Busy Should be a Good Thing

While having a deadline upon us can force us to refine and improve our processes, wouldn't it be better to develop the optimal process before it's needed?

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
— Henry David Thoreau

Spring is generally a busy time of the year for the metalworking editor. I try to make a few extra shop visits during this time to alleviate some of the scheduling issues I’m likely to face during the summer because of people going on vacations. It’s also not unusual for machine tool suppliers to schedule open houses and technology mini-shows during the early months of the year to highlight some of the new products available from them and their technology partners. Throw in a full trade show or two, such as PMTS or Eastec, and I find myself on the road quite a bit, substantially limiting my time to write and edit and do the other research my job requires.

Sometimes I feel quite overwhelmed with the amount of work that lies ahead of me. The pressure to get things done when deadlines are near can sometimes feel more like a distraction than a motivator. But still I wouldn’t want it any other way. After all, having a lot to do is usually a sign that business is good; complaining about it doesn’t make much sense.

The problem is, when deadlines are looming and we begin to feel rushed, we tend to overlook important details. Many people believe they work better under pressure. I admit that I often surprise myself with what I can accomplish in a short amount of time when deadlines ramp up. A subconscious instinct seems to kick in to allow me to reorganize my approach toward less pressing issues to free up more time for the current hot project. We seem to have an ability to be as efficient as we need to be.

But while we can accomplish the tasks as necessary, are we doing our best work in these situations? According to Michael Hurd, Ph.D., at drhurd.com, “When people procrastinate, they end up realizing—at a certain point—that it’s either do or die. Rather than die, in most cases, they end up doing. ‘Working under pressure’ gets the credit as a good thing, but it actually was the lesser of two evils.”

I’m drawing a parallel here between procrastination and situations where we’re forced to be busy. While there’s probably not much room for procrastination on the shop floor, that bad habit can create much the same sense of urgency as being busy. The difference is that procrastination is a decision to put off what could have been done at an earlier time. While having a deadline upon us can force us to refine and improve our processes, wouldn’t it be better to develop the optimal process before it’s needed? By doing that, we can use the time gained to handle other duties.

Manufacturing is moving along at a pretty good clip right now. PMTS should be a pretty good indication of how good things currently are in Production Machining’s world. This year’s show boasted the highest attendance (4,868), the most exhibitors (293) and the largest square footage (73,400) in show history. Talk around the show floor was generally positive. Most of the exhibitors I spoke with were pleased with current business trends, including the number of leads they were generating at the show. Attendees were also upbeat about the business climate. “We’ve been busy” was a common phrase that I heard.

Eastec seemed to carry a similar atmosphere. The show floor was active with discussions about new business and interesting technology trends. For the most part, business has been good. Most suppliers have been pleased with sales through the early part of the year, and many of the shops I’ve been talking to (including Berg Manufacturing, featured here) are bringing in new machines to keep up with increased business.

We know being busy should be good. But we need to be thorough as well, making sure we aren’t letting things fall through the cracks. Shops will lean on employees to step up during such times to handle the pressure of extra work, tight deadlines and faster turnaround. And the employees are usually up for the challenge. When systems are in place to manage these workloads, we all benefit.