Time Management: Checkup

Posted on November 28, 2006

I read Thomas Limoncelli’s Time Management for System Administrators when I was at Homestead and needed to better organize myself. There the problem was that I had several very long running projects that moved along so slowly that they’d get lost in the day-to-day shuffle or just outright forgotten. At Joyent things are much different, I’m not in an extremely fast moving and constantly evolving environment servicing hundreds of customers and developers both internal and external, all while trying to keep moving toward long range goals. We joke that everything that comes up on a day-to-day basis is “Priority #1”, because half-way through working on that priority something else takes over as the new “Priority #1”. Time management use to be helpful, now its absolutely essential.

I’ve chronicled in the past my move from an OpenZaurus SL-5500 PDA (third best PDA ever, trailing the Newton MP-2100 and Sharp Zaurus SL-6000L) to a FranklinCovey paper-planner. The Zaurus lasted about a week when I wasn’t very busy, as soon as things got moving faster dealing with the PDA, batteries dying, managing daily todo lists, etc, just got out of hand. People make fun of me for using a paper planner when I’m Mr. Hardcore Geek, but honestly no PDA can keep up with my schedule.

My fully fleshed out time management tool set has been refined to:

Thats my setup, thats whats proven to work for me.

When ever you try to improve yourself or your habits, the big question is always with regards to whether or not it’ll stick. I’m happy to say that I just looked in my storage case and I’ve got almost 6 months of pages with something on every single one. The benefits have been incredible.

  • I’m happier.
  • My stress level has dropped significantly. High, but well managed.
  • I’m not afraid all the time! I don’t avoid people because I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.
  • I’m far more productive.
  • I’m not forgetting all those great ideas that pop up and then vanish.

Tamarah has really been impressed with the results. I still fail to complete things and things still get slipped through the cracks, but those things are now because I didn’t see an important email buried in my inbox and not because I simply forgot. I still haven’t completed a lot of things that I want to or need to do, but at least I know what they are. The key here has been managing the insanity, not learning a technique to add 6 hours to each day.

Stress is the big thing. I hated going to bed and dwelling on what I forgot to do or coming up with excuses because I knew my DBA wanted something but I couldn’t remember what.

That said… I’m finding that this is really just part of a larger journey. I’ve been reading some various books on time management, ethics, management, and skills growth in general, all of which I recommend:

  • First, Break All The Rules
  • Now, Discovery Your Strengths HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
  • First Things First (Important Point: “Don’t confuse urgency for importance”)
  • The Speed of Trust
  • The Art of Project Management

I’m growing significantly. This is partly because of my desire to grow and partly because as “Director of Systems” I want to really embrace the role and excel. This is my ship now and I want to do the best that I can for my users, both internal and external, and colleagues.

The direction I’m heading in now is toward better understanding Project Management. Like I said earlier, trying to drive long term goals forward in a constantly changing environment is really difficult, especially when your engineering that future, not just buying and implementing it. While this isn’t strictly software development, a lot of the same principles apply, the product is the product when you strip out the chapter on UML from whatever book you’ve got. Writing specs for where the product should be and rev’ing things rather than just slapping things up slowly over time is looking like a wise things more and more.

In addition, I’ve also become a Wiki addict. This is shocking given that I hate Wiki’s with a passion. I’ve long been an advocate of source-controlled flat-text or LaTeX/DocBook documentation, but when the world changes so quickly and your increasing the amount of documentation exponentially each week only a Wiki can keep up. Several weeks ago I found an abandoned installation of MediaWiki on an internal TextDrive system and I’ve since rallied the entire company around it, making us all better informed and eager to share. It also means that when it comes time to add more staff we’ll spend far less time teaching them and allow them to be far more productive out of the gate.

Thats my story so far anyway. If you haven’t taken Time Management for System Administrators really seriously I’d encourage you to re-read it and evaluate your situation. As sappy and stupid as this sounds it really has helped change my life for the better.