Don’t Order the T-Shirts Chief… and Other Time Management Ideas

The fire department leaders I work with fight many battles on and off the fire ground. One that comes up most often is the battle with the clock. I frequently hear comments like, “I am always up until midnight getting my reports done,” or “I can’t get away from my computer long enough to visit my stations.”

Most of us like to be busy. It keeps us engaged, moving and our skills sharp.


Kelly Walsh and Dan Jones

But being too busy all the time is stressful on our bodies and our minds. According to Psychology Today, physical symptoms such as sleep problems, headaches and even chest pains are just a few of the physical impacts of stress. Poor concentration, increased alcohol or drug use and isolation weigh in on the behavioral side.

How do you get back in control of your work time so that it doesn’t own you? Here are a few strategies to help:

Collect Data

Take a spreadsheet and list your day in 15-minute increments. On a normal work week, write down what you did all day — even the hallway conversations. No time to track your time? Then you need to do this! Like a financial budget, we can’t manage our time until we know where we spend it. Typically, leaders will tell me they are surprised to find how many hours they spend having impromptu conversations from visitors who “pop in” for a quick second that takes an hour. What does your data say? Look for opportunities to take some of your time back for your priorities.


Look at your work priorities just like a medical emergency. As a leader people bring you problems in rapid succession. As consummate problem solvers, we tend to want to solve everything for everyone. That is an admirable quality, but we can get burned out and might also fail to empower our staff. Listen to the problem and determine the level of urgency — not everything is urgent. If it doesn’t need to be solved this hour, consider asking the staff to research potential answers and come back with the research and their recommendation. You’ll teach them to fish and lessen the need to own it all.

Time Management is an art form.

Optimize Delegation

We know that we should delegate to develop the skills of others — but it’s so much faster to do it ourselves right? (I’m looking at you assistant chief who is ordering t-shirts for a team when there are 20 other people who are able and willing to do it!) Then we worry that we will be asked about the matter and won’t be up to date. The key to solving this is getting very clear when you delegate. I have a tool for this, and you can go to the link below and click the FREE TOOL button below to get a copy. Select the level of delegation and involvement you need to have and assign it. You be the owner if necessary, or be hands-off, or somewhere in between. Being clear about your expectations will help those you delegate to. Loop back at assigned times or even share a team document so everyone is up to date.

Taking a little time to try one or all these strategies will pay off by engaging and developing staff, controlling interruptions, and setting expectations. Do this for the sake of your well-being as well as your organizations.

Want more training like this (time management is covered under Brave Fire Leader Level II) then be sure to purchase your online fire department leadership training today. 

Kelly Walsh helps individuals and organizations achieve exceptional performance by applying specific tools and techniques that guide leadership development. She works on large scale vision and strategy but also deploys specific actionable steps that deliver measurable results. Walsh has worked in a variety of industries including for profit, non-profit, and city government, but her heart is with the public sector where she can bring her strengths to the people who protect and serve our communities.Dan Jones entered the fire service in February 1974 and rose through the ranks to retire as a Fire Chief in 2015. Jones served for over 16 years in the Pinellas Park, Florida Fire Department before relocating to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1990 to become fire chief. Upon his retirement, Jones was the longest serving municipal fire chief in the State of North Carolina. Jones has held up to 12 emergency services technical certifications.

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