Competing Priorities

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Tyler Sanders
  • 17th Medical Support Squadron Commander
We all have competing priorities in our daily routine. Multitasking is not new, nor is the concept of do more with less, budget and manpower cuts or being told to just get it done. I believe Gen. Stephen Lorenz, the commander of the Air Education and Training Command, said it best at the AETC Squadron Commander's Course, "We can do anything, but we just can't do everything." Time management is all about setting your priorities. How do you balance your hectic schedule and set your priorities? We all multitask, but the question is: are you working on the right tasking or in the most efficient order?

I was sitting in a seminar last fall when the speaker, Tom Atchison, EdD, asked the audience a simple, straight-forward question: what are your priorities each day? On the surface this question seemed pretty simple to answer. Most of us spend the majority of our time each day at work, reading emails, going to meetings, squeezing in a quick workout, eating and trying to spend some quality time with family. And of course we sleep six to eight hours each day as well.

His message was pretty clear. You have 1,440 minutes each day, minus sleep, so now you're down to about 960 minutes, give or take a few. Where you spend those minutes each day gives a pretty good idea of your priorities. Dr. Atchison told the attendees he could tell your priorities within a few seconds by looking at your calendar or your inbox. Are you setting those priorities, or allowing Outlook to drive your daily routine? Obviously, we all work for someone, and those fires and hot taskings are usually out of our control; but, of those things that are within your control, are you placing your priorities in the most efficient location?

Pareto's principle (or the 80/20 rule) tells us that only 20 percent of the things we do each day really matter, that 20 percent of your daily activities produce 80 percent of your results. The key is to identify and focus on that 20 percent and prioritize based on what really matters. What can wait until tomorrow or later in the week and what must be done today? There is no cookie-cutter answer to what works best for each person. I know what worked for me when I was stationed in Washington D.C. may not be the best solution for living in San Angelo, Texas. One time management tool I used was to adjust my schedule to start work early. I would arrive at work by 0600 so that most days I could beat the rush hour to get home by a decent time in the evening to spend a few hours with the family. During soccer season, this also allowed me to coach my son's team. Another habit I started was to keep gym clothes in my car for those days that I could not leave before rush hour. On those days, I would go workout and let the traffic ease before my commute home.

I challenge you to take a hard look at those 960 minutes in your day and see if you can't find some efficiency somewhere or remove some clutter from your routine. Work is never done, and you will always have things on your to-do-list, but if you take the time to prioritize what must get done today and balance those demands with your other priorities, hopefully you will be able to find the minutes in the day for all those things that mean the most to you!