In today’s post, I’m going to share my best military time management tips and quotes. This information is specifically for National Guard & Army Reserve leaders, but will benefit anyone.
Time is our most precious asset. In the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, we have limited time to get things done. We must do in one weekend a month and two weeks a year what the Active Duty Army has 365 days to do! In order to this, we must master our time management and work smart so we can be efficient and productive.
Time management is a skill ANYONE can learn. No one is born a time management expert. That should give you hope. If time management is something you struggle with as a military leader, this article is for you.
Time Management Mistakes in the Military
In this first section, I will share some of the most common time management mistakes in the military, as I see it. I’ve made many of these mistakes myself at one point or another in my military career.
Not Empowering & Delegating
This is easily the biggest time management mistake in the military, especially with new, young, or inexperienced leaders. As a military leader, you get paid to get things done through other people. Write that down and remember it. It’s not your job to do everything yourself. Instead, your job is to establish priorities, determine what only can do, and then to empower others, delegate, and supervise. If you try to do everything yourself, you are not doing your job properly. One person can only do so much! Empower the people the Army gave you to work with you!
Task delegation is one of the easiest ways of reducing workload. And if there is someone who can make a task better than you, delegate it. Of course, it’s not about giving out the tasks to anyone just so you have nothing to do. It’s about smartly organizing your work and sharing it with other people for better results and efficiency. ~ TimeCamp
Confusing Being Busy vs. Being Productive
One time management mistake many military personnel make is focusing on busy work, rather than focusing on the important things first. It’s easy to be busy. Anyone can do that. Instead, what you want to do is determine what tasks are most important, and do those first. You can be busy an entire day and accomplish practically nothing! It’s better to do the two or three most important tasks first.
It is important to remove excess activities or tasks. Determine what is significant and what deserves your time. Removing non-essential tasks/activities frees up more of your time to be spent on genuinely important things. ~ Corporate Finance Institute
Wasting Time in Meetings
Many military leaders love to have meetings simply to make themselves feel important. I can’t stand that. As a military leader, make it your goal to reduce or eliminate the number of meetings you lead and participate in. Some meetings are critical, but most are time wasters. Rather than do a meeting, consider sending out an email with the key points if applicable. This will save you and everyone else lots of time.
Being a Perfectionist
There are some things in the military that must be perfect; however, most don’t. Good enough is good enough (in most cases). There will neve be a perfect plan. There will never be a perfect mission or perfect training event. Accept it. Embrace it. Do the best you can and accept that good enough is good enough. A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow!
Time Management Tips & Quotes from Citizen Soldiers
This section will be fun. I’ve had many website visitors (and military friends) share some of their best military time management tips for Citizen Soldiers. I’ve compiled that list and shared it below. Enjoy!
Create a Daily To-Do List
Like most things in life, you need a plan and you need to stick top that plan. I prefer to write a list of things that need to get accomplished for that particular day. A Troop that is serving in the Reserve Component typically has a career to balance into the factor as well. Keeping a list (think mini goals) that need to get accomplished really supports the ‘working smarter’ and not necessarily the ‘working harder’ concept as well. ~ LTC Daniel A., ARNG
Prioritize Your Work
The best time management tip I can offer Soldiers serving in the ARNG or USAR is prioritize your work. In Today’s Army everything has a “suspense date”, or level of importance. I’ve learned that if you prioritize your work by “what’s more important” or when it’s due, you spend less time rushing to produce a mediocre product at the last minute. Remember your work is a reflection of yourself.
The next best time management tip I can offer Soldiers serving in the ARNG or USAR is discipline. With technology growing faster than we can feed it, we as soldiers strive and struggle to keep up. Everyone has a smart phone, a Facebook page, Twitter, etc. All of these lead to the black hole of poor time management. Remember you spend 8-10 hours at work at a time give or take. All it takes is a text message or Facebook update to suck away 5-10 minutes of your time (per message) in a work environment. Before you know it the day is over and you’ve have nothing accomplished. So practice being discipline to theses vices, turn off your Social Network notifications or alerts on your mobile devices, use the vibrate or silent setting on those devices as well. ~ SSG John M., ARNG
Work Consolidation & Goals
1. The first 30 minutes of a new work day should be spent on getting caught up on work that was not completed the day prior. At the end of a work day make a list of what you will accomplish for the next day. Place the top ten items of the day in order of importance. There are always so many things to do, but if you have a list it makes it faster to accomplish them and there is gratification. Many people always say they have so much to do, but never write down what they have to do, so in essence they do not accomplish what they need to achieve.
2. Work Consolidation: Plan ahead to get work accomplished. Example; plan your training requirements early and get them submitted. It is better to have a plan submitted that can be tweaked then trying to plan and act on them at the same time. This goes for many tasks. The key is to plan. Another words, you know you need to submit 12 training plans a year, submit them all at once versus 1 a month.
3. Personal Goals: Have a 5 year plan on where you want to be and start laying the ground work. Understand what it takes to get there and find a mentor to assist you. Don’t always wait for someone to take you under their wing, go out and find a mentor.
4. Education: Many young Soldiers always say they do not have time for school. After speaking with them, I find they are not married, no children and no second job. I explain to them that they need better time management skills. Cut down on the party time, get more sleep and take their future more serious. I ask them what they really want out of life. Sometimes they really do not know. I tell them write a list of what is truly important to them and at the end of the day what do they really want out of life. When they know what they truly want then it time to buckle down. This is when the plan is developed.
I also have spoken to Soldiers that have children, are married and have other jobs, etc. Then we discuss how to leverage automation systems because many colleges have on-line courses. The key to time management is in the planning. After planning, then the execution of the plan begins.
Be proactive versus reactive. ~ CSM (ret) Jeannette W., ARNG
Set Aside One Night a Week for Your Military Responsibilities
If you are a reserve component officer in a green tab or primary staff position you must make time for your Soldiers as you do your family. If you aren’t prepared to do that then don’t take the position. I recommend the RC officer schedule one consistent night (time) a week that is dedicated to his unit; that it be known, predictable to his family and unit, and not be compromised. ~ LTC Amy B. ARNG
Focus on the Little Things
Serving in the Military can be hard on all of us. It’s truly hard to fit everything in. There’s Military duties, family duties, trying to be a good soldier, husband, wife, and/or friend. I believe that if we focus on the little things, everything else comes into place. When we focus and worry about the big things, our time management gets off track because we feel pressured into doing something. This brings us unwanted stress and sometimes can also affect our health. If we start with the small things and take one step at a time, we’ll find that we’re able to fit everything in a lot better and the way we adjust to time management doesn’t seem so bad after all. ~ SGT Mike L., ARNG
Do a Few Things Really Well
Best time management tip: prioritize! Make a list of the things you want the Soldiers to do on a drill weekend, for example. Then, rate them by importance. Then, take HALF of your (hoped for) tasks, and STRIKE THEM OFF YOUR LIST. My one observation about part-time Soldiering is that we need to do a few things REALLY well: shoot, move, communicate; and not a LOT of things poorly! ~ SSG (ret) FJW
Depending on the Army Leader’s position they are really not part time, they are full time without the full time pay. Decisions have to be made and they would have to be contacted either on their full time job or at home for their input on various decisions.
For me as a former ARNG Leader I had to foresee actions and missions at least anywhere from 3, 6 to 12 months ahead in order to meet deadlines in a timely manner. Being at a staff level dealing with subordinate units in dealing with our timelines and deadlines was the biggest challenge. You pretty much had to prioritize actions for the subordinate units as well as myself.
Time management in the military is a real challenge at the Leader level, being able to be flexible. The best tip is to be able to prioritize according to importance and the deadlines, also to be able to foresee and think ahead. ARNG and USAR Soldiers need to learn how to prioritize the personal lives as well in order to do a good job while they are serving in the Reserve status. Some Soldier’s feel they should use Reserve time to work on their personal life. ~ SGM (ret) Regina W., ARNG
Prioritize Every Aspect of Your Life
The best time management tip I could give Soldiers today is to prioritize every aspect of your life. Time management is must when it comes to work, family, friends and working towards your dreams and goals in life. You have to know how much time is too much and how much time is not enough spent in any aspect of your life. I have reminders and calendars all over my house so that my family is aware of my and whereabouts. Involve your spouse into your planning so that she does not feel left out and not helpful to you. She may be a better planner than you. If you are not married, ask a close friend to assist you in planning how to accomplish your long term and short term goals no matter what they are. Last but not least, make time for worship whatever your faith is. Last, health and fitness must be added to when managing your time. Just put those things that are most important first and everything else will fall into place. ~ SFC JS, ARNG
Create a Weekly & Daily Plan
Create a weekly plan filled with appointments and activities to be accomplished. Break that plan down to daily plans. Appointments and activities that can’t be put off write in Red. Match up the tasks that can be done by multitasking. Keep the plan realistic. After you decide what to accomplish, then execute them. ~ SSG (Ret) Wendy O.
Make a Plan But be Flexible
The best time management tip that I could give is to make a ‘tentative plan!’ I have found with myself that if I don’t have a foundational plan when planning for drill, AT and even traveling to duty locations, I tend to be more unorganized. When I make a ‘tentative plan’ about two weeks before an event, I have time to adjust fire, because we all know that no plan survives first contact! ~ Mike K. CPT, ARNG
Do not look at the National Guard as a part-time position. If you can’t separate yourself from your personal life long enough to get the job done any day of the month, you’re going to have a very tough time leading soldiers. Set aside time daily to communicate with your unit, foster relationships with the full-time support staff and to take care of any administrative needs they have. They will appreciate you for it and you won’t be marginalized for being ‘part-time’. ~ Patrick D., CPT
Delegate & Empower
Prioritize and complete immediate taskers first. Use your Executive Officers and Operations Officers for guidance. Develop training schedules for BTA/Drill periods and send them out at least one week before BTA. Learn to delegate and use your E4s to their maximum potential. Your E4s will be E5/Sergeants very quickly upon mobilization and must learn to take charge and utilize many skills to complete missions.” ~ JPO
Use a Calendar
I am married, work full time, involved in a soccer league, and serve a local church as a worship leader and community group leader. Not only that, I set aside some time for myself for personal development. Due to having a hectic schedule, I came up with a solution to keep track of my daily schedule.
I have a giant calendar on my desk, where I have written down all my appointments, plans, and meetings. On my lap top, I have notes for critical tasks. Lastly, I have a small planner that I keep track of my daily schedule in details. Now this sounds crazy, but I am really used to it. Because of this system that I had created for myself, I never missed or forgotten anything important. (Not recently~) This might not work for you, but I encourage you to create a system for yourself. ~ 2LT Israel K., ARNG
Work Outside of Drill Weekend
Do not be afraid of working outside of drill. The Army is hard and it only gets harder with more rank. Whenever soldiers go to drill, they can tell which NCOs and officers do not care about the army outside of drill. They are the ones that fail the APFT and come to drill clueless to what’s going on during that weekend. Working outside of drill also means attending professional development schools. I’ve met too many leaders that don’t go to their military schools and become comfortable “claiming” a position within a unit. This de-motivates soldiers below them because they refuse to get promoted or change units.
Another small thing that’s helped me tremendously since becoming a Guardsman was investing $250 in a tiny notebook computer. It’s small enough that I can carry it anywhere with a CAC card reader, an SD card, and all of my army forms. Rather than waiting for a computer to open up at work or school, I just pull out very quickly to check my e-mails or work on documents. It’s saved me a ton of time because I can work on information faster and respond to e-mails in a timely manner without having to go home. ~ 1LT Moses W., ARNG
My Best Tips for Military Personnel
In this last section, I’d like to share some of my favorite military time management tips. These are practical lessons I have learned from the School of Hard Knocks.
# 1: Do the Most Important Thing First
Sometimes we are asked to put 10 pounds of rocks into a five pound bag. Can you relate? There’s always so much to do and you can never get everything done. You must learn how to prioritize your work tasks and do them in order of importance. Learning this one skill will help you rise to the top of any organization. Anyone can be busy, but successful people are productive. If you can learn to be productive, predictable, and reliable, you will move up through the organization quickly. I once received some career advice that went something like this (paraphrased).
The Soldiers and officers who get promoted quickest are the ones who can (1) prioritize what must be done, and (2) get things done ahead of time and to standard.
# 2: Have a Daily “To-Do” List
You should use a written daily “to-do” list every drill weekend and in your daily civilian life. Your “to-do” list should have everything you need to complete written down. Next, the tasks should be prioritized in order of importance, and they should be marked whether or not you will do them yourself or delegate the task to someone else. Do things in order of importance, delegate what you can, and work smart.
# 3: Use the Big Three
During my time in Company Command, I had what was called the Big 3. These were the big three tasks I hoped to accomplish for the day and/or drill weekend. I tried to teach my subordinates to come up with their own Big 3. In my opinion, if I got the Big 3 things done it was a successful day. This might be my most important military time management tip.
# 4: Understand the 10/90 Rule
The Pareto Principle is the popular 20/80 rule which states that 20% of the work you do will produce 80% of the results. I think the rule is more like the 10/90 Rule which means that 10% of the things you do produce 90% of the results. If that is true, make sure you focus 90% of your time on the top 10% most important things.
# 5: Doing it Yourself vs. Delegating
I’m the type of guy who likes to get things done. That is good is some respects, but when I try to do everything myself, I limit myself. As leaders, we get paid to get things done through other people. On the other hand, we don’t get paid to do everything ourselves. If you can delegate a task, do it! Even if someone else can only do the task 80% as good as you can, let them do it! That’s your job.
# 6: Plan Your Drill Weekend Ahead of Time
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Several nights prior to drill weekend, take out the training calendar and training schedule and plan your drill weekend. What are the big things that must get done? What are the implied tasks that you must do to complete the big things? What must your Soldiers do? Come up with a game plan for drill weekend. This will save you lots of time.
# 7: Have Realistic Expectations
No human being is perfect. Sorry if that comes as a shock to you. You are not perfect and neither am I. You must have realistic expectations about what you can accomplish and what your Soldiers can accomplish. Don’t set unrealistic goals and expectations and then punish your Soldiers if they don’t meet them. As a Citizen Soldier in a leadership capacity, a lot of your work must be done outside of drill weekend, so you can focus on the most important things during drill weekend.
# 8: Visit The Unit Before Drill Weekend to Get Organized
While I was a Company Commander, my best leaders always visited the armory a few days before drill weekend. They did their PCC/PCIs, positioned equipment, conducted inventories, staged items, and prepared for drill weekend. This saved them lots of time during drill weekend.
# 9: Know Your Deadlines
You must know your deadlines. If you are given suspense, write it down. And give yourself a reminder a few days (or hours) before the suspense is do so you do not forget. You must be proactive, not reactive. Use a simple Suspense Tracker Worksheet to track your suspense’s and the suspense’s you assign your subordinates.
# 10: Use a Day Planner or Calendar
Every military leader should have a day planner or calendar. Whether you use your phone, MS Outlook, or a traditional day planner is irrelevant. Just find something that works for you and stick with it. Write down your deadlines and plan your days ahead of time. Whenever you are given a task and deadline, write it down so you don’t forget. Try to break down your day into blocks of time.
Bonus Tip: Backwards Planning
As a bonus tip, one of my best military time management tips is backwards planning. This is when you start with your final objective and then plan backwards. Determine what you need to do each day between now and then to be successful and accomplish your mission. Basically, you take a big goal and break it down into bite-sized chunks. Check out what one of our website visitors had to say about backwards planning:
My best military time management tip is to use backwards planning. I practiced this skill when I was younger, now I don’t even think about it. I also prioritize what tasks are a must-do and urgent, and on down until I get to what can be put off until the next day if necessary. I find that if I give myself ample time to accomplish tasks, I don’t feel as stressed out when the last minute changes come up (because they always do). ~ Candace G. 2LT, ARNG
In conclusion, these are my best military time management tips. Time is our most precious asset. As Citizen Soldiers, we must learn to work smart and balance our job, family, and military career. If you follow the advice in this article you will be well on your way.
If you are a military leader, in any branch or capacity, I would love to hear from you. What are your best military time management tips? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and best ideas.
If you’re looking to improve your time management skills, and be a more productive leader, you should check out my Part-Time Army Leader Time Management Course.