Every great SysAdmin I know desires to be as efficient as possible so they can do less work. It's a wonderful combination of personality traits.
The more driven SysAdmins are, the more efficient they become. The end result is their boss looking at them and asking, "Why am I paying you to just sit around?"
This results in many SysAdmins getting looped into extra projects. You must fix things that aren’t your fault but are now your responsibility. This unplanned work can get in the way of their real job.
This is why SysAdmins need to consider a minimalist approach to their roles. Here’s a minimalist guide to system administration, including the work you need to be doing on a regular basis. You can use this guide to stay focused on your core duties when extra work undoubtedly comes your way.
This is simple: get them done.
There isn't a lot to say here, but as a SysAdmin, your number one job is to ensure that you can recover data. You can’t recover data without configured backups. Backups are an important part of any disaster recovery plan.
Whatever tool you are using for your backups must show the status of the backups. You don’t want to reach for a backup one day to discover that it’s not there.
I told you that your number one job is to recover data, right? And you are doing your backups, right? OK, quick question for you: how do you know you can restore those backups? Is there a way for you to verify that your backup can be restored?
Yes, there is one way. You test the restore.
That's right. The only way to know if your backup can be restored is to test a restore. It may not be practical for you to test restores every night, but you should be testing some and testing your backup recovery process on a regular basis. I’d vote for monthly tests of at least part of your systems.
Only Install What You Need
The math is easy to follow. Install fewer things and you have less to administer. This has an added benefit of reducing the surface area for an attacker. Your security team would appreciate the help.
These days it's easy to spin up VMs, or containers, and install lots of things. But just because you can, doesn't mean you should. A great example here is the use of Server Core, or any platform that uses a minimal amount of resources.
Only Alert When Necessary
If you've built rules to handle your alerts, you've already lost. Review your email alerts and split them into two groups: One group for alerts that need action, and one group for alerts that don’t. Then remove the alerts that do not need action.
Only alert for issues you must act upon immediately. Everything else is noise. You can log that noise for review later, as needed. If your alerts aren’t actionable then you’ll soon turn a deaf ear, and that’s not going to be good for anyone.
If you haven't been automating any of your processes, get started. As you get more and more servers shoved your way, you will find that automation will be your BFF.
Use whatever works best for you (the answer is PowerShell+.). Don't wait until you have too many servers to manage. If you have more than one server under your care, you should be automating things right now. Take one task, automate, and move on to the next.
The great thing about standards is that they allow you to determine what "normal" looks like. You should have standards for things like server images or database builds. Standard server configurations allow for easier troubleshooting. The more “vanilla” your environment, the better. You want to limit the number of "one-off" servers in your care.
This is also why automating is important. You need a set of scripts to verify if any particular instance is not adhering to a defined standard. If you are among the most dedicated and efficiency-driven SysAdmins, you will use Desired State Configuration for rolling back unwanted changes.
Moment of Zen
Any time you hear about "minimalist," it is usually accompanied with the word "Zen." There's something to be said for that with regards to working as a SysAdmin.
That's right—stay calm. Breathe deep. You don't know everything. You will always be learning on the job. Never panic, no matter what.
When everyone about you is losing their heads and potentially even blaming you, stay composed. They will need a calm, steady influence. Let that be you.
In your career as a SysAdmin, you are going to be subjected to a lot of stress by others. Don't let any negative energy become your burden.
It will serve you well to remember that life is an experience, and there is much for everyone to learn.