We often view ourselves as very efficient reliability implementers. Yet, as professional engineers, we take action to save time, accomplish more and reduce stress by applying better time-management skills. Being productive requires effort. Likewise, resourcefulness is needed to improve individual performance.
More important, we must do a better job of balancing our personal and professional lives; rest and relaxation from the harried duties from work is a positive. In all of our professional endeavors, we should strive to be better contributors instead of mere consumers.
Set realistic goals
Serious contributors often set daily goals. Why? Goals are important. Meeting daily goals provides a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to add value to our companies. Value-adders set and readjust their priorities every day. Many tasks require concentration and organization. Are your tools close at hand? A hammer is a tool, but so is a micrometer, a checklist or a good technical text.
Plan your day
If phone calls are necessary, strive to make them when you have the best chance of reaching your desired person. E-mailing your contact with a brief and complete message is a more time-efficient action. Likewise, send e-mails with written summaries to the appropriate distribution list for action.
Meetings. In planning meetings, keep them brief and stay on schedule. To improve everyones productivity, start on time and finish on time, and stick to the agenda. When attending a meeting, never miss out on the opportunity to say nothing. Repeating what has already been said, or what can be confirmed in a written summary, takes away valuable time from others.
Delegate when possible. Delegating tasks can accomplish more with the present staff and provide training opportunities. Also, it conveys to the team members that they are valued. Ask for buy-in from those to whom you delegate a task, and firmly determine a mutually acceptable delivery schedule.
Beware of paper shuffling
Productive professionals strive to handle a piece of paper only once. They resist the temptation of moving papers among temporary piles. For example, a freelance writer once spent eight weeks massaging a four-page article. The freelancers staccato work pace adversely affected the efficiency of others.
Divide and conquer onerous tasks. Some days appear to be an endless list of tasks that add more dread to your job and attitude. One solution is to compile a complete list of work and project items to be handled; put everything on the written list. As new tasks materialize or are assigned, add them to the list. Visually crossing off completed items or tasks definitely improves your mood and attitude as the things to be done are completed. Many professionals keep the to do list visually close by, such as on a computer screen. It is easier to stay on schedule with such queues refocusing the individual.
Set realistic priorities
Priorities are often an issue. Let your boss assist you in setting and resetting priorities. Break down large tasks into small segments; this will remove intimidation from the total endeavor, and provide attainable and achievable goals. Be realistic in timing task durations.
Of course, you can assign priorities to the tasks and activities according to importance. It is difficult to clearly distinguish between urgent and important. There may even be some off time within your day. This is the opportunity for reliability professionals to broaden their knowledge base. They can work on tool making, repair tasks or specification updates. It is an opportunity to develop technical articles and reports that will add value to others, or to scan some technical articles for later use.
Never procrastinate. Remember to manage your activities via their priorities on your task list. Stay in control and keep bosses informed of schedule changes. Task lists should be flexible. The objective is to maintain control so that the tasks accomplished each day are done by choice, and not by chance.
Maintain focus. Seasoned pros do not rush from job to job or worry about doing everything that they have listed. Time-management consultant Alan Lakein stresses that one rarely reaches the bottom of a to do list. He remindes his students that its not completing the list that counts, but making the best use of ones time. We should strive to accomplish the bulk of tasks that are truly important and warrant our skills. When possible, delegate the unfinished items to others or transfer the project to tomorrows list. Ask if finishing the job produces significant benefits. If not, it may not be a high-priority task.
What is urgent or important?
Some tasks yield better results than others. When looking over a list of duties, consider the results that each one will bring. True, at first glance, everything on the list seems urgent. Still, we should ask if urgent matters are always important, deserving a major time investment. Michael LeBoeuf, a professor of time management at the University of New Orleans, makes this observation: Important things are seldom urgent, and urgent things are seldom important. The urgency of fixing a flat tire when you are late for an appointment is much greater than remembering to pay your auto insurance premium, but its importance [the tire] is, in most cases, relatively small. Then he laments: Unfortunately, many of us spend our lives fighting fires under the tyranny of the urgent. The result is that we ignore the less urgent but more important things in life. Its a great effectiveness killer.
It is more rewarding to work at something that yields important results than it is simply to be busy at whatever activity is at hand. Try to direct your efforts to activities that result in true accomplishments.
A number of time-management experts believe that we can narrow the top-priority items down to about 20%. These experts cite, as a guide, the 80/20 rule. This principle was formulated by the 19th-century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto; it states that only about 20% of the causes produce about 80% of the results.
But how can the 80/20 rule be applied to your time management? Analyze the items on your to do list. Perhaps, you can be 80% more effective by accomplishing 2 out of the 10 items listed. If so, those two items are important on your list. Also, analyze a project before diving in. How much of it is truly important to your objective? What part of the job will produce the most significant results? This portion of the task is a priority.
Time-management consultant Dru Scott, after discussing Paretos principle, explains how to make it work for you. She says: Identify the vital ingredients necessary to achieve your objective. Do these things first. You will get the most results in the least amount of time.
Example. One refinerys statistics from the 1970s established that 7% of its 3,200 process pumps experienced a disproportionate share of pump outage events. Slightly over 60% of the money spent on pump maintenance was allocated on a chronic 7% pump population. These pumps were quite obviously problematic machines; they received more attention than the average refinery pumps.
Applying the discussed principles, what percentage of your days activities would you expect to categorize as top priority? Of course, that will depend upon your specific responsibilities.
Enjoy the benefits
Now, we can appreciate that being the master of your time is not a matter of being preoccupied with never wasting a minute or rushing from crisis to crisis. Rather, effective time management means selecting the appropriate task for the present conditions. It means discerning what activities yield the best results and then spending time on those tasks.
There are no fixed rules for personal organization. Remember: Be flexible, experiment and adapt. Discover what works best for you. By gaining better control of your time, you will find more sense of accomplishment each day. Although more will remain for tomorrow, there will be satisfaction in directing your efforts to the most important things. There is enough time to complete the tasks that matter. Do not be a victim of hectic circumstances; be the master of your time. HP
Heinz P. Bloch resides in Westminster, Colorado. His professional career began in 1962 and included long-term assignments as Exxon Chemicals regional machinery specialist for the US. He has authored over 500 publications, among them 18 comprehensive books on practical machinery management, failure analysis, failure avoidance, compressors, steam turbines, pumps, oil-mist lubrication and practical lubrication for industry. Mr. Bloch holds BS and MS degrees in mechanical engineering. He is an ASME Life Fellow and maintains registration as a Professional Engineer in New Jersey and Texas.