The Balancing Act

  • Published
  • By Col. Susan Jano
  • 9th Medical Group commander
To be successful in your career and life requires a careful balance of two equally important factors: work, and personal time. It's no secret we have more obligations and stressors than ever before. Worldwide operations expand our mission, while economic factors result in budget constraints and zero manpower gains. We're encouraged to complete college courses, community service, professional military education, deployments, and also have quality family time to maintain our resiliency. Airmen have to operate at top efficiency to accomplish all these requirements and succeed.

The importance of today's job is obvious - we don't have eyes on the bad guys without Team Beale showing up for work each day. The Air Force needs sharp junior Airmen to develop and grow into tomorrow's senior enlisted and officer leaders. Those who fail to consciously make time for a personal life along the way often burn out with no support network to help them through stressful inspections, deployments or other short-term struggles.

From a commander's perspective, none of the examples of poor balance described below are who we want in our units. Unfortunately, it's far too common to fall into one of these categories, due to poor mentorship, misjudgment or blind ignorance.

The Afterburner: Puts work first, all the time. They auto-delete every email that isn't from their chain of command. Rising Six or Company Grade Officer Council emails are just an annoyance. You can identify an Afterburner by their work-related conversations, ex-spouses and pale skin resulting from dawn-til-dusk workdays.

The Homebody: These dedicated family men and women never miss a dance recital, birthday or school holiday, and if they abandon their flight to go home, so be it. They have an emotional back story behind every short-notice day of leave, three hour mid-day absence, and missed suspense. You'll track them by following the sound of a minivan tearing out of the parking lot at 4:29 p.m.

The Short Term Thinker: Hard-working team member who goes home to their family as soon as the day's work is done. Unfortunately, the reason they have plenty of time for both their job and personal life is because they ignore the long-term realities of an Air Force career: PME, awards, a well-rounded performance report and education. Also known as, "I can't believe you didn't make rank again."

Blindly diving into your email for 12 hours will only gain superficial results in the short term and little progress in the long term. Try using these tips to help you find the proper balance to your career with the Air Force.

Vector yourself for success. Draft a detailed dream career path - if you only know you'd like to be an instructor, a chief master sergeant or squadron commander, write it down. Arrange a meeting with a mentor and have them help you fill in the gaps. As you are presented with new prospects, decide if they will help you or hurt you and adjust as necessary.

Genuinely consider every opportunity before refusing or deleting the email. We all struggle with a full inbox and may rashly delete every non-mandatory message to make progress. Pause for five seconds after reading an email and visualize the trade-off: what are you missing out on? Are you going to be better off because you spent an hour sifting through Outlook, or because you attended the command chief's mentorship breakfast? Hang around the house, or attend a unit barbeque? Your default answer to any opportunity should be, "Yes," unless you can come up with a legitimate reason to refuse.

At the start of the day, take a few minutes to prioritize a task list. Consider professional and personal factors, perhaps making it home in time to see your children or making progress on your Community College of the Air Force degree should be priorities today. Identify which items must be done today versus what can be deferred if necessary. Ask for help early if your highest priorities demand more than you can support. Focus on a single item, get it done and move to the next. Each morning, reassess and reprioritize.

If you take a few minutes to plan and prioritize your time, you will be more efficient, happier and more successful. Your family and your leadership will thank you for it.