Have you ever felt overwhelmed with too much to do? I imagine most of us have struggled with time management at one time or another. There are just too many things on our plate, and they never go away.
Some may attribute this burden to their life, or perhaps they are inefficient time managers, or something else. Regardless, I doubt many enjoy the feeling or the situation.
If only we could walk across the bridge to self improvement and be enlightened.
As a young engineer with ALCOA, I was assigned the general plant engineer job at the plant. It was challenging job to say the least. What made it most challenging was that there were 6 department superintendents at our facility. All six of these people were trying to get ahead by impressing the plant manager. They accomplished this by being good at their jobs, just like everyone else. Unfortunately, part of this required them to have general plant projects completed. This meant that they were always hounding the general plant engineer to get their projects done. I set about prioritizing and when I went to everyone involved, they all agreed on the priorities but also all reminded me that regardless of where their project fell on the list, theirs was to be my top priority.
Eager to please and do well, I tried as best as I could to deal with this, but having six number one priorities made life difficult. There didn’t seem to be any way to convince everyone that there couldn’t be six number one priorities. As a result, I was struggling. It seemed that work was coming from everywhere, and I was sinking.
About this time, the plant had some consultants in to help with leadership issues. I believe the consultants were from LIOS (Leadership Institute Of Seattle). I was invited to a session that ended up helping me immensely. In this session, one of the instructors introduced a short fable entitled “The Bridge” by Edwin Friedman. It ended up clarifying my dilemma and helping me through a tough situation. I included a link to that story which you might want to read it first, and then come back and finish here. It is short and only takes 5 minutes to read
A summary of the story is that someone struggles in life finding their way. They finally decide what they want to do and set off to do it. Along the way, someone gives them a task that they didn’t want or ask for but are now stuck with. There doesn’t seem to be any way out of the predicament for our traveler because of this consequence. A tough decision must be made and this person finally does.
It turns out that without my realizing it, I was being handed tasks that I didn’t want or ask for and didn’t realize what was happening. I would just accept them and head back to the office with more to do. After reading this fable, it finally occurred to me why I got so many “rope burns” (read the story for the analogy).
Understanding the situation changed the way I dealt with things. For instance, the day after reading the story, I was in a departmental office and someone came up to me and shoved papers in my face. The previous day I would have taken them, looked at them and ended up taking them back to the office. That day I looked at them with my hands behind my back and commented about them – but never touched them. I didn’t get any rope burns that day, because I didn’t end up with any tasks that weren’t mine!
You might be wondering what this has to do with Reliability. Since reliability is all about eliminating failures, we also must identify personal failures and issues that need to be dealt with. By fixing this personal issue, it enabled me to get ahead of the game and focus more on fixing the problems within my facility.
I may be the only one who has had this type of problem, but if not, and it helps prevent someone from getting rope burns at work, then I’ve accomplished my goal. Remember that sometimes we have to walk across the bridge to self improvement to help eliminate failures.
They don’t teach you these kinds of things in Engineering School
I didn’t have 10 years of experience in my first year out of school
Find a mentor at work that can help with the “people side” of engineering, or those things that aren’t taught
It’s OK to say, “I don’t know” and do something about it.
It’s not OK to say, “I don’t know” and do nothing
Call to Action
I’d be curious to know if anyone who reads this has had a similar situation? Please send me a note if you have.Ask a question or send along a comment. Please login to view and use the contact form.