With all the hats contract engineers have to wear (and bear), it
sometimes feels as if juggling is our primary occupation. This month
we'll conclude our series on the business aspects of contract
engineering by exploring some techniques that may help restore
equilibrium to your demanding schedule.
Nothing is more essential to effective time and task management than
having ready access to resources. After all, the art of organization is
nothing more than arranging these things in such a way that you can
find them quickly. For broadcast engineers, this particularly applies
to information (contact information and reference sources), tools and
In terms of day planning, contact information and record keeping,
the advent of personal digital assistants (PDAs) and palm computers
have made a huge difference in how much manageable information one
person can carry around. When it comes to reference materials, such as
catalogs, online or CD-ROMs are definitely the way to go.
Many current equipment manuals are now available on CD-ROM as well,
making the laptop PC an indispensable tool for information management
in the field. As a complement, a decent document scanner along with a
CD-ROM burner at the office will allow you to catalog many older
schematics and drawings, allowing you to print copies wherever and
whenever you need them. Add a digital camera, and you will have the
ability to record, carry and reproduce a variety of image files to aid
in later recall of exactly how things looked, were connected, or were
Tool and material management have also undergone some major changes
in the last 10 years. Toolboxes and parts carriers have gotten larger,
lighter, stronger, and much more versatile. In this sense, at least,
organizing has never been easier.
Good organization allows you to operate efficiently and
productively, but it's really only half the battle. To budget your time
most effectively, you need to take regular inventory of all the tasks
facing you in order to develop and set a realistic set of priorities.
Priorities are essential to the decision-making process because they
largely dictate the order in which we process tasks.
Be sure, however, to be thorough when considering the task list.
Some tasks must be accomplished before others take place or
before others can be started. Thus, they must be assigned an even
higher priority. The scientific treatment of this process is known as
critical-path analysis, and it is widely used in industry to sort out
just these kinds of issues. Flowcharting is one way to
“map” priorities in a way that allows you to analyze
detailed task lists while notating dates by or on which key steps must
While there are a number of software packages that allow you to do
this, a pencil and pad can also effectively serve. Keep a copy of these
charts and consult them regularly to keep them up to date.
Planning the logistics
Logistics, as any military planner will tell you, is a combination
of science, hard work, and pure artistry. Logistics involves figuring
out ways to shorten processes, eliminate duplication, and figure out
how to kill two birds with the same proverbial stone.
For example, let's say you get an emergency call to service a
transmitter at a location that is a one-hour drive away. Before you go
flying out the door, take just one minute to stop and consider if there
might be any other tasks that involve travel in the same area, such as
picking up parts or performing an inspection. This is where superior
organization kicks in to help you to quickly find ways to double-up on
non-productive drive times. By carefully planning efficient ways to
deliver manpower and resources to the job, you'll find plenty of
opportunities to save time and money. Equipment rentals and parts
orders are just a couple of areas that often benefit from the
conscientious application of this technique.
Serving your most important clients.
The ability to organize, prioritize and plan strategically is
essential to freeing up our most irreplaceable resource: time. But
equally important is the need to budget time to our most important
clients, our loved ones and ourselves. A station owner I once worked
for (now a multi-millionaire) once advised me to “always cut your
own best deal”, and I have tried to take his advice to heart. The
point here is that human beings are high-maintenance items. You need to
make time for your family, for exercise, for education and for
play. These, after all, are the reasons we have careers to begin with,
and to ignore them is akin to neglecting the foundation of a house
while mending the roof.
We all have the need to work a sixty-hour week occasionally, but
this should be the exception rather than the rule. If you find
otherwise, you can rest assured that there is a problem somewhere. If
this is the case, it's time to place finding and fixing it at the
top of your priority list. That's what balance is all about.
Mark Krieger, BE Radio's consultant on contract
engineering, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is based in