How I Work

Edit: apparently as I was writing this, Dave put out the call for others to write their own. So, I *have* been asked….

I find Dave Rosenberg’s “How I Work” series fascinating, so I thought I would post how I work, and some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

I enjoyed How Brian Aker Works the best, mostly because some of the ideas were new and fresh to me — for example, polling e-mail every 30 minutes (and thinking about moving to once every hour).

Now, most people I know would say “But I MUST respond to e-mail, the faster the better!” To that I say, “What if you were in a meeting?” Most people will call if they want an immediate answer, and if you’re truly in a meeting, they’ll leave a voicemail message. I wouldn’t suggest polling your pager every 30 minutes, but for me, e-mail is a non-emergency medium and thus Brian’s technique is pure genius for not getting distracted by e-mail.

Not that anyone asked, but:

What is your role?
I am a MySQL Database for Online Buddies, Inc — a company committed to developing on-line communities that provide members with safe, friendly and exciting sites through which members can express themselves and interact with one another as they wish. (That’s straight from Marketing.)

What is your computer setup?
At work, a Dell desktop running Windows. It does not matter what OS I use as most of what I do involves logging into a database or server or researching/reading on the ‘net. I’m fond of saying “All I need is a web browser and a way to SSH and I’m happy.” At home I have a Windows laptop work gave me (also a Dell), although when I buy my own home computers they are Apple laptops.

What desktop software applications do you use daily?
Firefox. I find Safari (Mac OS X) bloated, taking too long to open. Internet Explorer is dead to me until they get tabbed browsing.

I also use Microsoft Outlook to deal with work e-mail, iTunes for music, and SecureCRT for SSH’ing. I’ll use Excel or Word for reporting and reading documents sent to me, but I only have to fire that up a few times a week.

I use Trillian for IM. I use EditPadLite for small text files I need to read on my desktop,

What websites do you visit every day?
gmail, planetmysql,, livejournal,, and for the weather.

What mobile device or cell phone do you use?
I have a Motorola RAZR. I like the flip phone and the low weight, but some of the missing features (like being able to type more than one letter as an index to my phone book) really annoy me. I also have a Verizon PocketPC which I use during an emergency to login to our machines if I’m not near a computer.

Do you use IM?
Yes. For short technical requests or conversations, or “Have you done this yet?” I find it works well. Much like the phone, if I’m too busy to talk, I don’t respond. And much like the phone, people respect my need for few distractions and rarely use it. My colleagues walk into my office as much as they IM, and almost never call.

Do you use a VoIP phone?
Not yet, although one of my tasks this week is to start using Skype.

Do you have a personal organization theory?
Oh yes. I organize everything! I always need a to-do list, as I’m easily distracted. I keep it short — my to-do list is the tasks I expect to work on that day. I use the whiteboard in my office to keep track of weekly tasks and erase them when they are done — there are no more than a dozen at one time. There is always something new that comes up, so I’m never left with nothing on my list, and if I worry about something being forgotten I will put it into request tracking software. My high tendency toward distraction means I might put off certain tasks, but I do so by reading websites, journals, lists and researching. So I end up constantly learning and never needing to “find time” to read that technical magazine.

Physically I organize in piles. Mostly everything is in one to-do pile — ie, if I have a schema I’m modifying I’ll have it printed out with my notes. I’ll clean that out around once a week, and like the whiteboard, there’s never much in it. That’s not to say I’m busy, but if something is in there more than a few weeks, chances are it does not belong there.

I have always had some kind of organizer/planner. It’s something that needs to be small enough to take with me. I learned early on that paper is better than electronics for me, as I can drop my paper organizer all I want with no consequences. It does not sync to my desktop, but I also don’t have to worry about losing data. If I got along better with electronics I’d have a palm synched with LifeBalance. I love the software, but remembering to print out my schedule so I’d have a copy on me at all times did not work.

Anything else?
I cannot recommend Limoncelli’s Time Management for System Administrators (published by O’Reilly) enough if you are finding your current way of working not good enough, or even if you think it’s good enough and want to be sure.

I’d love to see other folks’ ways of working.

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