I think there’s (at least) 5 states you might find yourself in as a sysadmin in these days:

  1. Day to day things that aren’t (yet) automated.
  2. Automating and designing for the future.
  3. Fires and outages
  4. Interruptions
  5. Time to dream

In general you will want to move things from the first bucket to the second as much as you can. Automate all the things that happen often, or (re)design things so you no longer have to do such things day to day. So if you find yourself restarting a webserver every  day, figure out why it needs that and fix that. Or if you have to spend lots of time processing new lists or resetting passwords, make those so they are self service. This might also include reading emails and lists and feeds, if you spend a lot of time here that you don’t get any benefit from, perhaps it’s time to drop some of those?

Of course outages and critical problems are another chunk of time. When things stop working at 2pm or 2am, you start working on bringing things back to normal. Bucket two helps here as well, if you find out things are often causing outages or problems, redesigning them or fixing the underlying problem saves stressfull outage time. It’s important after outages and critical problems to try and have some time from bucket 5 as well. Often just thinking about how the problem happened and spending some time looking at it can give you a idea for a design to use in bucket 2 to fix it once and for all.

Interruptions are another chunk of time. While you might think it “only takes a minute” to ping your sysadmin about something, it  takes a while to get back to the second and final buckets above where (hopefully) you are spending your time. This is why filing tickets or using some other tracker for your non critical things helps a great deal. Then, they can be processed in the first bucket when you have time to do that and also have a nice record of what you need to work on in the second one.

Finally another place that is great for you to have time is a category I call “time to dream”. This is usually unstructured time where you as a sysadmin can ponder on how things are setup, look at logs or machines you don’t usually deal with, read about tools that you might be able to use to make things better, or just a totally new workflow for something.

If you find yourself in a sysadmin job where you spend all or most of your time in buckets 1, 3 and 4 you have a definite problem.

So, all you sysadmins out there: are there other states you find yourself in often that I haven’t mentioned yet?