Unix: 15 things to do better in 2015

do better us army africa
Credit: flickr / US Army Africa

2014 drawing to a close presents us all with an opportunity to consider what we might do better in the year to come. And, hint hint, it's not all about working harder.

I've had a deeply sad and extremely happy 2014. I've also worked 60 hours a week or more and spent quite a bit of time thinking about those things that I didn't do very well at all. Fortunately, the start of a new year is always easy to peg as an opportunity to change the way I work and live. Here are my thoughts on what likely many of us can do better in 2015.

1) Put more of your effort into the things that really pay off. The 80-20 rule (20% of your efforts result in 80% of your reward) applies to so many areas of our lives. Identify some of those areas that pay off and put more of your effort there. Also, find ways to get through the more mundane of your daily work chores quickly and efficiently. Remember that tiny tasks take a lot more time if you have to repeatedly remind yourself that they're waiting to be done. Get them out of the way and you can focus better on the tasks that really matter.

2) Do a better job of documenting your work -- especially anything that is critical to your company/organization or complicated. I've been surprised at how much time it takes to reacquaint myself with some of the more complicated scripts I wrote years ago or rediscover how a process involving several systems sharing and reformatting data works. My new goal is to make my documentation considerably more formal. For example, I will consistently put data samples in my Perl scripts so that it's easier to understand why the processing proceeds the way it does.

3) Do a better job of selling yourself on the job. If you don't do a little PR on your own behalf, you shouldn't be surprised if no one's raving about the good work you're doing. This isn't easy for me as I'm still something of a recovering introvert, but that's all the more reason to toot my own horn from time to time. If I don't, I'm not going to be part of anyone's organizational symphony.

4) Take the time to maintain professional contacts outside of work. They can be very valuable and can provide an independent (of your employer) assessment of your technical worth. Often, my external professional contacts provide perspectives that are different than those of my coworkers. At other times, they turn me onto interesting tools or professional opportunities that motivate me to pick up some new skills.

5) Join a professional organization and go to some interesting conferences. They can help you get up to speed on important developments in your areas of interest. You may learn about new tools or ways of approaching tasks that you had never considered.

6) Consider giving back to your profession -- maybe by mentoring someone new in your field, speaking at a conference, or being active in a local computer club (e.g., at a nearby high school).

7) Speaking of new skills, make a point of learning something new -- maybe a new scripting language or a tool that can augment the work that you do. Whatever you choose, consider spending a little time every day to become adept at its use.

8) Do a better job of avoiding those big mistakes. Whenever you're going to make a significant change of any kind on a system that you manage, devote yourself to a regimen of planning how you're going to accomplish it, specifying a fail-proof back-out in case it doesn't work as expected, and verifying that the change was fully successful before you consider starting it, getting it done, or moving on. Keep in mind that working right for you doesn't necessarily mean working right for everyone. Once this year, I thought a task was complete because I could log into the system and everything looked right. What I found out the next morning, however, was that no one but me could log in. Oops! Maybe a second perspective or use of less privileged account would help avoid problems like this. I now have a long series of things that I require myself to verify every time I make a change to one of these servers.

9) Take the time to get personal with some of your coworkers. After all. they're people too. Often, just a little friendliness above and beyond the job can make working together much easier and more rewarding.

10) Avoid of the office politics as much as is practical. Sure you need to get some attention from the people who play a role in determining how far you go, but don't sink to belittling your coworkers. Whenever I hear someone complaining that another team member is lazy or not buckling down to his/her authority, I worry that egos are getting in the way of real work getting done.

11) Value your coworkers' time. Never be the last to show up to a meeting. Don't make anyone wait on you and don't ask anyone to do something for you if the results won't be of value.

12) Adopt a keen focus on the security aspects of everything you do. The threats worsen every year. Whenever you do something, ask yourself how someone might circumvent the controls you put in place. My focus on access governance has helped me to see how easy it is to lose control of how much access each individual in an organization might have, how easily service accounts can be overlooked or forgotten. Be methodical about the accounts you support as well as applying patches and testing.

13) Clean your office now and then. Whenever I de-clutter my work space, I'm amazed at how much more energy and focus I seem to have. I've actually sometimes looked forward to getting to work, largely because my workspace was comfortable. It's worth the time it takes to get to a clean desktop.

14) Get up and move around periodically. I used to envy the guys in my office that went outside from time to time for a smoking break. Why not a non-smoking break? How about going outside and standing in the sunshine for 5 minutes, breathing deeply, watching the birds for a few minutes or trying to find faces in the clouds? A touch of sunshine and a little fresh air can work wonders on your mood. We are not machines even if our work sometimes makes us feel as though we are. Honor that fact.

15) Never forget that you are not your job. Over-identifying with your work can leave you feeling stranded if the floor ever falls out from underneath you -- if you are fired, get beaten out for a promotion, or just feel stagnated. Tie your self-esteem to more than one piling and you'll likely never be washed out to sea.

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