Quiet times – things to do when you’ve “got time”

One of the things that all sysadmins *LOVE* to be able to say is “It’s so quiet, I’m bored, there’s nothing to do”. In my organisation, the ‘Q’ word and the ‘B’ word are never to be mentioned. They will bring down the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing (kudos to those who get that quote, by the way) if they are ever mentioned because, in all honesty, a sysadmin can never be bored – there is no such thing as “nothing to do”.


First and foremost, if you’re sitting around doing sweet FA, you’ve got time to write something. Anything. Be it a one paragraph on that thing that broke that time and how to fix it, or a full page of information on a server, how it’s configured and it’s intricacies. If you’ve got time to do nothing, you’ve got time to fix up and write documentation. I’m big on documentation, purely because I don’t think it’s valued enough. This was pushed on me from my first employer, and our documentation base was a mass of information that was exceedingly useful and came in handy many a time. A new admin could come in, sit down, read for a while, and know what the servers were, what they did, and how to poke them in the nicest possible way to get them to do what you want them to do.

Anyone who says that documentation makes you irrelevant and can push you out of your job is either lying or stupid or both. The aim of a sysadmin is to script and document as much as possible so they can focus on the bigger things (see the last point – the “big jobs”). This isn’t doing you out of your job – this is making your job more interesting so that you’re not doing the same old boring crap over and over and over. Hire an offsider to follow your documentation and see how you go!

If you’ve got time to be reading this, you’ve got time to be doing documentation (unless you’re at home or on a break, in which case, you’re fine).

Password Management

How do you manage your passwords? Are they all in a spreadsheet saved somewhere? Do you have an Access database (shudder) with all your passwords in them. Whether you’re a lone admin or in a team of 20, being able to access your passwords easily but store them securely is a must. Why not start working on doing this right now? The current password system that we’re using is ‘KeePass‘ and it appears to be working well so far! Anything that helps you manage your passwords better is a good thing, especially if it means there’s more security around who has access to your passwords and how secure your passwords are!


Do you have monitoring set up? If not, why not (and jump down to the last part of this page to look at implementing it!)? If you do, are you checking it? If not, why not? When you’re sitting around with nothing to do, even checking those annoying yellow warnings, the things that aren’t too urgent and aren’t major, can be a massive help. It may even save your bacon in the future. Monitoring can be helpful in many ways, particularly when it comes to catching things that will become a problem in the future. If you can get alerted that a disk is filling up now, it’ll save you from getting a nasty phone call from someone complaining they can’t access something or save something because the disk is full a few days/weeks/months later.

Clean out your email

How many of us really clean out our email? How many of you have thousands of unread messages sitting in your inbox or other folders waiting to just be deleted but you never get around to it. Spend half an hour going through your inbox, cleaning it out and making it more productive. At the same time, set up some filtering rules so that your inbox isn’t flooded with emails that you really don’t care about (seriously, I don’t want an inbox alert just because AusCERT have sent out another security bulletin…). I promise you, having a tidy inbox is extremely helpful and makes you more productive because you don’t feel like you’r swamped under all that email that you haven’t read…that you were never going to read anyway!

Clean out your queue

This is for those of you who have job tracking? Wait, you don’t have job tracking? Then move onto the next point…

The rest of you who do have job tracking, go look at your queue. Are there things sitting there that you can close off? Close them. Are there jobs sitting there waiting for information from someone else? Chase it up. Don’t just leave it sitting there. Collecting jobs isn’t a good thing, it’s a really abd thing. It doesn’t make you look busy, it makes you look lazy. If I could manage it, my job queue would have ZERO things in it, but that’s just not possible. There are always big jobs that take ages, big projects you’re working on or just small niggling tasks that you’re working on that come in and out. But make sure you’re closing them off when they’re closed. And, for the love of all that is holy, don’t leave them open just because you’re waiting on a response back from the customer saying it’s all good! 90% of the time, the customer won’t tell you that it’s working, they’ll only complain when it’s not.

Once you’ve taken a look in your queue and you feel that there’s nothing more you can do, take a look in your colleagues queues (if you have colleagues and you’re not a one man band). If there are jobs sitting there that you can do, go ahead and do them – only if you’re not stepping on toes. If they’re right in the middle of working on something, don’t try and grab it off them. But if the job has been there for a few days and it’s an easy fix, I’m all for grabbing it and doing it. Leaving it sit there longer just makes the team look bad, doing it quickly makes the team look good.

Start those “big jobs”

If you’ve jumped down here for skipping the above, the first big job you need to set yourself is “Implement job tracking”. Seriously. Do it right now. I’ll wait…….Done?

This is about setting yourself those big jobs that you know you need to do but you just never get around to because putting out fires always gets in the way. Don’t have monitoring? Set yourself a job to set some up. Updates being applied in a haphazard and chaotic way? Set yourself a job to streamline your update process. A few other big jobs (taking from experience here) are to consolidate your domains, upgrade all your OS’s to be the latest, perform tasks to ensure your standards all meet their SOE/MOE. These are big tasks that can take a long time, but at least it gives you something to do when you feel like mentioned the “B” or “Q” words.

Trust me…the life of a sysadmin is never boring or quiet!

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