and accomplish the tasks on that list. Make sure you make all meetings and appointments. Stay focused. When an item is complete, mark it as so.
  5. Finish the Day - When your day is finished, move all of the unfinished tasks to the next day's schedule making sure that no task is forgotten. Prioritize as necessary.
  6. Repeat - Repeat this process every day. This is when the cycle system starts over again.

By completing scheduled tasks throughout the day, marking them as complete and then transferring the uncompleted tasks to the next work day schedule is the best way to keep on track. Make sure that the uncompleted tasks receive a higher priority for the next day, providing there is something beyond your control that prevents you from completing them on time, such as parts waiting to come in, unplanned staff absences, etc.

When you discover that you have more work in one day than you can handle, knowing that you have a way to manage the work overflow is a key to peace of mind.