On being nibbled to death by moths

August 22, 2005

Last Friday I used the phrase 'being nibbled to death by moths' to describe part of my day. I suppose I should elaborate on that, lest people think that Toronto has some really peculiar insects.

This is my way of summing up all of the routine five and ten and twenty minute bits of system administrator work that come up throughout the day. Reading a stream of email, making sure the backups completed, checking the logs, monitoring incoming spam streams, checking for important tech news (like security updates), talking with a co-worker about some pending issue, and before I realize it a great deal of the day has vanished.

Each individual bite is no big deal, but the entire cloud can nibble my day down to nothing before I realize it.

Sometimes there's nothing more important to do with the day than deal with all of the little things, but sometimes I realize that I've lost those solid, continuous hours of development time that I really needed to get something straightened out. Last Friday was one of the sort of days that was especially susceptible to it, because there were seductive pauses in my work while I waited for test reinstalls to complete; it was easy to get diverted more than I had intended.

This isn't a novel problem, especially for software developers. The routine advice for anyone doing software development is that you need several hours where you are 'in the flow' of programming in order to hit maximum productivity. The problem for me in system administration is that, unlike many software developers, dealing with the moths is a necessary part of my job too, and some of them need to be dealt with promptly.

I don't have any clever solutions, although I wish I did. Perhaps I should get more brutal about blocking off several hours in which I will refuse to be disturbed by anything short of someone calling me on the phone.

Written on 22 August 2005.
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Last modified: Mon Aug 22 23:53:06 2005
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