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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Workload Management

My friend Srinivas Rao authored: Workload Management by Flight Crew, on his Flight Blog yesterday. His words inspired today's post.

In the midst of the stress our crew members are facing these days, with their job setbacks, mergers, bankruptcies, the added fatigue, combined with personal and financial stress, we might wonder if last week's Jet Blue incident is an isolated case, or will there be more. In addition, how many pilots are flying with PTSD due to the September 11 attacks? The greatest question is, what can we do to help?

Photo by Veronica Walsh

Workload management training might be an answer to help eliminate stress. As I read Srinivas' blog, it reminded me of the power of maintaining control, when you are in control.

The process of prioritizing and focusing on the tasks at hand help to eliminate stress. This can be observed if you're in a crisis and someone has lost control. Give them a task. If you ever experience an emergency and the flight attendant loses it, tell her to count passengers. You'll be amazed at the power managing a task will have on calming and controlling an individual, despite the significance. This works in any emergency, in the air or on the ground.

The power of a pilot being able to manage his or her workload, as the demands increase, will also help to keep the impact of stress at bay, and help them to focus on their job.

Have you ever flown with a pilot who is a "screamer?" Maybe he's a great guy to fly with, but as the pressure increases, his fuse gets shorter. That boiling point is the pilots workload saturation point. He's hit his limit, which manifests in a burst of temper. Something to take note of if you fly a screamer. Don't take it personal, and don't react. Be more cognizant as you may need to take over if things get too difficult for him. He's at the end of his comfort zone.

Workload management is a skill that can be learned. LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training) scenarios can assist by allowing pilots to practice prioritizing during emergencies. Thinking about the flight, and what if...

Know that if a problem transpires there is a team. Fly the plane. Determine the extent of your emergency. Notify ATC. Work with your fellow pilot and your company. Decided the best course of action. Then communicate that decision to ATC and your Flight Attendants. Keeping everyone in the loop is part of managing the workload.

If you don't know what to do first, and haven't thought a plan through prior to the flight, or the emergency, indecision and confusion will prevail... increasing your stress and reducing your effectiveness proportionately.

For our earthbound friends, workload management (task prioritization) can help reduce and eliminate the anxiety of doing too much. Workload management reduces stress, the number one killer. That feeling of overload and not knowing what to do first, and how to get it all done, can be eliminated by creating a plan and learning how to manage the workload.

What do you do to manage your workload? Does your company teach you the skills to navigate the stress of everyday life, and how to prioritize in the event of an emergency? I would love to know your thoughts, and how you manage.

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene


  1. I keep everything very organized. I know exactly where I have my stuff, so I can just pull it out, almost with my eyes closed.

    I also went through a very scenario oriented course during Private and Instrument training, which emphasized on workload in a Single-pilot Crew operation.

    How do I manage stress during daily life? I try to keep the same sleeping schedule every day, weekends and weekdays. I guess this is where pilots are struggling.

    1. Excellent advice! Organization is essential. I know at home when my desk gets overflowing the stress rises. I have to just clean it up and I feel so much better. Amazing.

      That's excellent that your training in single-pilot focused on this issue.

      And sleep? YES! As well as eating the same time too. This is the one thing that Pilots cannot do. We should get combat pay! lol. Seriously, I do a three day trip, and I'm in a hotel one night. I miss a night of sleep. Not a good thing but that's what we do. I know the effects compound.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. In my line of work, which is also a high stress job, the one thing they teach us is to have interests outside of work. I'm not sure that works for pilots though since they fly because they love it.

    1. Heather, you do have a very high stress job. But you're so right! I know that every pilot that has something outside work, beyond the job, is mentally better because they have a break from the stress.

      One of the points in my book was those who once only focused on flying, were the safest... because of that single minded focus. Now they could be the most dangerous because they don't have anything else. They have no outlet for the stress, and they have no secondary income to help them after their pension loss. It's a tough life.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. One of the solutions to the problem of high stress due to poor work load management is being proactive.

    This involves putting oneself ahead of the situation and considering all possible scenarios that could occur no matter how far fetched it seems.

    Thereafter, a person should ensure that they come up with solutions to some of the thought scenarios. In the event that either of these scenarios appears, then a person will be better placed to handle the situation by simply tapping into the already thought out plan.

    For instance, during take-off,anticipate an engine failure and in the case of a single engine aircraft, know where it is favourable to execute a forced landing. If the engine does not fail,well and good.

    1. Joseph, so true. The good pilots always have a backup plan before it's needed. I learned this in the very beginning of my flight training... my instructor always said, "What if... what would you do?" Excellent though. Be ahead of the plane! Thanks for your comment.

  4. As has been conveyed in the above posts, it's about being organized, in aviation parlance being streamlined with procedures and task sharing, and when rattled with a crisis, avoid task saturation by prioritizing tasks

    1. Yes... organization is the key. When we're not, we not only are dysfunctional, but we become anxious. And then we bring in the team. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Prior to becoming a full time Mom and writer, I have worked for many years as payroll and HR Administrator. The job came with a huge load of stress, and even if I manage the stress well, often I felt like a nervous wreck.

    Organizational skills have always been my ally in staying calm (or calmer), plus taking a bit of time away from the office every single day. I made sure to spend my lunch hour either relaxing with a book in my hand, meeting a friend for a bite to eat, walking in a park, or even taking a nap in my car. Anything to calm my nerves.

  6. Angela, I'm seeing a general theme here for all of us. Organizational skills are essential in every business...and at home. Your use of lunch break give reason to hour lunch breaks. Keep up whatever you're doing so you can keep that smile!

  7. Many people doesn't have workload management so that it became more stressful for them to handle it. If only they can do a workload management. It is more better for them to do they work everyday.

    1. Autumn May, this is so true. I think workload management skills are so essential and one of the best ways to reduce stress for sure. Thank you so much for the comment.

  8. I know exactly where I have my stuff, so I can just pull it out, almost with my eyes closed and avoid task saturation by prioritizing tasks.keep Posting!Thanks for sharing.


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