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Get up and get moving on those tasks

By Lt. Col. Achilles Hamilothoris 2nd Medical Support Squadron

Do you freeze up when your household goods delivery truck unloads those hundreds of boxes? Do you not know where to start when you look at the stacks of paperwork on your desk, tasks to complete or which email to respond to first? Well, you're not alone. We're wired as humans to stop and think about how we're going to start and complete a task, but in these busier times of limited resources and diminishing staff, we're often having tougher times analyzing multiple tasks and closing them out. Here are some tips on how to make it a little easier for you and your staff.

First, set a clear, achievable goal you and your staff can relate to and how to be motivated by it. While it is sometimes good to speak in administrative and managerial terms and say, "I'm going to reduce our excess warehouse backlog by 13.1 percent in the next 30 days," that's not very exciting. However, saying "In 30 days I'm going to clear enough space in our warehouse to set up chairs and a table so I can sit with my staff and enjoy a break rather than standing or sitting on the floor," sounds much better. This is a quick way to inspire and put a visual emotion to it. Not only is the space a "win" due to you getting rid of some backlog, but the space will be seen and felt as a "win" because now you can use that area for something your staff has been wanting for a long time. Don't set your goal too high because it may take you a long time to achieve, and you lose motivation as time goes by. Setting attainable goals will enable "wins" along the way that keep you and your staff fired up and moving in the right direction.

Second, get moving. Choices in life are usually a good thing, but when given too many choices, our bodies shut down in what's called decision paralysis. You get over this by just picking a point and starting. Use your gut and training to estimate the best and safest place to start. If the place you estimate to start is an "80 percent good choice", then just do it. Do not sit there and ensure your starting point is "100 percent", the most logical place to start. If you sat there and tried to figure out the "100 percent point", it will take you much longer that you would probably be buried even deeper in the backlog you're trying to get rid of. Start unpacking and first box you're closest to, the stack of paperwork on top of your desk, or start with the "hottest" task you have. Point is, start. 

Third, don't focus too much on figuring out the whole plan and all steps to get to your goal, just keep marching towards your goal. As you reach each new point or challenge, decide how to tackle it as you get there. With the household goods example, don't try to figure out all of the "what ifs." What I recommend is to make sure your clear goal is posted and viewable by all. I like to call this the "North Star". Whenever you get sidetracked, lost or stumble, look at your "North Star" to guide you back on track. You're smart enough to think as you go.

Fourth, stumbling is not a foul and can be looked at as a huge positive. As long as you learn from your mistake and prevent similar mistakes in the future, you have succeeded. Be proud to share your mistake and what you learned with your colleagues. In the medical field, new surgery techniques are often associated with new problems never seen before. These new problems and how to prevent or minimize them are documented and shared with colleagues around the world. This way, thousands of patients have less risk because of your stumble, and what you did after that stumble. Don't be afraid to share your mistakes with others.

My final point is to have fun and celebrate along the way. Using our warehouse example, the first step was to clear enough space for a table and chairs. That's a great first milestone. Why not celebrate with the supervisor buying some light refreshments or have a potluck? Maybe the next milestone is to clear enough space to park a vehicle. Have a raffle to let a person park their vehicle in that space for a week. After that, how about clear enough space to park a large piece of equipment such as a forklift or a fire truck? These are monumental steps and celebrations along the way, not only making it somewhat fun, but helping you and your staff stay motivated and continue to focus on the positives along the way.   

Remember, we're all very busy, and we all get overwhelmed. We're only human. The trick is knowing when we are getting overwhelmed. Take small steps and stay focused. As long as we continue to do this, we and our mission will succeed.