Commentary Search

Chipping away at the to-do list

  • Published
  • By Col. Tim Smith
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing vice commander
As 2007 draws to a close, this is a great time to reflect on the past 12 months and look forward to what the next 12 months has to offer. While it's impossible to change history, it is possible to shape the future. By shaping the future, you in fact can have an impact on history. No, I haven't "lost it" nor am I trying to "go deep" with this article. What I want you to know is that each of you, regardless of your rank, position, etc. plays a critical role in what we do. That being said, let's talk about how we do what we do. 

As you look back on this last year I feel certain that your list of things to accomplish was probably not fully exhausted and that's okay. You see, it's fine to have lots of things on your "to-do" list that are not yet complete. The bottom line is that you made progress. Like most squadron commanders I started my command tour with a rather long list of things I thought needed to be accomplished. Two years later, as my tour was coming to a close, again, like most squadron commanders, there were numerous items still on my list. 

Don't misunderstand, I worked hard and the folks who worked with and for me worked even harder. As I handed that guidon back to my group commander at the change of command I was absolutely confidant that the squadron was a better place than when I arrived. No, I'm not overstating my impact, just saying that I was able to help the squadron tackle a few issues and as a result the organization was better as a result. You see, I found it best to look at the many things I wanted to accomplish and get started or as I often say around the office, "get on it." 

Not that we have lots of leaves to rake in Florida but imagine there were 1,000,000 leaves in your yard. What an overwhelming task that would be, one that would take hours if not days to take care of. After just a few minutes of raking you could have easily gathered up 1,000 leaves. Guess what, only 999,000 left. The point is that by getting on with the task, you made progress and in this scenario, the yard is better than when you started. 

While assigned to MacDill, I had the opportunity to work with a Marine Major General who is now retired. One day we were talking and he passed on a few "nuggets" that he learned as a young Lieutenant. I found one to be particularly amusing and accurate. He said "if you're ever given a #@%* sandwich, don't mess around ... take a BIG bite ... it's yours to eat." Marines ... not ones to mince words are they? Think about it, it makes sense to me. 

As an aviator, I've spent the last 24 years in a checklist driven environment and I like to put the same concept in slightly different terms. Very often, step one in "the checklist" is to complain and consternate while steps two and beyond start to actually solve the problem or address the issue. I kid with folks in the office that sometimes people languish and stay on step one when they need to quickly move on to step two ... that's where problem resolution begins. 

Imagine you're on your way home late in the afternoon after a long day at work, traffic is bad, and you get a flat tire. Step one is to be frustrated and aggravated. You can get as mad as you want and vent your frustration however you chose, but until you move to step two, that tire is still flat. Take a bite out of the sandwich and press on ... the flat tire is your issue to resolve. 

As you look at your list of goals and priorities for 2007 did you accomplish a few of them? Did you rake those first 1,000 leaves? Did you take a big bite out of the sandwich? Did you get beyond step one in the checklist? If not, now is the time to reconsider what approach you will take with your goals and priorities for 2008. I'm impressed every day with the incredibly talented and exceptionally dedicated men and women that serve in our Air Force. I'm inspired to know that each of you responded voluntarily to the call of your nation. With this talent and devotion, we can take the Air Force to the next level in 2008 ... but only if we start raking, taking big bites, or progressing through the checklist. Now get on it!