Priorities a balancing act?

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Joe and Ed are on the second week of deer season and are hunting out of a camp with a couple of other hunters. One morning they get up early and get out to beat the rush to the stands. Well, while they were out, Joe bagged a deer and Ed decided to help him carry it back to camp. While on the way, Ed is overcome from the weight of the deer and the long walk and he passes out bone tired and goes to sleep. Concerned, Joe comes over and finds his friend breathing and snoozing comfortably with his eyes closed. A little while later, Joe comes strolling into camp with a big eight-point buck over his shoulders and his friends ask, "Where's Ed?' Joe says, "Well, he passed out and I left him back on the trail". His friends ask in an incredulous tone, "But you brought in the deer?" Joe says to this, "Yeah, I didn't think anyone would steal Ed."

Priorities. Do you think Joe had his priorities straight? It depends on your perspective, I guess. In 24 years of service I have had several periods of time where I had competing priorities just like Joe did. I am sure all of us have had to sort through mountains of work as we've faced everything from short suspenses to robust deployment schedules supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

One thing that I have observed throughout is that how we set and follow our priorities is important for both short- and long- term goal accomplishment and for ensuring that we maintain focus on that which is most important in our lives and our work.

Knowing and following a logical series of priorities keeps you on track and lets you eventually find the proverbial "balance" in life through and after the "surge" to get the job done. The balance I am speaking of is in your work, family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, health and spirit.

I like to look at these competing priorities with the analogy of juggling five balls. If you lose sight of a ball or forget about it, it may fall and hit the ground causing you to break it or drop one or more of the other balls.

I have a few things that I do in order to keep focused on what is important that I would like to share.

First, in setting priorities you should allocate and manage time appropriately. Use a calendar and "to-do" list and prioritize your tasks by the identity of the tasking person, date needed, and criticality or importance to you or other people or by their importance to mission and collateral tasks. Do your list the night before and keep the list running from day to day.

Not everything will get done, so keep that in mind and continually re-prioritize, redo the list and be flexible enough to deal with unexpected issues. Ask for help from co-workers and delegate when possible to allow your subordinates to grow with you as they learn new skills, get connected to the mission and develop a sense of teaming to accomplish a task.

Don't try to personally cram 26 hours in a 24-hour day. Allocate tasks on your list to include time set aside for each of the balls you juggle: Your need to work out, spend time with your family, attend worship, volunteer, relax, visit with friends, play golf, go fishing, take a vacation, sleep, eat, go to school or whatever you do to seek the balance with the demands of your work. Don't get into the habit of cutting yourself short on time because of the job. Though necessary at times it should not be the norm.

If you keep everything in balance and perspective, most times you will have less trouble when one or more of the balls requires an inordinate amount of attention. Keep in mind that many times family, health, friends and your spirit may be the most fragile and the work ball may be more resilient. Communication with your supervisor and subordinates is crucial to getting through those times as well.

Second, set goals for yourself in long (5-10 years), mid-range (1-5 years), and short (less than 1 year) terms. Set measurable objectives along the way which will allow you to gauge your progress. Make sure you celebrate adequately when you achieve and involve your family and friends in your success.

Lately I have found that goals such as completing a college education (which is the overwhelming reason most young troops have told me they entered the Air Force) are more attainable than ever.

Except for the most austere bare base deployments, our deploying troops now find they can sign up for and continue classes online by connecting through networks made available at deployment locations around the world. In some places like Balad Air Base in Iraq, volunteers even teach college and College Level Examination Preparatory courses.

Schools are also much more flexible toward military personnel now, and they are certainly interested in meeting your terms with the tuition assistance provided to you. This and your stature and regard as serious students make the military member an attractive market niche for many schools. Completing school is just one example of a goal or set of goals, and you should try to set goals in all aspects of your life.

Becoming a better juggler, parent, spouse, communicator, follower, racquetball player or becoming better educated is all part of the equation which makes us better human beings and servants to our nation. Be flexible in your goal attainment and try something I always found effective: Set one personal and professional goal for each of the places you are assigned in addition to your three term goals.

Finally, understand that your first job is to carry out the Wing's mission and to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

One major benefit of life as an Airman is the predictability that the aerospace expeditionary construct gives us in knowing when we should expect to be deployed and separated from our families and when our priorities may shift. When your priorities and goals are aligned with the Air Force mission, goals and priorities you very often find that your own goals are accomplished at the same time even when you're deployed frequently, and if you're like me, you have a sense of accomplishment and a great deal of fun along the way.

Our Air Force leadership places extremely high value on your development and your mental, physical, emotional, financial, professional and spiritual well being. Understand that there are many great benefits that lead us to serve in the Air Force and that those benefits exist to help you become balanced and to support your development, focus, efficiency and effectiveness as an expeditionary warrior Airman.