Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why your time is valuable

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Wasting time is more than just annoying.

Too many days go by where I feel that I accomplish nothing.

- I sit through or click through mandatory training and learn nothing
- I go to meetings or VTCs where nothing important is discussed, and no decisions are made
- I chair qualification boards where the candidate is obviously not ready, and ends up failing at the end
- I have to dig up instructions and justify actions that my sailors took that are 100% legal, but because someone doesn't want to approve it, it suddenly becomes my responsibility to prove that it's allowed

What I've learned is that too many people don't respect my time. These people act as leeches, slowly killing the hours in my day until suddenly it's 1700 at night and I'm still in the office with a mountain of paperwork to do. Then I can either leave for the day, or stay late (unlike the leeches, who are long gone) to ensure the work gets done correctly. Too often, I stay late.

I've got several things that kill my time, and I'm starting to actively develop ways to combat them that I'd like to share.

PROBLEM: MEETINGS

Meetings in general are good things. You bring people into a room, discuss problems, and find solutions. The problem is that too many meetings have no resolution: you bring people into a room, they argue, and everyone walks away with not change to the status quot.

SOLUTION: MANDATORY DECISIONS

- Require decisions to be made, and place that in the invite. For example, if you meet to discuss putting together a new qualification, put in the Outlook invite that the meeting will end with a decision as to who will draft, proofread, and validate the qualification, and by what date. That way, the meeting starts off with that objective.

PROBLEM: BOARDS

Qualification boards are a fact of life for the Navy. How many times have you sat on one where the candidate is obviously doing poorly, and won't pass? How often have you sat there for three-four miserable hours wanting it to end?

SOLUTION: HALFWAY DECISIONS

Structure your board such that you break at the halfway mark. Have the candidate step out, and the board members decide if the board should continue. This way, you don't immediately stop a board where the candidate may be struggling but just needs a chance to warm up, but you prevent an obviously terrible candidate from killing your entire afternoon. And, you work it into the plan, so you don't make a candidate nervous that you've stopped for a few minutes.

PROBLEM: PEOPLE NOT DOING THEIR JOB

Too many people don't want to do their job, and if you're required to go through them for something, you end up having to do it yourself.

SOLUTION: CHAIN OF COMMAND

Never be afraid to push issues up the chain of command. You should attempt to work things out at your level, but when you notice that it's taking too much of your time, it's probably time to let the chain of command know. They can likely solve it much quicker than you, which lets you go back to focusing on problems you can solve.

PROBLEM: THE PERPETUAL WHINER

Not to be confused with the sailor that actually has a problem and needs your help, the perpetual whiner doesn't want you to help solve problems. Rather, the perpetual whiner doesn't want to work, but doesn't want to be seen as lazy, so he walks over to your desk and distracts you. Constantly. For hours at a time. Even if he doesn't talk to you directly, he does things like turn up the TV in the office or purposely talk loudly to a neighboring coworker.

SOLUTION: TASKING, RULES, OR EXCUSES

- If the perpetual whiner works for you, then you need to dump tasking, and LOTS of it, on him or her. Someone can't possibly spend more than 5 minutes talking to you if they have too much to do, and especially if non-accomplishment causes him or her to have to stay late.
- If the perpetual whiner is a peer, you need to use peer pressure. Get your office to establish some rules, such as moving non-work conversations to the smoke pit or the kitchen. Keep scuttlebutt at...the scuttlebutt.
- If you work for the perpetual whiner, I feel sorry for you. Your best bet is to schedule something immediately after you have to meet with them, so that you have an excuse to leave promptly and not get sucked into useless conversation.

Maybe these seem crass, but the costs of wasted time are high:

- Sailors that don't feel like they contribute to the mission leave. While it may seem cool at first to not do much of anything and still get paid, most Sailors joined to contribute to something bigger than themselves, and when that goes unfulfilled, they get disgusted and quit.
- You burn out the Sailors that stay late to insist on finishing the mission. The time doesn't hurt them, but the fact that the Sailor realizes his or her time is spent unwisely leads to contempt for the Navy as a whole.
- Your Sailors are less combat ready. They could have been studying, preparing, or fixing small problems before they get larger. Instead, they show up less motivated, less ready for the mission, and not as ready for deployment.

Don't let wasting time kill your Sailors motivation. Stop time wasting wherever you find it!

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