2 time management tricks for EMS chiefs

Understanding the 80/20 rule and that multitasking is a myth can lead to better productivity


By Steve Knight, Ph.D.

Time management appears to be another one of those over clichéd management ideals that is easy to repeat and attest to, but very difficult to get a good handle on.

There are times when I believe that executives in the emergency services are more challenged than in other industries because of our conditioning. For example, most agency directors have spent decades in the field responding to the next call or crisis, with little authority over the demands.

Our “can do” and “fix it” conditioning doesn’t magically leave us once we are promoted to an executive-level position.

Pareto’s Principle

The first step to developing a highly effective time-management process is to start saying no. There are limits to how much work we can take on and continue to produce a high-quality outcome.

While employees and directors may differ on their perspectives of how much is too much, we must be able to prioritize our activities. In this way, we can make better decisions on what we should do immediately, what we can delay, what we can delegate, and when we should say no.

The first strategy to share comes from what is known as Pareto’s Principle. Also known as the 80/20 rule, it’s based on  a consistent ratio observed for a wide variety of relationships in our world.

In Pareto’s initial work, he found that 20 percent of the population held 80 percent of the wealth. Other researchers have continued to observe this same general ratio in other areas.

For example, 80 percent of the crops come from 20 percent of the plants. In our work environments, we recognize that 80 percent of our productivity comes from 20 percent of our workforce. Conversely, 80 percent of our problems come from 20 percent of our employees.

Therefore, as managers we should identify the 80 percent of our productivity that comes from the 20 percent of our efforts, and focus on those activities that give us the greatest outcomes.

Multitasking is a myth

The second strategy is an understanding that multitasking is a myth. We really don’t multitask even though we think we do.

Studies have confirmed that the startup time consumed as we switch from task to task is tremendous. Our brains do not conduct two processes at the same time ─ rather it is sequential.

So our multitasking is actually rapidly switching from task to task, robbing attention from each individual project and demanding more time between start-up intervals than if we had completed the tasks sequentially.

Therefore, one of the prevailing strategies is to create blocks of uninterrupted time to work toward your goals. Rather than let the day dictate to you what you are going to handle and in what order, create blocks of time for your weekly update, performance numbers, emails, etc., so that you can focus on the task at hand.

Collectively, these two strategies will help you feel like there is considerably more time in your day and give you more control over your schedule.

About the author: 

Dr. Steve Knight, a Fitch & Associates consultant, brings more than 25 years of fire and EMS experience to the firm. He served for nearly 17 years as assistant fire chief for the City of St. Petersburg, Fla. He has been a subject matter expert for both the National Fire Academy and the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE), a nonprofit corporation that serves as the governing body for the organizations that offer accreditation, education, and credentialing services to the first responder and fire service industries.

Knight has also served as team leader and assessor for the Commission on Fire Accreditation International and has held multiple faculty appointments in Fire Science and EMS. Prior to coming to Fitch, he served as senior manager of a consulting team within the Center for Public Safety Management.

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