When it comes to the data that we work with every day, compression is a powerful tool. No matter the space (be it storage or streaming), crushing these ones and zeros into the smallest possible chunks gives us a higher level of efficiency when it comes to accomplishing our goals and being good stewards of the resources that we have available.
The caveat to this practice is that we as system administrators do not respond in kind to the same treatment. The stresses of the job can and will weigh us down with crushing force. Most sysadmin positions require close attention to multiple systems, while also meeting tight deadlines for implementation, and for many, the ever-present "24/7 on-call" expectation. It is easy to feel the heat from these types of obligations.
Here are five ways that I have found to shake the stress and start each week with a fresh perspective.
Stop to drink your coffee
This is a simple rule that I developed during my time in the Navy. I was a part of a rather small team that was charged with important tasking. The call to perform our duties could come at any time of the day or night (these concepts don’t really exist on a submarine). That being said, it was completely normal to be up for 24 hours and asked to complete tasking during your assigned downtime.
This situation was a clear recipe for sailors to be on a razor's edge during operations. I found that stopping my work and making a fresh cup of coffee was incredibly beneficial to my general disposition. The key to this ritual was to enjoy that coffee away from my workspace. I would go into the upper level of the missile compartment and sit on a workbench for ten(ish) minutes just to clear my head. There isn’t much solace to be had on a submarine, or in a lot of office spaces, but it is there if you know where to look.
Get some air
This practice is something that I have not been the best at over the last two years. However, since my move to Red Hat, I have tried to get outside at least twice a day for ten minutes or so. Some companies provide spaces for employees to decompress, be it over lunch, or just to take your work outside for the day. These spaces may be gardens, patios, large balconies, or rooftops. Many of us don’t realize how nice a bit of fresh air is in the middle of the day. Trust me, "shooting the breeze" in the breeze beats out the water cooler social every time.
I know, this is more of a cringe-worthy cultural reference at this point, but there is something to be said for rewarding yourself. I find it easier to maintain a positive outlook throughout the week if I know that I have exciting plans for the weekend. Whether it's trying a new downtown restaurant or getting to the golf course, these kinds of activities are easily accessible in most cities and will give you the light needed at the end of your weekly tunnel.
Disconnect in order to reconnect
This option is not available to all sysadmins. As I said in the opening of this article, there are a number of us who are on call around the clock. For those of you who are always connected... sorry. For the rest of us, it can be relaxing and refreshing to turn off all work-related push notifications. No emails, no team chats.
The weekends are your time to give back to yourself and to your family. Put down the phone or the laptop and connect with your spouse or your kids. Go for a walk or share a meal with no electronics to distract you from the people around you. Not only will this practice help you separate work from your personal life, but it will also give people a chance to be around the real you.
Use your PTO, you earned it
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be afraid to take some paid time off. A short trip on a long weekend can be amazing for helping to reset the breakers. Most cities and towns are besieged by other interesting places within a couple of hours' drive time. For me, one of my favorite places to go is to the mountains of Asheville, NC, or to one of the many beaches within two to three hours of Raleigh, NC A quick getaway with the spouse or significant other is normally just the thing to help me leave the stresses of work behind and come back on a Tuesday. Not only am I refreshed, but its also a short week.
These are just a few suggestions to easily "decompress" from all of the responsibility that we sign up for as sysadmins. This field can be demanding to work in. However, if we take the initiative to take care of ourselves, it can also be rewarding. In almost every case, companies are better off when the people that they rely on for productivity are in good physical and mental shape. So get up, step away from the desk, and go do something for you.