Sometime in December, 2000 Dell flew a group of Oklahoma State University students to Austin along with students from all over the country to interview for jobs. During one interview I had with a manager named Lisa Larson, she asked me how I would handle situations where I am asked to do too many things at the same time. I replied that I don’t ever worry about that. I have found that by managing my time properly, I never find myself in a situation where I don’t have enough time or I feel overwhelmed.
Of course, I could see the look of disbelief, since she worked for Dell, and had experienced an overload of work beyond what normal humans can endure. I knew that the answer she was waiting to hear was that I would prioritize my tasks and do the more important ones or those tasks that had to be completed right away first. Instead I choose to tell her about Toby O’Brien, a Power Plant Engineer.
You can see the confidence Toby demonstrates in the picture above. He is so confident he doesn’t even use a Pocket Protector. None of his pens ever leak.
I didn’t use Toby’s name during the interview. Instead I opened up the large briefcase I was carrying with me and took out my Time Management Planner:
In August 1998 Toby mentioned to me that the staff at the plant had taken a course in how to manage their time. The core object in the course was using a rather sophisticated planner. You see, there aren’t just regular calendars in a planner, there are note pages you can use during meetings, weekly pages, and daily pages. A place to keep your contacts. Even a section to keep business cards. I think my favorite section was a place to just write down ideas. The header at the top of the page was “Ideas”.
I had just started a new semester at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma and I was ramping up the number of courses I was taking simultaneously, while at the same time working full time. I had told Toby that I was determined not reduce the time I spent with my children in the evenings, so I had to figure out how to complete all my course work on time, and not let it interfere with the rest of my day.
Toby explained that the first thing you do in the morning is that you write down in the daily planner section everything that you will be doing that day, and what time you will be doing it. Then as much as possible, you stick to that plan. When you are doing one task, you don’t have to worry about all the other things you have to accomplish during the day, because you know when you will be working on them, so it allows you to focus on your task at hand.
He even was going so far as not taking phone calls or would ask to call them back when he was available when he was working on a task and then would schedule some time to call the person back.
Toby spent a good hour or so showing me how he used his daily planner. The company was even paying for the additional sheets they used in the planners. So, that evening I went to Office Depot and purchased my Day Runner planner with extra sections that I thought would be helpful.
At the time, I was driving back and forth between Stillwater and the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, usually twice each day, as I would leave at certain times to take a class, then drive back to work afterward, using an hour and a half of vacation as well as the half hour for lunch as I would eat on the way.
So, what would a typical Power Plant Planner look like for any particular day for someone working in the Maintenance Department? Well, if the Power Plant Man was really proactive, and wrote everything down, then it may look something like this….
- Turn off the Alarm… scratch behind…. scratch bald spot on head… kiss wife on cheek…. climb out of bed….
- Gather clean clothes from dresser, and any supplement clothes needed from the hamper…. take shower…. brush teeth… shave.
- Eat a hearty breakfast – for tonight we dine in hell!… (oh… sorry… that’s not Power Plant Men.. That’s Spartans… close, but different).
- Make some sandwiches for lunch or use leftovers from last night’s dinner and put them in the lunch box.
- Just before exiting the house, put on the steel-toed boots airing out just inside the garage.
- Drive the car to the carpooling location…. Pile into one car with everyone else…. Drive to plant while discussing the latest hunting and fishing adventures.
- After arriving at the plant 15 minutes early, sit around and drink a cup of coffee with the rest of the crew while waiting for the morning meeting to begin… Pass along any words of wisdom that suddenly popped up in the shower that morning to the rest of the crew…. Listen to some of their dumb ideas and act as if they are taken seriously while still trying to work out the terrific ideas of your own. Chuckle at the minor “your fly is open” type jokes being played on each other.
- Attend the morning team meeting and receive the jobs that need to be completed that day. Listen to the latest Power Plant Jokes played the previous day and share some that were entered in the planner that might be useful today.
- Leave the meeting with your bucket buddy and begin work.
- Gather tools needed for job… Get any supplies needed from the tool room. Talk to the tool room attendant.
- Go to the Control Room to obtain any clearances needed to perform tasks… talk to the control room operators about their day… Play a joke on Gene Day.
- Take the first break while waiting for the clearances to be put on the breakers in the switchgear.
- Play dominoes… Trump… or Uno during break as a team building activity. Accuse others of cheating.
- Check Breaker after break and sign clearance form…. Ask the operator how his day is going…. then perform the job safely…. dispose of any trash generated during the job. Bandage any cuts and rub any bruises that may have been created during the job.
- Return clearance…. talk to the control room operators some more. Give Gene Day suspicious glances.
- Strut through maintenance shop with confidence while going to the office to ask which job to do next since the first job was completed flawlessly and sooner than expected.
- Continue steps 10, 11 and 12 until it is time for lunch.
- Go to the regular lunch spot and talk to friends and learn the latest gossip and play more Dominoes, Trump or Uno (or backgammon).
- Repeat the same activities during the afternoon with the exception that a closer watch is kept on the nearest watch or clock.
- Take afternoon break at the same table as morning break playing the same game as before with the same people as before…
- Return to work magically fixing equipment paying even more attention to the time.
- Migrate to the Foreman’s office 30 minutes before “Quittin’ Time” to fill out time card. Call each other any new names that were thought up during the day (what I would call, “Terms of Endearment”). Play small minor jokes on teammates while completing the time card.
- Wait until the exact time before leaving the shop and returning to the car in the parking lot.
- Ride back to town with the rest of the dirty smelly Power Plant Carpoolers…. talk about any frustrating encounters from the day’s work…. Discuss any news from Corporate Headquarters designed to confuse Power Plant Men…. Fall asleep… snore….dream about the day…. wake up just as the car arrives at the carpooling spot.
- Climb into your own car and go home.
- Leave dirty smelly boots in the garage…. take off dirty shirt and pants and put them directly in the washing machine…
- Take a shower….kiss wife… hug kids….(kick annoying cat when no one’s looking)… tell the wife about the day…. listen to wife talk about her day….eat supper.
That just about does it. I found it a little difficult to put all that in the daily planner, especially since it was the same every day, except for when we had emergencies, and I couldn’t plan for those, unless they were part of a planned Power Plant Joke made to look like an emergency.
Anyway, back to Toby…If it hadn’t been for Toby teaching me Time Management, I would have had a much tougher time going to school while working at the same time. I was able to keep my three worlds apart without them interfering with each other (except for all the driving back and forth).
I almost never did my school work while I was at work, and I didn’t do them at home either unless I had to write a paper on the computer. So, I spent my evenings with my family… then I woke up at 4:00 each morning and went to the University and found a quiet place to do my homework before going to class and driving out to work.
After 4 years I graduated with a 4.0 grade point in the Business College with an MIS degree (Management Information Systems). That was when I was hired by Dell. I will go into the details about that in another post.
For now I just want to thank Toby for introducing me to the idea that managing your time properly can make a world of a difference. If you noticed in the picture of the planner above, I haven’t used it since 2002. That’s because new technologies came around that changed the way we manage our time.
Today at work I use Outlook to capture all my scheduled activities. Microsoft Project can be used to assign tasks with a duration that tells you how long the task should take. Another Microsoft tool OneNote is a big help for just taking notes and organizing your work.
So, even though I no longer have to buy pages for the Day Runner Planner each year, I still have the concept in my mind that while I am working on one task, I shouldn’t need to worry about another one because I have scheduled time during my day to work on those. So I can concentrate on the task at hand. By doing that, you never had the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Lisa Larson, who was interviewing me from Dell didn’t look too convinced when I showed her my Day Runner Planner, but I was offered the job anyway. I don’t think it was because I had good time management skills… I think it had more to do with the fact that I had worked so many years with “True Power Plant Men and Women” that it was hopeful that some of their genuine concern for others and their attitude of dedication had rubbed off on me.