So I am sitting here waiting for a progress bar to run (20 mins or so), and was wondering how best to use my time as a SysAdmin.

I debated not posting this question briefly, as this could get flagged as subjective, but I think it's an important question, and a question that can be legitimately answered (per the FAQ)

I know this something a lot of sys admins deal with, especially if they are client-based I would venture to guess. There is a lot of material out there about how to multi task, but SysAdmin work is unique in this area as well.

I could switch over to another project, but I could get wrapped up in that, and forget about the original project I was working on, and that's hard if you are billing a client for your time, both for tracking your time, as well as being fair to that client. I could check ServerFault, but that isn't directly work related, I could sort my email, so on and so forth.

What do you do, or what should I do when I have time waiting for a progress bar?



8 Answers 8


More seriously, document whatever it is I'm working on.

Especially now that I'm getting older, I find it more and more useful to have detailed notes of what I do. I'm always keeping step by step notes of what I've done.


Answer Questions on Serverfault.


Vote on questions on ServerFault.


Honestly, as I'm already over-worked and under-paid as it is, I consider the time taken to install something (or run a script, especially a forestprep script) as a freebie.

I sit back and relax and enjoy the fact that for the next 10 minutes I can take a breather, because I know that for the rest of my 10 hour workday it's going to go back to being hell.


I try to spend time waiting for computers to progress on learning.

I tend to read:

  • about new technologies
  • manuals/docs related to things I am currently working on
  • Sysadmin blogs to get an idea of trends
  • peoples posts on serverfault, there is lots of things here you can learn if you browse around

I think the biggest asset most sysadmins have is what they know. Effort you spend learning about new things will almost always make you more valuable.


This all comes down to multi-tasking and time management. Your computer can multi-task but can you? Some are better at this than others, so there is no correct answer.

I do not, and never have, just watch a progress bar for a lengthy operation. There is always something else to do. e.g.

  • Catch up on the latest tech news or browse a web site (e.g. this one)
  • Even better, check some logs. Automated systems should be verified by random log checks.
  • One task you might consider doing while that operation runs is documenting it. Nobody's documentation is so complete it can't be added to or improved.
  • Talk to your users. Unpleasant as that may sound, it's the best way to know what's happening in your world and will reveal problems you never even suspected.
  • Talk to your boss. (Even more unpleasant?) Find out what ideas are being floated that might impact on you or your job.

Think of better questions to ask?

  • I thought this was an awesome question. =)
    – Wesley
    Apr 8, 2010 at 21:23
  • 1
    @Wesley: A question is awesome, if and only if it contains a picture of a unicorn ;-) Apr 8, 2010 at 21:40
  • 1
    Awesome? Really? Waiting for progress bars is part of being a sys admin. Do we really need to find busy work to fill our time while waiting for progress bars? My work is judged on quality, not quantity.
    – joeqwerty
    Apr 8, 2010 at 23:15
  • 1
    No, I meant that it was great that someone was thinking about the nuances of systems administration enough to realize that not all tasks are fit to be worked on while waiting for a progress bar. All too often I would start on a task that was entirely too big for the amount of time that a progress bar took to complete. I usually ended up completely distracted from my original task. Reclaimed progress bar time could end world hunger and save kittens!! Or at least get a few of those annoying little to-dos off of your list. =)
    – Wesley
    Apr 9, 2010 at 3:14

Play on QuakeLive.com. No wait, I mean... my "friend" suggests that you play on QuakeLive.com.


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