Presidential Productivity: Time Management – a core competency in health and safety

In this blog post I would like to talk about time management. I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while, but never seemed to be able to get round to it (the irony!)

Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the USA to whom this time management model is often attributed
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the USA to whom this time management model is often attributed

Many of the delegates I meet when I’m delivering health and safety courses have the responsibility of managing health and safety included in with all of their other management responsibilities, such as finance, human resources, operations, research and development, sales and marketing etc. Health and safety is another ‘plate’ they need to keep ‘spinning’. They are not in the position of being able to devote all of their time to health and safety matters in the way that a full-time Health and Safety Manager might.

To be successful in these circumstances, it is necessary to prioritise. You need to ensure you are doing the right things, at the right time. What I’m going to outline is a model that will help you to achieve that. The model is often attributed to Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the USA. It can be used to prioritise many areas or your work and life. I’ll outline how it can be used to prioritise different areas of life in general and then I’ll go on to suggest how the method can be used to prioritise some common health and safety tasks.

Taking a step back

The technique involves looking at all the stuff you have on your plate, and deciding which one of four areas it belongs in, according to it urgency and importance. Each of the four areas has a different management strategy.

Health and Safety and Time Management
Many managers have the responsibility of managing health and safety included in with all of their other responsibilities.

Urgent and Important.

These would be issues that push everything else into the background. The way to handle this stuff is to ‘do it now’. Examples of these issues would be:

  • A family member is taken ill.
  • You are involved in a road traffic accident.
  • The bathroom ceiling has fallen in.

Hopefully, these types of issues rarely happen but when they do, you need to be in a position where you can deal with them as best you can.

Not urgent, but important.

This is the stuff that you know is important, and you keep telling yourself that you will get round to it one day, but you never do. This is because these issues are not urgent. They don’t scream for attention like some of the other, less important things. They are insidious, and that’s why they are dangerous, sometimes with really sad and tragic consequences. Some examples:

  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Repairing/nurturing important relationships

This is the area where you need to be pro-active. If you don’t spend time addressing these deeper issues, they are either going to bite you on the back-side one day, or even worse you’ll look back on life with regret. Ask  yourself; can you imagine looking back on your life when you’re on your death-bed and wishing you had spent more time at the office? Didn’t think so! Schedule some time on a regular basis and see to these issues. Protect that time.

Urgent, but not important.

This is the spade- work. If you are manager and have staff under you: utilise their skills. Energy and enthusiasm! They need the experience and you need to be focussing on other areas. Life in general seems to have an abundance of these issues. Some examples:

  • Paying bills in person, by cheque or snail-mail
  • Accepting deliveries
  • Some kinds of housework (my wife would disagree!)

Neither urgent nor important.

Some examples:

  • TV re-runs
  • Junk email
  • Social media

Look to eliminate this stuff, or reduce it to as low as is reasonably practicable (ALARP) J. Watching TV to relax at the end of the day might be one of the ways you relax and unwind. That’s one thing. Watching endless re-runs of Top Gear, is another.

Applying the principles

Now that we’ve looked at the model in the context of life in general, let’s use it to prioritise some health and safety tasks that might be expected of a mid-level manager…

1   Ensuring competence of staffConsultation with staffKeeping abreast of H&S developments

Decide when to do it, but DO IT!

2   Investigating incidentsDealing with emergenciesComplying with enforcement notices

Do it now, but seek to minimise future occurrences (by spending more time on area 1 tasks.

4   Assessing insignificant risksDuplicating H&S informationImplementing incorrect H&S controls

Delegate it. Free up your time for higher-level tasks and develop your staff at the same time. Hint: this will BACKFIRE if you neglect area 1 tasks!

3   Completing incident report formsCarrying out risk assessmentsWorkplace inspections (& other proactive monitoring)

If things are working as they should, this area will shrink on its own, and then disappear for good 🙂

The above is only offered as an example. Each workplace is different with different people and different management styles. But I would encourage you to try the approach to see if it could work for you, especially if you’ve been feeling as though you’re swimming through treacle when trying to get through your work tasks!

In summary…

If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, spinning your wheels, or you’re frazzled and exhausted, lurching from one crisis to the next, you need to look at how you’re prioritising your time. Look to spend the majority of it in area 1. [Not Urgent, but Important]. Be proactive. Once you start to tackle the area 1 issues, you will find that all the other areas will reduce in size. You will be ahead of the curve and in control. You’ll begin to find that you start working and living much more purposefully, on your own terms, rather than being in a reactive state, responding to events and circumstances as they happen, or marching to the beat of someone else’s drum.

As always, it would be great to hear your 2 pence in the comments below.

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