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Time Management for System Administrators by Thomas A. Limoncelli

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You Can Say "Go Away" Without Being a Jerk

When someone interrupts us, how do we tell him to go away without sounding like a jerk? The key is to acknowledge their request respectfully.

As discussed in the previous chapter, there are times when our job is to be the interrupt catcher, the person fielding interruptions so that other SAs can focus on projects. However, there are times when we are in designated "project time" and need to stay focused. What do we do when interrupted during those times?

First, it's important to understand what customers expect of us. Fundamentally, customers will be satisfied if they feel they have been acknowledged. You don't have to fix their problem for them to be acknowledged. They just need to feel that they've been heard and get confirmation that their request will be completed.

When someone stops by my office and asks me to do something that I'm going to put off until later, I make sure he feels acknowledged both verbally and visually. First, I say, "I understand your issue. Let me write it down so I don't forget it." Then I write down his request as he watches. I say what I write as I'm writing it. It usually sounds like, "[Person] needs [such and such] by [date]." Then I turn to him and ask, "Did I capture that right?" When he says "yes," it gives closure to the issue. Having achieved closure, he usually leaves on his own, if I don't ruin it by saying something to continue the conversation. I've found it best to say "Thank you," while giving a nod. ...

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