September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - December 2002

2002-2003 ASSE President Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE

Tyranny of the Urgent

As I travel the country speaking to our membership, the most common question is, "How do you have time to do all this ASSE work and keep your job?" The answer is simple: I set goals and manage my time. Without goals, time management is a moot point. Combine the two and you have a powerful tool.

Let's look first at time management. Everyone has the same amount of time. Depending on how you use it, however, you can either advance your career or leave it stalled-or perhaps move backward. I have found that the harder you are on yourself, the easier life is on you. The converse is also true. Mark Twain once said, "I find that the harder I work the luckier I get." How true.

As safety professionals, we are often driven by urgent requests from others-even though urgent to someone else may not be urgent to us. While focusing on the urgent, it's often easy to neglect the important things-those things on which your performance is evaluated.
The graphic illustrates the Tyranny of the Urgent. Many of us spend most of our time in the Important-Urgent quadrant-putting off projects so long that they are now urgent. As a result, the quality of the work suffers. One solution is to set strict deadlines. For example, if you are given 30 days, set a goal of 15. This way, you spend most of your time in the Important-Not-Urgent quadrant, getting tasks done before they become urgent.

The next quadrant is the Not Important-Urgent quadrant. You can do three things with these items (which are big time-robbers): simplify, eliminate or delegate. Finally is the Not Important-Not-Urgent quadrant-downtime. You need to come to this area because you want to, not because you have to. Manage your time well and you will be able to relax and refresh yourself, not just to recharge your batteries. To best control the Tyranny of the Urgent:

  1. Write a list of things you will do for tomorrow.

  2. Work on each item until completed, regardless of interruptions. Don't let the time dictate which item you work on.

  3. Consider the consequences of not handling a task. What would happen if you did nothing?

  4. Clear your desk except for the task at hand. Focus on one project at a time and you'll finish faster and have more energy to work on what's next.

  5. Clear your files of outdated material.

  6. Make your work count twice. Any time you write an article, that article can be crafted into a speech or a presentation. The reverse also applies. Look for all the things you do in a normal workday that can benefit you now and later.

Allen MacKenzie's The Time Trap lists the 20 biggest time-wasters affecting workers today:

  1. Telephone interruptions
  2. Inadequate planning
  3. Drop-in visitors
  4. Lack of self-discipline
  5. Paperwork
  6. Meetings
  7. Procrastination
  8. Socializing
  9. Poor communication
  10. Travel
  11. Incomplete information
  12. Personal disorganization
  13. Attempting too much
  14. Management by crisis
  15. Ineffective delegation
  16. Inability to say "no"
  17. Confused responsibility or authority
  18. Inadequate staff
  19. Leaving tasks unfinished
  20. Inadequate controls and progress reports

Don't let time control you. Manage your time and free yourself from the Tyranny of the Urgent.

By combining goal setting and time management, you have a powerful tool for completing tasks and advancing your career.

Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE