Reader question: the organized shift worker

In a comment to my post about working hard, not a lot, Kenneth in Virginia asked what the information in the post meant for someone who like his father drove a truck for a living. It’s an excellent question, because to be honest, few of us have the luxury of choosing how much we work. Most jobs have a fixed schedule, and require a physical presence during that period.

There’s no working better or faster to reduce the workload and no putting in extra hours to advance. A truck driver has to go from Point A to Point B, a cashier has to ring up purchases, and a factory worker has to run the machine for the entire eight hour shift.

This is completely different from someone who works in an office and has projects to fulfill or objectives to achieve. The previous post was addressed to these latter people, and in looking around at the literature, most business organizing books focus almost exclusively on them as well.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the former group can’t be organized or reduce their workload through efficiencies.

My husband is a factory worker, and one of the most organized people I know. Over the years, I’ve seen him develop a sort of set of rules that help him in whatever position he has.

  • Pay attention. Repetitive jobs can become mind-numbing, and if you’re not careful mistakes can start slipping in if you do not focus on each detail. You might choose the wrong lot of a product to add to a mixture. Or you might let quality slip, which may cause a serious problem for the company, with perhaps long-term negative consequences for you.
  • Don’t make more work for others. In many time-based jobs, workers operate in a sort of vacuum. They may be part of a team, but only are aware of their own part of the process. Take for example someone who works in a supermarket in the meat section. Part of her job may be to add the labels to packages of meat for sale. If the label isn’t applied flat, the scanner at the checkout won’t read it and the cashier has to either enter the barcode in manually or call someone to come give him the correct code.
  • Take your time, but not too much. The proverb haste not waste applies here. The best way to be organized and to make the time pass quickly in any job is to work consistently and carefully. No matter the pressure from above to work faster and produce more, sure and steady wins the race (to use another famous proverb). Speed produces errors which often means having to go back and doing it again. Or in the case of a truck driver, speed literally can kill you. On the other end of the spectrum, however, working more slowly than necessary relates back to the previous point: the less you work, the more someone else will have to.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any other “rules” to add to these three for shift-based work? If you work by hours, what tricks and tips can you offer others to make sure you are working efficiently and effectively?

3 Comments for “Reader question: the organized shift worker”

  1. posted by Lisa on

    There are lots of ways that being organized and uncluttered can help in a shift-work type job. Arranging materials in an uncluttered way can increase efficiency. (Labels on closed cupboard doors and all supply bins are essential)
    Organized supplies make it so it’s easy to see when new supplies need to be ordered.
    Being organized and uncluttered increases safety on the job. (No tripping over random stuff, and clear markings of where safety and first aid material/personnel are kept)
    Safety includes food safety. An organized, uncluttered, clean kitchen is important for everyone’s health and safety on the job. Especially if you are not working in the food industry, it is a good idea for someone to have taken a food safety course, to ensure proper food storage in the shared fridge, and regular cleaning and disinfection of dishes, surfaces, and appliances.
    Planning your tasks for the days or weeks ahead of time is better for everyone.
    If you are organized, you can observe places where things can be improved in your own workflow, or your department’s workflow.
    You can create an information package about your duties for someone who may be replacing you for a shift or two.
    A tidy, organized, uncluttered work area makes the cleaning staff’s job easier, and important papers are less likely to go astray if they are filed or contained neatly.
    If you are away sick, will your replacement be able to find all the pieces necessary to make sure your job is running smoothly when you get back?

  2. posted by Kennth in Virginia on

    Thank you for the thoughtful response to my comments.

    Although there are big differences between a factory worker and a truck driver (where the product hits the road, as it were), you comments are spot on. But efforts to improve efficiency in a factory environment, at least one that has a production line, go back a long ways. The motion studies of F.W. Taylor are usually mentioned in college management classes and further work was done by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, who are better known as the authors of “Cheaper by the dozen,” which was made into a film.

    The criticism of time and motion studies is that they reduce worker input (in how things are done) and cause resentment among workers, which he did not believe. An engineer would never admit that the men actually doing the work knows more about the job than he does. Essentially it was part of the shift to large scale production. But Taylor believed that matching the worker to the job was very important. Today, factory efficiency is much advanced but some aspects have created too many critical points of failure in the entire system, which is another story.

    Your comment about ‘take your time, but not too much,’ could also be stated as “work steady.” You have to do the same quality and quantity work at the end of the shift as you do in the first hour of your shift.

    Driving a truck is naturally quite different. There are problems that factory workers don’t have to deal with but there is still pressure. A certain express delivery company is known for really pushing their drivers but that’s only a certain kind of truck driver. One thing my father loved about his jobs as a truck driver was that he got to see lots of people in different places everyday and that he was outside all the time.

  3. posted by Ed Mitton on

    “Work Smarter, Not Harder.” has been a concept I have been following and have stressed with the teams that I have managed over the years.

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