Tactically Approaching Tasks

by Nick Yates
CW2, U.S. Army
Mentors for Military Ambassador


Our careers, whether military or civilian, will inherently place obstacles in our path along the way. These obstacles may appear in the form of a task, an unrealistic deadline, the seizure of enemy territory, or a multitude of other ways. One of the many things I love about my career as an Army Aviator is that these obstacles inherently present themselves in new ways every day, always providing a challenge. We are entrusted by our leaders as professionals in our respective fields to attack these problems in a timely manner and do so successfully.
Success as a term is subjective, meaning that it is open for interpretation; this concept requires us to always clarify the end-goal so that we can make the end state objective.  A defined goal, objective, or obstacle requires a plan to successfully achieve or overcome.
This brings us to start attacking objectives with a few simple steps that I use on a day-to-day basis, whether it be planning an air assault or building a classroom style presentation;
Identify the Task:  This can often be mistaken for the “what” in regards to the nature of the task–that is not what this step implies. This step is simply identifying the fact that there is a task to be accomplished. This step begins with verifying continual positive lines of communication exist with your supervisor to ensure that you are continually staying on top of what is being asked of you. Often soldiers find themselves without a task, unsure of what to do, but also unsure of why their supervisor has not released them from work. The most likely cause of this is a poor line of communication. Take the initiative and always identify what is expected of you. Not only will this provide clarity for you, but also will display your motivation and desire for success in your profession to your superior and to yourself.
Define the Objective:  In the air assault world, this is the identification of the “Five Ws” (Who, what, when, where, why).  Once you have identified that you have a task, define the intended result and always reverse plan, meaning start with your goal or objective and plan backwards. This provides you the opportunity to perform a “pre-mortem”  (defining areas where failure is most likely) of the task and the ability to recognize the need to plan for overcoming them. This also allows you to identify areas that you may need assistance. In essence, verify a shared understanding of your supervisor’s intent with the task at hand so that you may successfully develop and execute your mission.
Develop Your Plan: Now, how you choose to develop your plan is up to you. This is partially because the types of planning required will change with the task. With that being said, you can almost always break it down into three steps:

-Defined End-State/Deadline

-Required Resources/Personnel

-Tasks to accomplish by precedence to achieve the goal.


Execute: You’ve defined your goals, set your timelines, and collected your resources and personnel necessary. Now is the time to perform. Whether you are managing or operating solo, continually perform self-checks to ensure you are executing your plan according to your timeline, and ensure that your superior is well informed of your progress. If you want to go the extra step, provide your superior a copy of your plan to not only keep those lines of communication open, but also to display you are approaching this task in a professional manner.
After Action Review: I know there will be soldiers and veterans who read this and roll their eyes, but in all reality, if properly executed, this is perhaps the most important step. It is imperative that you leave your ego at the door and be open to criticism; the same goes for your peers who you may be evaluating. This is the raw data from the operation.  It allows you to evaluate your (or your team’s) performance, learn from your mistakes, reinforce the actions that worked well, and allows you to develop yourself. Never make the same mistake in the same way twice!

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