How fire officers can work smarter, not harder

Good time-management skills will make the fire officer more productive and less stressed

As the fire service grows — accepting more responsibilities each day — the company officer is asked to perform more in the same amount of time. Time is becoming more precious.
While the increased responsibilities are important to the community and to the productivity of the fire department, the greater demands on the company officers leave many feeling overwhelmed, burned out and unable to achieve a sense of accomplishment. It's like a conveyer belt that just keeps delivering the never-ending work load.

There are many time challenges that can be stressful during a shift tour. Thanks to the barrage of e-mails, voicemails, memos and faxes, information overload is a constant problem.

The pressure to complete the daily objectives — including fire safety inspections, pre-fire plans, public safety education, on-duty training requirements and administering performance evaluations — is one of the continuing demands required of a company officer. All of these requirements, plus responding to emergency calls, are increasing the stress load carried by the company officer.

Company officers must learn to work smarter, not harder. While incident command and the strategy and tactics of an emergency are important, they must also recognize the importance of practicing good time-management skills in order to effectively prepare for those events. They should learn to manage their time just as they manage other resources.

Here are some suggestions for organizing your time.

 1. Develop a daily plan (routine) to manage your time. 

  • If you have a morning meeting with the crew, have it at a regular time and follow an agenda, making it brief but effective.
  • Identify office-work time for yourself and let your people know when that is. Ask them not to disturb you unless they have an urgent need.
  • Establish times to complete daily tasks, such as updating log books, inspecting equipment or supplies, and scheduling inspections or training. 

2. Handle paperwork (in-basket) systematically.

  • Review and determine which items are important (critical) and urgent (time constraint), and which are important, but not urgent, and which are unimportant.
  • Prioritize and handle the important and urgent items first, followed by the important and non-urgent items next. When these are completed, you can handle the unimportant items when time allows, which may be as simple as throwing it in the trash.
  • Identify resources, options, and alternatives to determine who can handle the items (delegation), how they can be handled, and any possible courses of action.

Here are 12 more tips to get a handle on your time.

  • Make sure to follow-up on any delegated items to ensure proper completion.
  • Before your shift ends, write down the five most important things you need to know for your next shift.
  • Prioritize and schedule the most important things first.
  • Be realistic about how long it takes to complete tasks.
  • Allow time for the unexpected (emergency calls).
  • Be prepared; try to check your e-mail or training calendar before arriving to work.
  • Safety issues come first; handle them immediately.
  • Create shortcuts, such as spreadsheets for training completed, to diminish the time needed for repetitive tasks.
  • Delegate tasks to others, especially if they can do them better or faster.
  • Take a hard look periodically at how you spend your time and purge tasks that are no longer necessary.
  • Be willing to adapt to changing work demands; be prepared to go with the flow.
  • Schedule down time, including exercise and relaxation with the crew.

By recognizing the importance of good time-management practices, and working smarter and not harder, the company officer will be more productive and experience less stress. Both the crew and the fire department will benefit when the company officer has good strategies for managing the daily workload. 

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