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
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
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
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
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