Mentorship 7: Time Management: RAIL

When I started the series of mentorship blog posts, I never expected to find such a personal passion for planning and prioritizing. It was quite strange to realize that over the years I have developed a layered approach to keeping myself on task and track. I also look back and see all the tools, tricks, and mistakes that I made in trying to keep myself organized. What I thought would be only part of one blog posting is now evolving into so much more.

Being a mentor is about helping teach and coach skills that would benefit someone through the rest of their career. The ability to prioritize all the work that we do is critical to success. The beginning of good organization for me was my digital bullet journal. When I take notes throughout the day and during meetings, I am capturing all of the items that will need to be completed, followed up, researched, planned, or remembered at some unspecified date.

A RAIL is a “rolling action item list”. I have a reference page dedicated to actions that need longer than one business day to complete. This is where technology has been amazing, With the click of a bookmark, I can review and update my list. Hopefully, the actions that have been created in my journal are ones that I can complete before I complete my workday. Oftentimes, there are tasks that I am not able to finish or know will need more time. My RAIL is dedicated to those actions that will need more time. During the first part of the day, I will review the day before and find the actions that I was not able to complete. Those actions are now added to my RAIL.

These separate page(s) in my bullet journal are dedicated to following through on items that I need to complete. I want to be completely transparent in my process and also to show that I am far from perfect in my methods. Sadly, I have found this specific method can have benefits. I call it the 48-hour rule. I also must admit that a wonderful mentor of mine taught me this technique. The premise is that some tasks will resolve themselves in 48-hours.

It is important to distinguish the tasks that have to be done by a certain date and those that can “hang out” for that 48-hour period or even longer. Maybe the project never gets off the ground. Maybe the priorities shift. Maybe the person finds a different path. It is amazing how some tasks simply go away after someone has had a couple of nights’ sleep. The human mind never ceases to amaze me. There are times where something that seems vitally important one day, seems trivial after something as simple as sleeping. That is part of the beauty of a RAIL. I have not lost the item. I still plan to do the item. But I am letting a little bit of time help dictate which tasks take priority.

I have found many benefits to keeping a dedicated RAIL. I do not have to go back through pages and pages of notes to find my running to-do list. I do not have to look through scraps of paper or post-it notes to find the task I am looking for. If someone asks me about a task, I can quickly look for its status. If I am asked what I am working on, there is a quick reference to talk about. If I find a bunch of themed items in my RAIL, I can use those to see if that program should be of escalated importance. I can also find if there are significant time wasters or non-value-added items that I am supposed to do. All this is data that keeps me working forward and helps relate to the organization the safety priorities.

Mentoring Soft-Skills: Time Management and Prioritization: The Bullet Journal

One of my talents that have helped me in the role of various safety leadership positions is the ability to prioritize and execute plans. I may not be able to make a good-looking poster. I may not be able to fix or repair things around the house. I may not be able to create a fun team activity. But, by golly, I can make a dang fine list, prioritize it, and check things off of it. 🙂 HaHa

Safety people have so many competing priorities, it is so easy to become awash in the needs and requests of the organization. It is easy to find oneself treading water rather than swimming to a destination. When we get down to it, everything we do should be in the spirit of helping prevent harm to our people. When thinking about all the safety tasks in that way, everything becomes urgent and important. Yet, we have to come to terms with the fact that we cannot do it all and there is no way we can do it all right now.

It is so easy for a young professional to get tangled up in all the requirements and responsibilities. I have found it vitally important to help guide and mentor with showing methods of helping to declutter and set priorities for the work. Planning is sometimes frowned upon while doing is vastly rewarding. For us to keep ourselves functional, planning is a valuable exercise. You should be able to set a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, and multi-year plan. These planning processes not only help keep the safety programs on the course, but they show other leaders the larger plan that is at work to drive improvement.

I am a big fan of the bullet journal. My iPad, the GoodNotes app, and my Apple pencil have been amazing tools to help me improve the way I organize. During meetings or while performing work, I will take notes of items to remember or to act on. A blue circle is around a bullet is something I want to learn more about or research. A red square means that it is something I have to act on. A green highlight means that I have completed the task. I like that it is both visual and color-coded.

An example of my bullet journal process.

I can import documents and take photos to add to my notes. Some nice premade calendars can be imported and use hyperlinks to take you to various sections of the notes. Generally speaking, I will create a notebook per year and have it roll for the whole calendar.

Having it all digitally prevents me from having volumes of notebooks sitting around as I used to have. I am a lefty, so digital pens assure I do not smear ink all over the notebook or my hands. It has done nothing to improve my handwriting, though. :-). The digital notebook is also backed up to the cloud and has various search features and cross-functional ability to other apps. Over the years, I have tried various forms of apps and methods to help me stay organized and on track. The use of the bullet journal has been just one part of the total process.

I expected this blog post to be encompassing many tools that I use regularly to keep myself on track. These are also tools that I love teaching to others. I was only able to make it through one tool in this post which is a strong indicator of how much I do like organizing and time management. Anyone else an INTJ? As we continue this journey of being safety mentors, it seems that we will be exploring more time management and prioritization tools together. Are you as excited as I am?

Covid 1: Safety Guy 0

It has been a little bit of a disappointing week. My voice is not holding up well enough to record a new podcast this week.

Starting New Year’s Eve, I began to have some mild symptoms like a sore throat and dry cough. A couple of days later, I was feeling like I had a mild cold. I then was notified that I had a possible exposure from my last travels of the year.

I used a home test and was surprised with how fast that it showed I was Covid positive. Starting Tuesday, I had lost my sense of smell and thus taste. I feel ok other than being very tired, and my voice comes in and out due to congestion.

I was shocked to find out that I was Covid positive as I am above average for cautious, and fully vaccinated. I am happy that the symptoms were mild and I am recovering quickly.

In other Covid news, the Supreme Court heard arguments today about the OSHA ETS and is expected to have a ruling soon.

Now to close with some good news. If you are interested in hearing more about building a sustainable safety culture, be sure to sign up for the Safety and Health Magazine’s webinar that I will be a part of later this month

Or if you will be attending the 52nd Annual ATSSA Convention and Traffic Expo, I will be conducting a talk on creating safety awareness.

Mentorship Part 6: Soft Skills: Elevator Speech

To be honest, Industrial and Organizational Psychology was an odd direction for a safety person. I/O Psychologists are more of leadership coaches or Human Resources people. It was early in my career when I realized that the technical aspects of safety do not change easily or often. The more I worked in the field of safety, the more I came to the idea that safety was about engaging and motivating people to follow the safety policies. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was how to work with people

As a mentor, we need to help further someone’s knowledge of the standards and technical items of the safety profession. I am always amazed at how much knowledge we are expected to have access to: fire codes, electrical codes, chemical knowledge, rigging, trenching, workers compensation, trucking, vehicle safety, road safety, and safety systems just to name a few. There are also the items outside of safety that are equally important: accounting, leadership, presenting, root cause analysis, and lean theory as just examples. So many times, we focus on teaching the technical that we can forget to help mentor the so-called soft skills.

Teaching and learning soft skills are harder than teaching technical skills and that can lead to them being avoided. It is also hard to quantify soft skills. How much time management mentoring is enough? When is someone at an acceptable level of people interaction? How to mentor someone to be focused and ambitious? How can I make the soft skills practice relevant to the person I am mentoring? All these are valid questions and are something that should be considered when becoming a mentor.

Let’s first consider what skills should be emphasized when coaching someone. Similar to my previous mentoring post, this is all about investing time in being a mentor. The should be a conversation about the needs of soft skills. Sometimes, it is apparent how a mentor can be assisted. Other times, a mentor may have requests of skills they want to learn. Good communication is vital to both understanding the needs of your mentee and helping them understand what you will be doing to assist. There needs to be a plan and direction.

I was fortunate to have an intern at one of my positions. One day the plant manager was in my office chatting with me when an intern came in to ask me a question. The plant manager asked, “good to see you, what have you done to make my site safer today?” The intern replied while caught off guard by the question, “uhhhh . . . nothing?” Now the plant manager knew the intern was making a difference. They had projects that were going well. The point of the questions was to give them a chance to shine. It was time for me to start teaching soft skills. In this case, the art of the elevator speech.

I took time to talk about the importance of being ready to be asked questions about what we are working on and the progress that we are making. An elevator speech is a quick 60-second pitch on what you are doing and how you are bringing exceptional value to the organization. The idea is that if you are in an office or in an elevator with a key influencer of your organization, then you can quickly talk yourself up by having a prepared elevator speech. It never hurts to be ready to promote yourself and the safety profession in your company.

The elevator speech is just one of various soft skills that can help someone new to the safety profession. In future posts, we will continue to work our way through other scenarios and how helping a mentor with soft skills can be a huge benefit. I think this is one of the neatest things about the safety profession. We get the opportunity to teach some very technical skills along with key principles of leadership and people interaction.

Mentorship 5. Be a Coach

Picture this. You are mentoring a new professional. They come in and report an injury. You pick up a chair, walk out to the shop floor, and sling it. Old school Bobby Knight coaching technique 🙂

When it comes to coaching as a mentor, it is more about the essence and spirit of coaching than the literal sense of the word. I was able to be a site material expert on coaching for my location. I loved it. It fits in great with my industrial and organizational psychology studies as I was still at that time working toward my Ph.D. I felt that my site was willing and ready to embrace this way of engaging even though the greater organization in my opinion was not the embodiment of what I was to be teaching. That, though, is a whole different story.

The first thing to remember is that there is no such thing as a perfect coach. It all starts with the desire to find the best way to motivate and empower your team. These skills are not natural. Some people do have more of an inclination to the process but are still something that has to be consciously thought about a practiced. I struggle with being a better safety coach every day. Being a coach and mentor is equal parts giving someone the knowledge to learn and helping someone learn how to gain knowledge.

The best place to start is to define what a coach is.

The philosophy of becoming a coach is great, but where do we start to make a difference in our team’s daily process. It begins with one of the earlier principles of “making time.” It takes time to coach, and it originates from choosing to make an interaction a coaching experience. A team member comes to your office looking for information. The two of you have had conversations about growth, learning, and development previously. Instead of just handing the answer over maybe it is time to help them find their answer.

Let me pause for a moment. Coaching should not be a waste of time. It should be a deliberate exercise to help develop someone’s ability to think and navigate the opportunities of your organization. For example, I have placed an order for extra equipment. My employee comes to ask if the new equipment has arrived. I then ask, “Where should be looking to see if the equipment came in.” That is a waste and does not help anyone involved. That interaction could be valuable if someone was wanting to learn the purchasing and receiving system as part of overall growth. It is about context.

Back to the scenario. Your team member had a new idea they want to implement. Instead of giving them your list of steps, you begin to help them formulate their plan. Use an organizational chart and ask the team member to describe who needs to be directly involved, who needs to know, and who has to approve this new process.

Safety Mentorship 4: Make a Plan

Do you have a career plan? Do those that you supervise or mentor have one?

One of the most interesting and value-oriented exercises that can be performed is to make a career plan. Sure, it can change at any time. A career plan is not at all static. It is a living, dynamic document that is ever-changing based on all kinds of factors both at home and at work. A career plan is one of those items that when reviewing it could take minutes or it could take hours depending on the changes, progress, and sometimes pure luck.

One of the people that I had the privilege of supervising was all in when it came to career planning. They wanted to grow and had a strong focus on skills and knowledge that would help them in the current company. One evening, we were having a discussion in my office, and they confided that they had a great chance of another position outside of our organization. Was I upset? Absolutely not. It would be absurd of me to think that the only possible way to advance would be to only focus on the organization that you are with.

I am a prime example of that same philosophy. If you look at my LinkedIn profile, 3-years is about average for me to be with a company. I am either growing with a company, or I am leaving. To be honest, each of my moves is more complex than just growth. It is about culture, the job market, the state of the business, and so much more. In other words, though, I am not averse to making a move. I also understand how tough that can be for others.

In the book ”Executive Warfare” by David D’Alessandro, he describes the factors that are in place to keep growing in an organization. It is admitted in the book that not everyone can be promoted because as you move up the opportunities to make another upward move are much fewer. It was interesting the way the book describes that our workplace should not only be a great place to grow but our workplace should also be a great place to come from. This means that other organizations want what we have been teaching to our teams. Our people should be in demand because they are being invested in.

So back to my story. When they came to my office to talk about the opportunity outside the organization I was sad to think I would lose a valuable employee but I was also excited as they would be fantastic in the new role they were going for. From that moment, we revised the career plan and started focusing on mock interviews and how to talk about their experience in a way that would show the new organization the person’s best traits. Ultimately, they took the new position, and I could not be prouder.

It is important that when evaluating a career plan with our teams that we are open, honest, and create trust. Sometimes, we have to let someone know that a role may not be good for them. I had a supervisor tell me one time that maybe I did not and would not fit the company culture. In other words, you are not moving up so you should start moving out. Not all career discussions are good ones. They should, though, be valuable ones. It all begins with having a plan and taking time to invest in that plan.