Work Smart, Not Hard

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering

When I state, as I often do, that I am basically lazy, those who know me are incredulous. They know that my work is constant and almost continuous. What they do not understand is that when you work smart, it is not stressful or tiring—it’s actually quite enjoyable, even fun.

Have you ever observed an operator or maintenance technician fight a problem until the symptoms disappeared only to have the same problem occur later—often repeating this cycle for weeks or even months? This is a too-frequent example of working hard, not smart. We too often mistake activity for value-added work, in this case problem-solving.

One of my favorite examples of working hard not smart comes from a plate glass plant. I had the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of their operation, including maintenance. While reviewing their maintenance logs, one shift stood out. Eight times during the midnight shift, the on-duty maintenance technician was called to repair a robot that unloaded plate glass from the production line. He had to walk from his shop to the robot—about one-half mile round trip—to respond to each call. What caught my attention was the action taken on each of the trips. In each case, the technician reset the breaker and returned to his shop. Perhaps that is an appropriate action on the first call. Surely one would recognize that something was causing the breaker fault on the subsequent seven calls; but apparently not. On the following shift, a different maintenance technician responded to the ninth call and found the mechanical binding that was the source of the repeated trips. In this example, working smart would be to trouble-shoot the problem on the first call and prevent the subsequent calls.

Working hard is not a bad thing. In fact it is the foundation of every successful person and organization. But simply working hard is not enough. It is fascinating to watch the frenetic activities that too many think is productive work. Another of my favorite examples is budget development. The norm seems to be to consume the third and fourth quarter of each fiscal year developing the budget for the following year. Hours upon hours of key employees’ time is consumed by this one annual event. The sad part is that the budgets are too often arbitrary rather than data or fact-based. We all know that budgets are a recurring requirement of any business, so why not automate the process and eliminate the excessive labor-hours that we offer up to the budget god each year? If each of the functional groups that make up a company are effectively managing and measuring their operations, creating next year’s budget should be a non-event.

Here are my fundamentals for working smart:

  • Plan before you act: One trait that has helped me more than any other is that I rarely do anything without a reason. Everything one does should have a clear objective and your actions should be carefully evaluated before they are executed.
  • Use the 80/20 rule: As an engineer, this was one of the hardest traits for me. There are always many different ways to achieve a desired outcome, but only one that will accomplish the objective with the least effort and investment of time and money. You must also know when to stop—80% is often perfectly acceptable.
  • Automate: If you know that a task or activity is recurring, create a work aid—a tool—that will eliminate as many of the repetitive activities as possible. Those who know me accuse me of having a tool for everything—an exaggeration, but not by much.
  • Ask for help: There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. No one can know everything or be the expert in every facet of the business world. Asking for help from others will let you accomplish your objectives much more quickly—and with better results.
  • Always look for a better way: As my father said, “Son, if you have done anything the same way for years, odds are there is a better way.” Good advice then and now. Never restrict yourself to a certain set of rules just to maintain status quo. Think outside the box and find better, more efficient ways to accomplish your objective.

When you work smart, work can be enjoyable—even fun. It certainly eliminates much of the frustration and fatigue that are the outcome of working hard. Take a hard look at yourself. Are you working smart?

MOBLEY'S 11th LAW:
"Work Smart, Not Hard."

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Hopefully, it has raised a few thoughts that will help you take the next step in your journey to excellence. I welcome your feedback and am happy to respond to specific questions. You can reach me at [email protected].

Best regards,

R. Keith Mobley
Principal, Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance, and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].

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