Book Review: Time Management for System Administrators

I picked up this book for a few reasons:

1) I have a sysadmin background, and it helps me understand databases immensely (though not as much as the actual database courses I’ve had).

2) The author is a friend of mine.

3) The author is an exceptional sysadmin and writer.

4) I watched the Google video presentation he gave to a user group about the book, and wanted to learn more.

So, without ado, here is my full review of the book:

Firstly, let’s delve into why system administrators (and database administrators!) need a book on time management. Most folks have too much on their plate. System administrators, however, have a lot on their plate in terms of projects, but are also interrupted many times per day with numerous situations.

System administrators have the situation where folks come to them with a problem, expecting immediate attention, much like a retail cashier — “I’m here, I’d like to make a purchase, please help me.” If the cashier is busy doing other things, such as stocking merchandise, and takes a while to acknowledge the customer, the customer gets upset.

However, system administrators have large projects looming — they need to reconcile “create this account” with “rebuild the network infrastructure.”

Tom Limoncelli’s book, “Time Management for System Administrators” deals with this quandary. He focuses on making the work environment sane and handleable, so a sysadmin feels more accomplished (and his boss feels he is, too). However, this book is also focused on keeping folks who need work from you happy. Limoncelli reforms the idea of an overworked, grumpy sysadmin, and shows you how you can transform yourself.

In the first part of Chapter 2, “Focus Versus Interruptions”, he states:

“You might say that this chapter teaches you how to keep yourself focused and deal with interruptions without being a jerk.”

Limoncelli has the uncanny way of answering my questions with the next paragraph. For instance, I was a bit wary of his “Cycle system”, and thought, “well, I could use Life Balance for that, couldn’t I? And it’s really better!” And lo and behold, on page 75, he gives that option.

The values of routines and automation are discussed, as well as how to set those up. It’s all well and good to say “you should automate things,” but Limoncelli explains how to do that for tasks. He explains how to get over ‘mental garbage’ that blocks us from improving ourselves. There’s an entire chapter devoted to email management, which comes after one on stress management. And yes, he even delves into such sticky issues as documentation and prioritization.

All of his tips are useful. I did not find myself disagreeing with any tips — they either fell into the category of “I’m already doing it,” “I should do it now,” and “I’m not ready to do that now, but I will do it in the future.”

This is a book I would read once or twice a year and keep refining my techniques based on it.

I intend to give this book to anyone who works in this type of environment — sysadmins I know, in particular, but DBAs as well.

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