Setting Priorities: What’s Important and Why?

  • Published
  • By Col. Jamie Fontanella
  • 315th Airlift Wing commander
Setting priorities is imperative in both our personal lives and our work lives.  Setting priorities not only enables us to employ time management principles, but properly distribute other resource allocations, such as funding, manpower and other less tangible effects in order to achieve our goals.  I see examples literally every day that require decisions on the prioritization of tasks, money and assets. 

I recently returned from a deployment with CENTCOM where I was keenly aware of the commander's priorities on a daily basis.  Operations throughout the area of responsibility were very dynamic and the objectives were often times quite daunting.  While almost all missions were considered "no-fail," the commander very clearly communicated the mission areas that would require the highest urgency whether or not they required the most assets.  Looking back, it would seem impossible to accomplish each mission simultaneously, but, based on the systematic and connected mission priorities, we worked through them very efficiently and 100 percent effectively.

Within the 315th Airlift Wing we have a strategic plan that focuses on four major graded areas that are aligned with our Commander's Inspection Program.  Within each, we have subdivided the major areas into multiple enabling objectives, which constitute the goals that each process owner must accomplish in priority order.  This is what forms our wing's road map for mission accomplishment over the near term up to six months, and more strategically for a period of 18 months and beyond.  Our priorities keep us on track and help dictate our exercise and training plans in order to maximize our readiness, which contributes to our national security.

I take great pride in talking about the Reserve Triad.  That's that concept that we "Citizen Airman" Reservists embrace, and is based on the fact that Air Force Reservists have three main priorities in our lives.  They are our civilian jobs, our Reserve jobs and our families and it's very important to find the right balance among the three.  At any given time a situation may dictate any one of the three legs of the Triad may be a higher priority than the other two, but that's never a permanent condition.  Whenever the incident that required the urgency passes, the other two legs' priorities get restored and rebalanced.

In the budget world our funding priorities are prescribed within core functions on a priority list known as the "one to n" list. It is a literal listing of items that your program needs to accomplish its mission from the most dear to the least dear.  Once the line is drawn on what the total obligation authority can afford, the lowest priorities items become unfunded, while the highest go into the Program Objective Memorandum, which is what becomes the Department of Defense's contribution to the President's budget.  It's very important that the plans and programs leadership on the Air Staff (A8) understands what the warfighter and users' priorities are in order to get them funded.

By the same token, many of us endeavor to maintain a household budget based on our priorities.  The obvious necessities of food, clothing and shelter are usually spent first, followed by work expenses, education and savings for retirement.  If you spend according to the conventional priorities, what is left over is usually allotted to fun or entertainment.  Discipline in sticking to your budget priorities usually results in greater opportunities to have fun!

Some priorities can literally mean life and death, while others are simply gratifying to our emotions.  In the end, we cannot achieve our goals unless we correctly set priorities, and continuously evaluate and refine them.  Time management, appropriate manpower allocations and prudent budget practices are all dependent on having rational, well thought out priorities.  Invest some time in setting them correctly -- it usually pays for itself.

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