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CRM Series: Workload Management

Navigation:  Fundamentals of CRM | Resolving Conflict | Workload Management | Checklist Usage | Briefings & Callouts | Training CRM | Threats to Safety | FOTA | Error Management | Integrating Threat & Error Management | What are you doing over there? | New Captain Series

We might not always have full control over total workload, but we CAN recognize its effects and take some action.  Everyone is different in their capabilities, and capability varies with task complexity, environmental factors, and personal behaviours (self awareness, confidence, etc.). 

What happens during high & low workload:

  • OPTIMUM WORKLOAD: Everything works great here!  We're challenged enough to stay awake and alert; not overburdened to the point where performance breaks down.
  • WORKLOAD TOO LOW: No challenge. Boredom, dissatisfaction and complacency set in.  You're open for mistakes because your thinking is not focused on what really matters!
  • --  Sudden loss of judgment
    --  Irrational responses to problems
    --  Exhaustion
    --  Illness
    --  Low self esteem/confidence
Diagram of workload related to performance

Classifying Workload:

  • CRITICAL:  Must do something NOW to prevent a catastrophe
  • IMPORTANT:  If something isn't done soon, this will become a critical item
  • ROUTINE:  A normal occurrence, but if left long enough this could become an important item (then, ultimately elevate itself to critical if left unresolved even longer)

What happens when people get overloaded?

  • Work faster - trying to keep up when you know you've gotten behind
  • Overall view of the flight becomes shorter - the big picture of the purpose and scope of the mission is lost
  • Attention becomes 'tunneled' - As if looking through a soda straw, yoou will fixate an inordinate portion of attention on one item.  It may not even be an item that should receive such honor at the time . . .
  • Revert to old habits - either good or bad . . .

What are the signs of being overworked?

  • Difficulty sticking to normal performance standards (heading, altitude, hearing radio calls, etc.)
  • Errors or erratic (unpredictable or inconsistent) performance
  • Uncertainty, indecision, discomfort (that nagging feeling you just can't put your finger on it . . . )
  • Loss of good instrument scan - tunnel vision and fixation
  • Temporal, or time, distortion - A few seconds seem like eternity, halff an hour goes by in a flash and feels like five minutes.  Fixation on past, present or perceived future events at the sacrifice of the big picture.
  • Hesitant or confused speech (often apparent on ATC tapes just before an accident . . .)

High workload stress inoculation:

  • Intimate KNOWLEDGE of the business
  • Professional ATTITUDE
  • SKILL to fly without excessive attention to aircraft

Tools to manage HIGH workloads:

  • Delegating tasks to others, as feasible, to lighten your own burdens
  • Prioritize - do the most important things first!  Easy to say, maybe hard to do.  Judgment . . .
  • Expand available time - Put off less important tasks until latter; break large tasks up into a series of smaller ones . . .
Tools to manage distractions:  Take one thing at a time . . . Try not to allow your attention to dwell on a distraction too long. The longer you give it attention, the more important it will become to you.
  • PRIORITIZATION:  It there are a large number if workload items and distractions, all working on you at once, attention can become overloaded. 
  • IGNORE: Ignore anything that doesn't have to do with aircraft control and hazard avoidance. Plan to reduce or avoid distractions at critical points in the flight.
  • DELAY: Some distractions can wait a while!
  • DELEGATE:  Maybe you can get somebody else to do it?!
  • HANDLE IT: But if the distraction needs attention now, then handle it!  It is important to not become fixated on the distraction at the expense of aircraft control or hazard avoidance.
  • STERILE COCKPIT is a tool used to reduce distractions.
  • USE JUDGMENT - developed from training & experience.
  • CHECKLIST:  use it

"Construction of an aerial vehicle which can carry even a single man . . . requires the discovery of some new metal or force. Even with such a discovery, we could not expect one to do more than carry its owner."   -- Simon Newcome, U.S. Astronomer, 1903

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