When it comes to time management, the machine shop has an advantage over you and me. A shop can look at productivity numbers to measure how well its capacity is being used. You and I can't gage so precisely how well our own time is being spent. That's why the machine shop's model may be instructive. Here are time-management lessons I see when I look at a shop floor:
- Respect the setup time. The transition from one task to another always involves a "setup" of some sort. The lost time may not involve fixturing—it may instead be due to travel, bringing a group of people together or even just mentally switching gears. How much more productive would each of us be if we could manage our own setups like a job shop does? I find that minimizing lost time often means doing things earlier than I expected to do them because the setup happens to be in place. For example, if I am traveling, what else that's farther down on my list can I accomplish during the trip? If I am in a meeting, what other issue can I dispense with while this group is assembled? Or if I finish one task, is there another similar task I can dash off while I'm in the right frame of mind?
- Paying attention is part of the job. This one comes from watching machinists. They instinctively know there are moments when they need to set all distractions aside and focus solely on the work. Specifically, the machinist eyeballs the machine and the setup one more time before pressing Cycle Start.
Pausing to re-evaluate can be valuable away from the machine tool, too. In management, for example, an error resulting from inattention may not endanger anyone, but it can still cause valuable time and resources to be "scrapped." Stopping to ask crucial questions now and then may reveal where important steps are going overlooked amidst the flurry of everything that appears to be urgent today.
- Know what you need to do well. I think the most fundamental key to using time effectively is to pick your battles. Not everything merits finesse, not everything needs to be done well. With some tasks, attention to detail will return tremendous value. With others, quality improvements probably won't make a difference. Discern which of your tasks deserves your best effort so you can devote your time where it will do the most good. In all of our jobs, there is roughing, and then there is finishing.