Time Management: Responsibilities, Distractions, and Leeches
I often find myself wondering how we select who writes textbooks and what goes in them. The more time I get on the job, the more I realize our occupation leaves out some pretty major things in its curriculum. Whether it is professional development, strategy and tactics, or fire suppression there is a constant “this is how we do it for the test, not on the job” issue in many training programs. I feel this mentality is what causes us to skip or breeze over certain things. One topic I don’t remember being taught in any fire officer class was time management. If it is in there, I can assure you they don’t spend enough time on it because I don’t recall it. How ironic!
While this article will not touch on the education debate, I will say that having a college education does help with time management. You have to organize your assignments and determine how long it will take you to complete them. College is where I learned I am a procrastinator, which is not necessarily a good thing. However, I did learn I do some of my best work with a looming deadline which has helped me complete my responsibilities while riding in the seat. Just another part of my college education which I found helpful as I moved up in rank.
If you are anything like me you spent a lot of time thinking about what you would do whenever you earned a position supervising a company. However, one thing you probably gave little or no thought to is managing your time once you achieve a position as a company officer. If you had descent role models or some sort of professional development then you may have half a clue of what to do your first day in your new role. If you had crappy bosses and were forced to figure out most things on your own then you will likely show up to your new assignment like the first day of kindergarten; scared and confused. Although many are quick to forget, promotions generally require additional responsibilities rather than fewer. These additional responsibilities require reassessing your daily routine. Furthermore, let me be the bearer of bad news and inform you that there will be all kinds of things which will take up your time. Many will not be very productive or have nothing to do with your responsibilities as the company officer.
First and foremost you have to understand the responsibilities of your new position. Do you have additional equipment to check in your new riding position? Has your morning turnover procedure changed? Are there new systems or files to check and fill out each morning? Do you have to report your personnel and unit status to a battalion chief or communications center? Are you responsible for creating training sessions? What is the status of your subordinate’s evaluations? Do you have to approve time off or other staffing procedures? Are there lists of long term projects, inspections, or maintenance to work on? These few things are the tip of the spear as far as daily functions the company officer is responsible for. Now work in company training, emergency responses, incident reports, etc. and you can see how the list of things to be done compiles quickly. These new responsibilities can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you were not afforded any type of training or development prior to becoming a company officer.
The key to dealing with all of these responsibilities is managing your time. While it will likely take a few shifts, you will eventually fall into a routine just as you did as a firefighter and/or apparatus operator. Focus on completing the daily tasks first and then try to make a tentative schedule for completing long term responsibilities such as evaluations and inspections. Obviously things come up and we have to answer calls as well, so don’t be disheartened when your schedule doesn’t work out exactly as planned. One strategy I have found which works well for me is to make a plan for the following shift in the evening before I go to bed. I take this opportunity to review what was accomplished during the current shift, ensure all my reports are filed appropriately, and identify what was not accomplished and will need to be moved to another shift. From there I make a tentative list of what needs to be done on our next tour. Another tactic I have found helpful is saving report templates on a USB drive. For repetitive types of training such as inspections, driver training, apparatus maintenance, etc. this will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend writing training reports.
Once you have finally found your groove you will find that distractions will surely ruin it. Distractions take on many forms from cell phones to senior officers. The key to distractions is identifying them and developing a strategy to deal with them. Cell phones are a double edged sword for the company officer. I use mine to communicate with my apparatus operator in the morning while I complete my morning tasks. This way he can keep me informed of deficiencies without us having to meet face to face for each one. The problem is you can easily get distracted by Facebook, games, and other applications. You will have to figure out your own way to manage cell phone usage. Another distraction is random requests from outside sources. The Battalion Chief may call up with some short notice assignment or training session. The senior officer of your station may decide their plan for the day is more important than yours. An off duty or former member may stop by for a visit. You may have issues between crew members which need to be addressed. The public may drop by for an impromptu station tour. You will even have days where you are simply not as motivated. None of these situations is necessarily negative, but will still impact how you complete your tasks for the day. Regardless of the cause, you have to find a way to mitigate these distractions just as you would on an incident scene. Control the distractions you can and learn to accommodate the ones you cannot.
One of the most potent enemies of time management is what I refer to as “leeches”. They can be anyone from your junior member to the Chief of the Department. I call them leeches because they will approach you with a request for assistance completing one of their tasks. However, the term assistance is just a disguise and what they are really doing is pushing their responsibilities off on you. At face value someone asks you to help complete a task or project. Next thing you know everyone else is hanging out and you are the only one working on the project. The new company officer will likely continue on as they are trying to fit in and remain “part of the crew”. Additionally, a newly promoted company officer can be extremely intimidated to say no as they don’t want anyone thinking poorly of them in their new role. This is a serious issue for new company officers who have senior men and senior officers who are not motivated. Remember, sometimes you just have to say no. It is better to decline additional tasks or duties than accept them knowing you cannot complete them along with your other responsibilities.
Finally, learn when to delegate tasks to other members of your crew. Contrary to what some believe, it is not practical for the company officer to complete every task without assistance. While some responsibilities will be yours and yours alone, there are plenty of other tasks which can be delegated. Station chores, apparatus maintenance, even training duties depending on the experience level of your crew can be appropriate tasks for delegation to subordinates. Delegation is a wonderful tool for professional development and to observe their strengths and weaknesses. It can also be a source of pride and accomplishment for your subordinates as they are tasked with taking the point on an assignment. Delegation does not make the company officer look weak when used appropriately, but rather it makes him looks smart. Just be careful to avoid delegating officer level tasks to your subordinates. Doing so makes you a leech as well as provides the perception that you cannot handle them yourself.
Time management will be crucial to ensuring the company officer completes his new responsibilities. Learn how to minimize your distractions and steer clear of time leeches. Fight the urge to bite off more than you can chew and learn how to say no when appropriate. Utilize delegation whenever appropriate which will free up a little time as well as help develop your subordinates. There will be times where you will have to respectfully excuse your crew, reorganize you game plan for the day, or change your plan completely to accomplish the most important tasks. A little thought and planning will help you find your stride much sooner, allowing you to focus your time in the most efficient manner.