The economics of time

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Frederick A. Coleman III
  • 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron commander
I would rather have a dollar stolen from me than a minute. Time is more valuable than any other asset. With time a poor man can become rich, and a fool can become wise.  We must guard our time - it is our most precious commodity. Others will try to steal it - we must not let them. Likewise, we must respect others' time. Let us not be the thief that steals time from our neighbor, our coworker, or our friend.

What you do with your time is up to you. You can learn, teach, play, work, eat, sleep, exercise, or any number of things. None of these are inherently bad or good, they are simply choices.  They are your choices. But every choice you make regarding your time has a consequence, and you alone are responsible for that consequence. In the end, when you look back on your life, who you are will be defined by how you chose to spend your time. Spend wisely.

As leaders our choices regarding time allocation become more important. We must be very self-aware regarding time management. We need to constantly blend requirements, training, teaching, mentoring, and collaboration with efficiency and effective time management. We must conduct a form of time-cost analysis in our lives and when the time-cost of our activities outweigh the benefit of those activities we need to adjust course. To be effective, we must choose in advance how we will prioritize our time. We must know what is most important to us and choose how we spend our time accordingly. Will we choose to spend our time mentoring, teaching, and leading by example? Or will we spend our time in meetings, writing reports, or sending emails? Sometimes this choice is made for us by our superiors, but the higher we climb on the leadership ladder, the more this choice becomes our own.

Along these lines, we must also set time priorities for our subordinates. Our subordinates must know what is most important to us so they can choose how they will spend their time. What do I most want my subordinates to spend their time doing? They can't do it all. Every tasking comes with a time-related opportunity cost. What opportunity are we taking away from our subordinate when we task him or her with something? When we take time from our subordinates - and we will, we must - we need to make it count. We do this by being prepared, by being intentional, by being thoughtful. If we endlessly pile taskings and requirements on our subordinates without regard for time-opportunity cost we minimize their effectiveness. 

The economics of time become ever-more pressing in today's high demand military culture.  Today's Airmen have more requirements levied upon them than ever before. We could spend all of our time attending meetings, completing CBTs, and volunteering for special projects and none of our time actually executing our mission. This is where we must be leaders. We must know what is actually required for us to complete our mission, we must know what makes us better at our mission, and we must spend the predominance of our time on only those things.  We must stiff-arm like a Heisman candidate any distraction that threatens mission accomplishment. We must realize that we can't do everything, and we must choose in advance our time priorities. Likewise, our Airmen must know that we don't expect them to do everything, but that we do expect them to spend the predominance of their time focusing on the mission. All of us, regardless of rank or position, must audaciously guard our time as the precious resource that it is.