Among the most thought-provoking dramas that emerged from last week's terrorist attacks were the televised interviews with victims' families. In virtually every case, survivors encouraged the rest of us to make it clear to our families just how much we care for them. Many also said that they wished they could spend more time with their families. With these sentiments in mind, we've decided to devote this week's column to discussing some techniques that might let us spend less time working and more time with family. We're not encouraging slacking off or cutting out early; rather, we want to get the same work done in less time. After all, if everyone could accomplish in 35 hours what now takes 50, and if we then spent that extra time with our families, wouldn't the world be a better place? Here are five ways to spend less time working:

  • Try to automate everything. Computers are beautiful because they let us automate so many routine tasks. Unfortunately, few people—even IT people—take advantage of these capabilities. Start with something as simple as creating rules for incoming email. You can then try more complex methods to automate your daily tasks, including writing scripts to handle otherwise-tedious jobs. Such solutions require a good amount of work up front, but they invariably pay off in the long run.
  • Learn how to find answers quickly. In an article I wrote, The 60-Second Challenge, I said that you can probably find the answers to 90 percent of all questions in 60 seconds or less on the Internet. However, the one qualification is that you have to know where to look. Read through my article and work on sharpening your research skills so that you can find answers faster.
  • Study smarter. Learning is one of the most effective ways to help you work less. As an instructor, I was often able to show students simpler, more efficient ways of doing things--just one example of how studying, taking classes, and working toward certifications can help you to become more productive. It's also important to study smart. Rather than simply running down to the bookstore and picking up a few random study guides, take some time to research how others have passed their exams. For example, if you're studying for the Windows 2000 Professional exam (Exam 70-210), you can go to the MCSE Live! Web site ( http://www.mcselive.com/70210 ) and read some of the posts from others who are preparing for that exam. The hour or two that you spend reading through posts could save you many hours of studying the wrong topics or the wrong books.
  • Document your daily tasks. Documentation is important for many reasons. First, if anyone in your office leaves for any reason, you'll want to have documentation of that person's duties to help his or her replacement step into the new role. Without documentation, the transition might entail many unnecessary hours of training. Second, documentation makes it easier to delegate. If you've carefully documented your tasks, you can easily turn some of them over to someone else (e.g., a new intern) if the opportunity arises.
  • Practice preventive maintenance. It's much more efficient to plan for problems ahead of time than it is to try to recover from them after the fact. You can never thoroughly prepare for every contingency, but you can be ready for the several well-known problems that affect most networks (e.g., viruses). Keeping your antivirus software current is very important. The minimal time you spend making sure that your network is secure from viruses could save you dozens of hours later when you try to clean up after a virus has hit. Indeed, keeping your systems current is one of the most important things you can do as a network administrator. Tools such as Microsoft's Windows Update and resources such as security mailing lists are crucial. If you aggressively update drivers, patches, and service packs, you'll find that your network functions more smoothly and that you'll have more time to pursue other things.

An old adage says that on their deathbeds, people don't ever wish that they had spent more time at the office. Yet we all have to earn a living. By becoming more productive, you can earn a healthy salary and still have plenty of time to find balance in your life. In the wake of last week's tragedies, balance and family are things we should all keep in mind.