Maintenance Plans are a great way to get started with automating common maintenance tasks.
SQL Server Agent provides many features and services to make your life easier. Just creating a few simple backup jobs that notify operators will automate many normal tasks. If you wish to get fancy, go ahead, but do some planning first, especially when considering multiserver jobs.
The pager notifications and the related on-duty schedules can be used for regular e-mail or pagers. This is a good way to ensure that the correct people are being notified. If you are going to have many operators for alert notifications, consider creating e-mail groups, and offload some of the notification work to your e-mail server. Start small, and take your time. As you get more comfortable with Maintenance Plans and SQL Server Agent, you can spread your wings and fly.
In the next chapter you will learn about SQL Server Integration Services.