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Time Management

Using Your Time To Your Best Advantage

Since the topic of time management here is focused on both Network Administrators and System Administrators, I will be referring to just "Administrators" throughout this article.

Time Management Time management is difficult for administrators due to the constant stream of interruptions that they receive. How can anything be accomplished when administrators are called upon to fix issues and stop and advise others should they have an issue that needs a more experienced touch? There are other interruptions such as email and instant messages, to name a few, that can be the source of productivity killers. Therefore, the administrator should learn to allot their time to be used to their best advantage.

There are some principles behind this management such as:

  • Use one source of time management organization.
  • Develop a routine.
  • Develop habits and mantras.
  • Maintain focus.
  • Know what tasks are important and use your brain power on these tasks.

Let's look into these a bit further.

Use one source of time management organization. Everyone these days uses some form or organizer, be it digital or paper notebook. The important thing is to utilize only one form of organizer. If you start to make notes in several organizers it will be quite easy to miss something that was important.

It is a good idea to use some form of (digital) organizer that can "communicate" with other devices. For instance, if you use an organizer, say Microsoft's One-Note® as an example, on your PC at work and you have it installed on your smart phone as well, you can make a note in one device and it will automatically be sent to the other device as well. This is important should you be away from your desk and have to make notes about something, and equally important if you have something scheduled at your desk and want to be reminded about this event when you are away.

Develop a routine Develop a routine. Laziness is not always a bad thing, but remember there is a difference between constructive and destructive laziness. Programmers who use the same code over and over usually have this code saved and cut-and-paste the code to prevent them from having to re-write it each time they use it. This is a good form of laziness, or better defined, a habit. Your routine can be just as simple. Develop a routine like checking your email when you first come into work so that you can schedule out your day. Check your existing schedule to see what you have planned for the day. Develop routines and importantly stick with your routine. In the end you will find that your day will go smoother with fewer unexpected issues showing up.

Develop habits and mantras. Habits are acts performed without thinking. Mantras are things that are repeated but unlike a habit, you must mentally know to when perform the mantra. Now in many ways habits can fall into the category above about routines. The easiest way to provide an example is to say make many of your routines a habit and make your habits, (hopefully good ones of course,) your routine. Now mantras are slightly different. One of the best mantras that can be used as an example is to not put things off. If a project has a due day two weeks down the road, why wait until the last minute to complete the project? If you have time to start the project now, do it. Sooner than later has always be a win situation. If you wait until the deadline is closing fast, some emergency or other factor may raise it's head and prevent you from completing your task. As the old saying goes, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."

Maintain your focus Maintain focus. Interruptions are the enemy of focus. Distractions are as well because they take you away from what you are focused on. The best advice is to minimize any external interruptions or distractions possible, though this is not always possible. If you are focused on a task and you are interrupted, make it a habit to deal with the interruption or distraction and immediately regain your focus back to your task. Put your phone in "Busy" or "Do Not Disturb" mode if you have that option. The main point is to maintain focus and if that focus is derailed for some reason to make sure you get back on track as soon as you can.

Know what tasks are important and use your brain power on these tasks. When your mind gets cluttered with a constant bombardment of interruptions and distractions, it is easy to lose focus on what is important. Face the grim fact that humans cannot successfully multi-task, no matter how much we want to convince ourselves (or others) that we can. If you maintain focus on what is important and schedule the less important demands for later, this will better your chances of completing the most important tasks first. If you have to, delegate or ask someone else to handle the tasks of lesser importance thus allowing you to maintain your focus on the more important tasks or projects.

Mental Focusing versus Interruptions and Distractions

When an administrator says, "I keep getting bothered by users.", it is really meant that they have a failure to maintain focus on their project or task. As said before, interruptions are the enemy of focus, it is the nature of the job and for and administrator it is a fact of life.

Focus Your Brain

Focusing is the job of dedicating as much of your brain as possible to the task at hand. When you attempt to focus, you are trying to dedicate 100% of your brain, or the frontal cortex anyway. Unfortunately, your brain can be cluttered with many thoughts ranging from something that was said to you earlier in the day to your shopping list at the grocery store that you plan to visit on your way home. To focus, you need to clear out all of those thoughts that you need to remember. Place those thoughts to other media in order to help you remember later; right now, focus on your task and your task only.

Another thief of focus are visual distractions. They can be posters, calendars or just plain clutter on your desk. It is a good practice to remove these visual distractions; move the posters or take them down entirely. The less to visually distract you, the better. As far as the clutter on your desk goes, a great rule of thumb is, when in doubt, throw it out. You can accomplish this with this three-step plan:

  1. File the things that can be filed.
  2. Take the unfinished items and put them in a stack to be completed soon.
  3. Put all the remaining things in a large envelope and mark it, "If I haven't opened this in three months from this date, throw it out." Make sure you seal and date the envelope and follow up on your disposal plans after three months.

Multitasking

Multitasking Individual As said before, humans are not, by nature, efficient multitaskers, however we try. Unfortunately, an administrator's job is one where multitasking is the norm. The trick is just how to multi-task. For instance, let's say you have a task that is going to take an hour to perform and can be done without your intervention. Rather than just sit there waiting for the task to complete and wasting an hour waiting, start another task in the meantime.

Here are some tricks that might help you when you must multi-task:

  • Be aware of when and when not to multi-task. The best tasks for multitasking are the "hurry up and wait" tasks. These are the ones like having to download a large file, compiling a program or performing a large backup. These tasks don't need your immediate attention so you can go accomplish other tasks while these tasks complete.
  • Keep your stress and sleep levels in check. Being tired or under a lot of stress is the receipt for disaster if you try to multi-task. The best advice is that the more stress you have and the less sleep you have been getting, multi-task less.
  • Organize your Window's environment. I am not talking about the window to your office of course, I am speaking of your Windows desktop. Try using multiple monitors. Most people now days have at least two monitors and in some case more depending on their duties. Having multiple monitors help keep the important screens such as email, network monitoring software etc. easily readable without having to close multiple windows to get to it. Another important thing about this is to be consistent with where each window is placed. If you get used to a particular arrangement, you will naturally look toward the direction needed for that particular window.

Discover Your Peak Focus Time

Your focus time is the time of day that you are able to function at peak level. Some people are morning people, some are mid-morning, afternoon, late afternoon, evening or late night people in terms of being able to focus the best. Find out which time of day works best for you to focus clearly at the tasks at hand. Just remember that your peak mental focus time is different than your peak physical focus time. For example, if you discover that you are more mentally alert in the morning but seem to be drowsy in the afternoon, try to put the physical tasks of until the afternoon and keep the tasks requiring your mental power for the morning. is different that your

The Rule of the First Hour

Usually the first hour of the workday is the quietest. This is when there are fewer, if any, interruptions. If you can get yourself into the office an hour early then you should be able to focus on tasks and projects. Most of the time you will find that you can get more done in this first hour than you can the rest of the day. Even if you seem to get shot out of a cannon the moment you come into work at your normal time, coming in a bit earlier will help you clear your plate.

Managing Your Interruptions

It can't be said enough when it is said that interruptions are the enemies of focus. The trick is being able to manage your interruptions and not let the interruptions manage you.

If you are interruption driven, this means that you will attack the tasks as soon as they arrive as opposed to either prioritizing or delegating these tasks to others for completion. Sure, there will be interruptions in the form of employees and users stopping by to ask questions and such, but these interruptions can be easily handled without much loss of focus. When we are interruption driven, we allow the interruptions to manage us rather than vice versa.

Deflecting Interruptions

One of the most irritating interruptions is when someone comes to you with a question or problem when they should be contacting someone else. Sometimes your gut reaction is to tell them to go away, but remember that not only is this rude, it is completely non professional. If you find that someone has come to you by mistake with a question or problem, simply re-direct them to the correct person or department for their problem. Until you make it clear as to who the best person to go to for their problem, you really can't get mad at these people if they aren't going to the right person and come to you.

How To Say "Go Away" In A Professional Manner

The first thing to do in this case is to acknowledge their request in a respectful manner. What we must do is to know what our users expect from us. It is a fundamental aspect that most people will be satisfied if they feel that their concerns are acknowledged. You don't have to fix their problem, just acknowledge that they have a problem.

If a user submits a ticket, they don't want to be made to feel that once submitted, the ticket has ended up going into the void of a black hole never to be seen again. No response about their problem keeps the user in unfair suspense.

Acknowledge the user's problem, communicate with them that it is being addressed and most importantly, keep that line off communication open even after the problem is resolved. Check on them and to make sure all is well. This not only will help you and your credibility, but in the beginning of their problem will be a polite way to tell them to "go away."

Delegate, Record or Do

On a final note about interruptions, they will happen. There are three things that can be done when someone interrupts you with a problem. These are Delegate it, Record it, or Do it.

Delegate it to someone else if someone else can handle the problem.
Record it by creating a ticket if the issue is not an emergency. Make sure your user knows you have created a ticket in behalf of them for their request.
Do it if it is an urgent matter.