KIRCHNER: The “Wasted Day”

An accidentally technology-free day yields unexpected productivity.
#management #plating


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I like to say that the location of my home is equally inconvenient to all three of our company’s manufacturing plants.  The closest one, our headquarters in Chilton, Wisconsin, is an 80 minute drive for me … each way.

For this reason my heart sank not long ago as I arrived at the office and initiated my routine.  Walk across the parking lot, drop my bag in my office, head to the restroom and greet a few people on the way.  Back to my office, remove my computer power cord, retrieve my computer from my …

My Computer!  Where is my computer?  It’s not in my bag.

My mind raced as I recalled that I last had my computer … on the couch in my family room the evening before.  Quick call to my wife … “Yep, it’s right here where you left it” … 70 miles away.

What a total waste of a day!  Clearly I couldn’t burn nearly 3 more hours of my day driving home to get it.  But here I was in the office with nothing to do.  No emails but for my Blackberry with its tiny little keypad.  No access to our Customer Relationship Management system.  No spreadsheets.  No checking the brokerage account, no business metrics, no financial protections.  Nothing.

With little else to do, I walked into the office and struck up a conversation with a member of our customer service team about her upcoming marathon and found myself taking a sincere interest in her training program.

I stopped into the office of our operations vice president and we brainstormed together on some solutions to a couple of personnel issues he was dealing with.  Before I knew it, we had expended 90 minutes just exchanging ideas.

Next, on to the shop floor where I paused awhile to review some parts for a new customer; pausing to ask our production planner about them.  My question led to a whole discussion about onboarding new customers and ways we could streamline the process.

Turning from the planner’s office I nearly ran smack dab into our production lead and greeted him with the customary “How ‘bout them Brewers,” in reference to our shared interest in the hometown ball club.  He then stopped me to discuss some of his ideas for improving our preventive maintenance program.

One of our truck drivers walked through the plant and I took a minute to ask whether the dock wait times at one particular customer’s facility had gotten any shorter since we had asked the customer for help with the issue.  He noted that they had, but raised a couple of other issues that were preventing him from being fully efficient—great opportunities for us to get better.

Is my point starting to sink in?

Off to our part unload area where I stood quietly for 20 minutes and simply observed the cycle time and yield of product running through the system.  A handful of improvement ideas occurred to me and I discussed them with a few members of our production team.

I noticed the sun was shining through a side door so I stepped outside to soak up some Vitamin D.  “I wonder how long those items have been sitting out in the yard,” I thought to myself, “I bet awhile. We should find them a home with one of our customers.  Is that old tractor still in the equipment shed?  We haven’t used it in over a year.  We should think about putting it on Craigslist and turning it into some cash.”

And so the day went on—taking time to catch up with my coworkers, observing things in my operation that I’m usually too busy to pay enough attention to, coming up with improvement ideas, getting in touch with my business.

Almost before I knew it, it was late afternoon.  My “Wasted Day” without my computer had been anything but.

In a recent presentation at the CCAI Annual Meeting I suggested to the audience that we not let technology (HDTV, Surround Sound, Blackberries, iPhones, laptops, etc.) get in the way of us actually living our lives.

Perhaps we shouldn’t let it get in the way of running our businesses, either.

Going forward, I think I’ll “forget” my computer at home a little more often.