Leader's Forum: Our most precious resource

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John "Dragon" Teichert
  • 411th Flight Test Squadron commander and
It is a common feeling for almost everyone. We are too busy. There is too much to do and too little time. Growing audiences compete for our attention. Workplaces demand more in spite of shrinking resources. Technological "tools" actually consume more of our time, rather than alleviate our workload. How are we to cope?

Time is the great equalizer. Regardless of our upbringing, our rank, our social status, or our standard of living, we all have the same amount of time in any given day. It is up to us to decide how to wisely invest it.

Proper prioritization is the key to budgeting our time properly, and such prioritization does not happen by accident. It takes thought, reflection, and assessment. How often do we get to the end of a very busy day yet feel unfulfilled? How often is our workday characterized by doing a lot but getting nothing important done? Without priority boundaries, our precious time is consumed by the neon sign tasks that attract our attention when they often should simply be ignored.

Priorities must be ingrained into our lives to avoid these pitfalls. One of the wisest uses of our time is a regular period of considering priorities, setting priorities, reflecting on priorities, and assessing our progress toward priorities. Otherwise it is impossible to structure our time in a truly productive way. Without such guiding values, principles, and goals it is easy to be enslaved by our often meaningless to-do lists or the next flashy task that passes our way. Thus, our priorities should structure and triage our tasks so that the tasks themselves don't become priorities by default.

So what should be our workplace priorities? First, they should be our supervisors' priorities. It is their responsibility to share these with us, and if they do not, then we should ask. Otherwise, it is impossible to know if we are properly being utilized to fulfill the organization's mission.

Second, they should be those important items that we can uniquely accomplish. If we don't accomplish these items well, then no one will. As a leader, these may include assessing organizational vision or strategy, setting the example, modeling values, encouraging employees, mentoring subordinate leaders, making the tough decisions, and helping others understand their priorities. Spending time doing anything else may stifle initiative and hinder growth.

As a subordinate, these may include applying our specific expertise, training others in our skill set, seeking opportunities to broaden our experience base, and resolving issues in our sphere of influence before they become our boss's problems. Spending time in other tasks may actually be squandering time itself. If these unique items are not in concert with our supervisors' priorities, then this disconnect must be resolved. It is either the case that a supervisor is unaware of our role, or we are unaware of what our role should be.

Just by following these simple prioritization steps, we can wrestle back some of this most precious resource. In doing so, we quickly realize that many of the tasks that previously consumed us can wait until later, can be done by someone else who is more suited to that particular task, or can be left undone indefinitely.

These concepts go well beyond the workplace, as should our priorities. In fact, areas of our lives like faith and family with horizons beyond our current job and even exceeding our lifetime should be appropriately prioritized ahead of our careers. As a full-time employee, we may not be able to apportion as much time to these priorities as we would like, but we should allocate a proportionate amount of attention, focus, and energy to them. After all, these areas of our lives demand our unique contributions. If we do not set boundaries in our lives to protect these areas, then our time will be consumed in other far less important ways.

Without a time budget, managed by the guiding light of priorities, our tasks will continue to control us. The past is gone for good. The few minutes we spend considering the truths outlined above may allow us to better invest our time from this moment forward.