West Point’s Secret Leadership Lesson

Thursday, July 5, 2018

We were overwhelmed. On purpose.

You only have 24 hours in a day. How are you going to spend your time?

This question is asked often, but most people still don’t manage their time correctly. The key to time management is critical thinking and prioritization.

How you use time can make or break your professional and personal career. I learned how to prioritize early on during my time at the United States Military Academy at West Point. At West Point, cadets are handed more work than they can possibly get done in a 24-hour time frame. We were strategically overwhelmed with tasks, forcing us to decide where we could have the most impact, what could be tackled as a team, and what we could dismiss. Without this knowledge, we wouldn’t be prepared to enter a battlefield where split second decisions in a chaotic environment can be a matter of life or death.

It’s not just understanding the mission critical tasks, it’s also understanding what resources can help you accomplish important tasks. People have a tendency to fill their day with a list of things they need to get done. They think they’re constantly busy because they focus on tasks that aren’t productive but easy to knock-out, leaving the ones that matter to continue to weigh on them. People like to check things off and feel like they finished something, but in the end they aren’t any closer to their ultimate goal. You have to know which tasks are worthy of your time — and which you can delegate to someone else or skip altogether.

Learning to distribute resources effectively is an important aspect of being able to prioritize. In the corporate world, work is a team game. Prioritizing the tasks that will make the most money or solve the biggest problem is key. Instead of letting everything else fall off the side, the best action is to delegate them to the right individual.

West Point trained me to focus and become a leader with initiative. My time there taught me how to prioritize tasks to make my teams the most productive, solve the biggest problems and have the best outcomes. It’s one of the most important lessons I learned, and absolutely necessary for everyday life. This advice can be applied by everyone from students to business leaders.

If you’ve got five hours of homework, figure out which class to prioritize. If you struggle in physics, work on that class first and expend the most resources there before moving on to what you know best.

If you’re a realtor, you still only have 24 hours in the day. Are you going to show houses to people who haven’t been prequalified and don’t have the capital to purchase the house? No. You want to spend your valuable time with people who are able to buy a house today.

Force yourself into situations where you don’t focus on a to-do list and you don’t have a firm plan, but instead you implement tasks into your schedule based on how they impact your end goal. The best way to pinpoint your priorities and find out how to best spend your time is by becoming overwhelmed. West Point figured that out a while ago, and now you can too.