MRO Magazine

Drowning in work?

Imagine this frightening experience: You're sailing on a huge lake or even the ocean. Suddenly you realize that the base of the craft is leaking. After the initial shock and fear wear off, you realize...


February 1, 2002
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Imagine this frightening experience: You’re sailing on a huge lake or even the ocean. Suddenly you realize that the base of the craft is leaking. After the initial shock and fear wear off, you realize that only quick wit, endurance and attention to detail can get you safely back to shore.

You’ve probably never found yourself in this situation. But you probably have been stranded on the job. You’ve been caught up in an endless flurry of activity, been panicked by equipment breakdowns, faced next-to-impossible deadlines, and felt as if you were drowning in paper, projects and details.

So the next time you’re wondering how to remain above the fray and get safely back to the metaphorical shore, remember this simple process:

1. Get the buckets and oars out. When you get behind at work, your first objective is to get out the tools that will help you remain organized and safe. These might include a calendar, a clear to-do list, scheduling software, and other organizational aids.

2. Aim for the shore. Look around: In which direction do you need to paddle? In practical terms, what are your priorities? What is most urgent? Once you answer these questions, you’re ready to start mapping your trek to safety.

3. Keep your strength up. Just as bailing water in the middle of the ocean is exhausting work, so is getting yourself out of an avalanche of projects. One of the best ways to keep your strength up is to give yourself mini-vacations — an hour for lunch or exercise, and sufficient sleep at night.

4. Jettison the junk. One of your first actions at sea will be to get rid of excess weight — fast. Do the same thing at work. Be brutal. Whatever is not essential — carefree reading, low-priority reports, irrelevant questions, junk mail — toss it.

5. Keep the water out of the boat. That’s the most important rule when you’re bailing water on the sea. When you’re bailing out details in the workplace, focus your attention on whatever is causing you grief. Keep your urgent tasks in front of you. Handle the most important priorities at your peak moments, those times of day when you have the most energy. At first you may feel that progress is not forthcoming, but keep at it and the journey’s end will eventually come into sight.

6. Paddle. If you’re stuck in the water, you’ve got to paddle consistently and hard in order to reach the shore. If you’re stuck in the plant, you’ve got to work with determination and confidence to get the backlog cleared up. And you need to practice some habits: Set clear start and stop times. Avoid interruptions. Concentrate on one issue at a time. Maintain a sense of personal organization.

7. Stay ahead of the game. Seafaring experts say that the best way to ensure your safety is to stay on top of your duties. The same is true in the factory. Use scheduling software to keep abreast of dates, tasks and deadlines. Use project management or CMMS software to plot the sequence of tasks you need to accomplish. Be sure your filing system is ordered and logical, and that you can retrieve important papers, work orders and reports. Paddling and bailing, remember, becomes much easier when you stay on top of things.

8. Get the motor going. When you’re at sea, you’ll eventually be able to turn your attention to the motor. The same holds true in the workplace. Your “motor” might consist of consolidation of duplicate tasks, procedures to streamline things, or new control systems.

9. Ask for help. If you’re stranded at sea, you’ll ask for help from the crew of the first boat that comes into sight. At work, ask for help from a colleague or other staff, or even from a customer who has learned how to solve problems through the school of hard knocks.

10. Plug leaks. Once you see the shore, turn your attention to the leaks themselves. How did you become immersed in all those problems in the first place? Did inappropriate projects come your way? Are responsibilities improperly assigned? Are you suffering from an absence of clear procedures for handling issues? Do you need a network of people to help you with future problems? Begin to address these underlying issues.

In this fast-paced day and age, almost everyone is faced with problems that at first blush seem overwhelming. However overwhelming a series of tasks might seem to you, you won’t drown — if you approach them intelligently and systematically. Go through one of these near-drowning experiences and you might even experience an upside: you’ll discover that you have an ability to manage similarly difficult problems in the future.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.