Sysadmins: Is Your To-Do System Killing Your Efficiency?

When it comes to working with efficiency, we are our own worst enemies. As an admin, you are no different. The way you handle your work could well be a shot in the foot.

Productivity is hard.

It is not something you can program or configure. Life would be so much simpler if you could simply type in a command and become more efficient – but you cannot. If you truly wish to be better at managing the various threads of your career, you need to work towards it yourself.


Unfortunately, most of us are really bad at it. As an administrator, you are not exempt from that. On the contrary – your job typically involves juggling so many different things that you cannot afford to be the least bit disorganized.

You need to manage user requests. Ensure systems are up-to-date and monitor for unusual activity. Locate and fix bugs. And most importantly, you have to convince your boss that you are indeed working, and not simply lounging at your desk.

A large portion of what a sysadmin does, therefore, involves prioritization. You need to figure out which tasks cannot wait – which things need to be fixed to keep your organization in working order. And in order to do that, you need to optimize your workflows.

An effective to-do system goes a long way towards accomplishing that (and as an added bonus, it gives your boss a visual guide to what you’re doing at any given time). By that same vein, trying to tackle your work without a management tool or process can feel like trying to bail out a boat with a thimble. Some people might be able to pull it off, sure.

But most of us will barely keep our heads above the water.

What can you do, though? Implementing a management process for your workflow can feel like a struggle in and of itself. Where can you even start?

Here are a few tips to that effect:

  • Start writing project management reports for everything you do – even if you are the only one who reads them. This helps keep you organized, and ensures that if you abandon what you are doing for something of higher priority, you will be able to remember what you were doing when you return.
  • Find a workflow process that meshes with how you already do things. Maintaining a to-do list should not be difficult, and you should not be spending more time planning your work than actually doing it. Methodologies include:
    • Kanban, which visualizes each individual work item and its progress, usually on a physical whiteboard or other such medium. This is one of the most popular workflow management methods, and there are multiple tools that allow you to incorporate it, including Trello and
    • Scrum. Though it is primarily an agile development framework, you can nevertheless adopt some of its guiding principles into managing your own workday, including transparency, timeboxing, and holding a daily retrospective of your work.
    • Simply maintaining a checklist of tasks which you can check and update daily.  
  • Take the time to breathe every now and then. One common technique for improving productivity involves working in 25-minute bursts, with 5-minute breaks in between.  
  • Automate as much as you can. You should never be spending a great deal of time or efforts on patching, backups, user and group maintenance, DDoS mitigation, or malware scans – these are all things that can be run on their own, only requiring your intervention if something goes wrong.

Staying productive and on-task can be difficult, especially as a sysadmin. You have a lot on your plate. You need to learn to manage all of it, or you are guaranteed to be on the road to burnout.