Effective Time Management for the Executive Fire Officer

“We demonstrate effective time management by what we get done,” Captain John Alston (Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department) declared at Tuesday’s FDIC 2011 workshop, “Effective Time Management for the Executive Fire Officer” on Tuesday morning.

“I used to obsess about time because I didn’t manage it well,” he said. Time management is life management, and you have to want to acquire these skills to get your time your life under control.

Implementing time management will benefit you in the following ways: You will gain at least two productive hours a day, increase your income, and have more energy and less stress. Appropriate delegation is essential, Alston said, because if you aren’t delegating tasks when necessary, “you’re not managing, you’re hoarding.”

To improve your time management, Alston said you have to get to know yourself. He recommended keeping a time inventory/log, analyzing your time, and identifying time wasters. Establish long-, mid-, and short-term goals; identify/rank office priorities, and keep a daily planner.

In analyzing your time, sample 30- or 60-minute intervals, noting your activity at the time, and whether it was a high, medium, or low priority. 

Students participated in an in-basket/out-basket exercise, receiving a steady stream of rosters, memos, and queries as a deputy chief would in a normal workday. Items included staffing reassignments, several complaints concerning questionable behavior at a certain fire station, a query from the mayor regarding fire department vehicle accidents, a missing paycheck, and a confidential letter from a female firefighter on a personal matter. Their task was to review and prioritize the items, and mark for them for appropriate action. Later, participants broke up into groups to come up with a priority list, and a member from each group then presented its list to the class, explaining the thinking behind it.

Although there were no wrong answers in creating the priority list, each item has implications to consider, Alston said. For example, the missing paycheck issue could be forwarded to the payroll department, and a firefighter training assignment memo lacking the training date can be sent back for more information. Staffing roster changes may leave companies short staffed. Community complaints must be acknowledged, investigated, and dealt with appropriately to avoid potential embarrassment to the department. Confidential matters involving personnel must be handled carefully with regard to department protocols. Queries from the mayor should be acknowledged immediately, with a promise to look into the matter and get back to her with an answer.

 Alston emphasized that the exercise was not only about setting priorities, but also concerned the critical thinking behind it, something examiners look for when this exercise is part of a promotional process. 

Once you have learned to manage your time appropriately, Alston said, 

“You’ll feel almost stress-free because have everything under control,” whereas you will feel anxiety and stress if you feel your time, and hence your life, is out of control.

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