Help this department of 1 get things done
November 3, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

As a one-man IT department I'm beginning to have trouble juggling multiple projects along with the day to day stuff. What can I do to make this easier?

Searching along this topic yields tons of GTD advice along with plenty of software to help with project management. But a lot of stuff assumes different situations involving a team of people working on something or one person tracking individual tasks. My job is comprised of being Helpdesk day to day for all the small software/hardware/networking/setup issues that arise along with a growing list of short and long term projects. For the past 5 months I've been juggling things ok, but as the list of projects grows and I'm with the company longer I need to figure out a way to manage all of this without sinking.

What I do need is good advice on ways of managing short term and long term goals. I'm a geek so anything software related that will help me is welcome. What I don't need is overpriced packages of software or the advice to just keep a to-do list. That's not working at this point. I know this question is likely somewhere in the archives but I'm having a lot of trouble finding scenarios where 1 person manages an entire department with no "team" and needs to manage short and long term projects. Help?
posted by genial to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have an Access 2003 database I built when I was in your position, to manage projects and tasks. I'll share if you'd like a copy.
posted by notashroom at 8:08 AM on November 3, 2009

Best answer: I'm not sure if this obvious or not but you really need to dedicate time to your short and long term projects or the day-to-day reactionary stuff will choke out all of your available hours (or you end up only spending time working on the fun/interesting projects).

Depending on your self-control and disposition, this may mean being able to disappear from e-mail or IM for an hour or two at a time so that you can actually make progress. So in one case this might make sense for you to deploy some sort of self-service help desk request ticket entering system and an intranet/wiki/blog/etc. with standard fixes for things so that people don't feel like they have to contact you directly everytime something little comes up.

Also, btw, keeping good lists of what you are doing is a good way of justifying more staff at some point.
posted by mmascolino at 8:19 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

We use Jira ( in our shop to manage projects and tasks. It's a commercial project, but the cost starts at $10. By using to define project plans and scheduling and to track day-to-day tasks, we can see how much work we're doing, how much work we need to do, and we can use this information to justify requests for new staff or to explain why project deadlines need to be extended.

You could so something similar with RT (, although the reporting features aren't quite as nice.

In either case, the real requirement is having the self-discipline to use the tool (because if you do work you're not tracking, it's going to through off your schedule planning and you're going to feel overworked without any evidence of progress).
posted by larsks at 8:30 AM on November 3, 2009

I'm in a similar position, only at a school. I use a Mac for work, and my solution is to use the Stickies program.

Whenever a new problem arises, I create a new sticky asap and assign a color depending on what it is. Yellow for general IT stuff, pink for do it NOW, Grey for things to buy, blue for database, and purple for long-term. As I work on a project, In continually add new information to my stickies. I've used a number of products and ideas in the past, and I primarily use Stickies for one reason: simplicity. Stickies is a low resource program than is always there. When there's a higher barrier of entry, such as having to constantly open and close 3rd party resource-intensive programs, I'm much less apt to keep up with it.

I should note I don't necessarily maintain my projects in stickies. Rather, I use it to jot down quick notes while working on them, and I can later transfer them to a more long-term document. So for instance, when I have to replace laptops and image them, I quickly jot down in stickies what imaging needs to be done and what was wrong with the laptop. After I've finished and redeployed, it's at that point I update the inventory database and can delete the sticky.
posted by jmd82 at 8:43 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My problem when I was in your shoes was managing constant interruptions, which was destroying my productivity.

A good solution is to set aside times when you should not be bothered or will not answer emails and communicate it effectively to your users and the people above you. Naturally, enforcing this will be really hard to manage, but it's worthwhile to keep firm. For instance, set aside the morning for long term projects, when your thinking is clearest, and the afternoon for dealing with any petty issues and sudden high priority requests.

Keeping track of what you spend your time on, as suggested above, is also pretty good.

However, if you're finding yourself overwhelmed with work you might want to get your company to think about it's Hit-By-A-Bus recovery plan and consider hiring a junior or someone part time.
posted by pmv at 9:11 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Time Management for System Administrators by Tom Limoncelli.
posted by ellenaim at 9:15 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to tracking the status of your many projects (as others have noted) you need to make time to get your things done, too.

What I have done was to schedule time outside of normal work hours to get projects done. So, I'll come on in a Saturday morning and do some work and then get to knock off early on Friday to compensate. A nice side effect is that you can reboot servers or bounce switches without disrupting people's work.

At a different job, I set up my schedule to come in two hours before the business opened and got my stuff done then. The downside is that it is very easy to sucked into staying late and giving away free overtime.

There are other ideas, but you get the gist. Setting aside infrastructure time is a critical part of IT management. I find it works best if it is a fixed schedule, but YMMV.

One other thing you didn't mention, but I want to make sure doesn't get missed - make sure your superiors and other managers are involved in what is happening. Have a fixed 30-60 minute meeting every week to discuss what is happening and what needs attended to. This will help keep others involved in your workload and keep things from dropping off your radar, and will help your prioritize your task list according to what your customer base thinks is important.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:31 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I use Bugzilla for keeping track of issues/bugs/requests. It's free/open source, allows email notifications, people can log their own issues, and allows you to prioritize, and set severity levels.

It might take a bit of getting used to setup, but I'm really really happy with it.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:02 AM on November 3, 2009

The biggest thing I learned was to always be helpful if possible but learn to say no politely and firmly when required. "I'm sorry, I'm up to my ears in work right now but maybe I could come and see you tomorrow?" "There really doesn't seem to be a solution to that one. Sorry, I looked long and hard but we're stuck with it." I mention this because if you're finding you cannot manage your list of tasks, maybe it's because you simply have too many tasks and you need to work out how to trim them. Sooner or later, you will have to do this, because the jobs will just keep coming.

Also, if you feel you are sinking, drop clues to your managers: "I'm coping now but mid-term we might want to look at hiring a part-timer to help out." Always wrap the larger goal (full-time permanent colleague) up in smaller ones -- part-timer, someone to come in for four weeks to cope with a high workload, etc. Once your managers are used to that idea, you can push the situation to the next stage. (Doing help-desk and development or project management is damn near impossible: you want to get someone else for that help-desk thing asap. I have quit jobs over this issue.)

Finally, make sure you tell your managers just how damn well you are doing. You have to learn to blow your own trumpet in this game or people will assume the miracles you do every single day are just routine, and not miracles at all. Write a monthly or weekly report, and *brag* a bit. Do that properly and it will increase your reputation and make it easier to get someone else in when you need to, because they will want to keep you, their miracle worker.

This is something of an aside, given your caveat about not suggesting keeping a to-do list, but it might help so I include it on a take-it-or-leave-it basis:

For actual task management, I do something similar to jmd82, but old skool. If I go to a meeting, I take notes on an index card then put that note at the top of my notice-board (using a drawing pin). If I have a project, I write out the steps required on another index card and pin that to the board. Any paperwork generated (eg, purchase orders, quotations from suppliers) gets pinned to the board below the relevant card. When I complete a step, I cross it off the card. It helps to have everything visible in one "eye-ful" rather than on-screen. It also scales across a small team quite well: I work with one other techie and he has full visibility on the work we are doing, no confusion or doubt for either of us. YMMV.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 10:41 AM on November 3, 2009

Seconding larsks, I came in to recommend Jira or RT.
posted by nicwolff at 11:39 AM on November 3, 2009

Establish business processes before thinking about software.
Manage your managers.
The business should tell you what projects they want completed this quarter. Manage to that list.
Why are there so many help desk requests ?
Schedule a monthly network maintenance evening.
posted by llc at 12:00 PM on November 3, 2009

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