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We all seem to have challenges in managing all we want or need to get done in life, and as pilots we have many things to manage in order to be safe and have a good flight. Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) is an essential skill for a pilot, and managing our time and resources while in the left seat is critical. If we don’t do it wisely, things can go bad in a heartbeat.

Time management guru Peter Drucker said there are three rules for effective time management. They work well for pilots. These are also concepts I teach to my high school aviation students.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. You need some place to document your commitments and tasks. There are countless methods, but something that is organized by date and time and can be referenced and used for planning takes away the burden of trying to remember all that you committed to. I have used the Franklin Day planner for the last 30 years and it has worked well for me.

You need to be able to prioritize. Having some sense of what is important and what is not is something we as pilots do all the time. We fly in a dynamic, ever-changing environment and know what is important and can prioritize our actions (aviate, navigate, communicate). We all know the horror stories of the pilot and passengers who died when the pilot succumbed to the “get-there-itis,” or pushing into the IMC conditions from VMC. What do many of the stories have in common? The pilot made a decision not based on the priorities of taking actions that would create the highest level of safety. Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”


Have you seen any buffaloes lately?

“Buffalo Time.” This my own interpretation of Drucker’s third rule. Some years ago, my wife was teaching a Dale Carnegie course and had a class member who was Amish and didn’t drive. Bill Plank of Brodhead, Wisconsin, had a successful harness and tack company—his company made the harness and tack for the Budweiser draft horse team. Bill’s company was based in large part on his making a commitment and following it through. Bill came back to assist with the next course and she would pick him up early and drive him to class. He never missed a class.

One day when she went to pick up Bill, his wife Elizabeth came out and told her Bill would not be going to class that night. That was very unusual, and my wife was concerned. Earlier in the day, one of their full-blooded buffaloes escaped and it had headed north, ripping up everything and anything is its path. The only way he was able to stop it was to shoot it. He was now out in the in the pasture, field dressing the 2,000-pound animal!

How many times in your life or flight has a “buffalo” showed up and completely changed your plans? These are things you didn’t expect but require your immediate attention and action: weather, mechanical failures, and other things develop that you didn’t anticipate. We all have or will experience something like this in our flying. It is not “if” but “when.” We train, prepare, and practice for these buffaloes.

The point is, as you plan your flight and daily tasks, provide some room in your plan for the buffaloes to roam. Be flexible, because those critters will come and stomp on you if you don’t allow some room for them. Have an alternate route or destination, plan extra time, and don’t cut it too close. It is better to arrive early rather than late—or never.

I try to share life lessons with my high school aviation students based on my flying experiences. There are five rules for success in my classes:

  1. Be there. Don’t miss class. It’s hard to make up some of the hands-on things we do.
  2. Have a good work ethic. Set high standards for your work. A pilot’s life and well-being will depend on the quality of your work when he or she is sitting in the left seat of the airplane you are building.
  3. Work as a team. Learn from others, share the workload. Many hands make light work.
  4. Have patience. This is big challenge for today’s youth. We are so used to everything being instant and quick-serve. It takes time to build skill and confidence. Learn from others who have more experience and skill. Learning to work with hand and power tools will take time to master.
  5. Time management is another challenge for our youth. They want to do everything and will over commit on a regular basis. The last-minute cramming and “I work better under pressure” are just excuses for poor planning and managing your commitments. I have lots of fun relating the buffalo story with them. I’ll often ask them if they saw any buffaloes recently. It is a fun and tactful way to remind them to manage their time effectively.

Have you seen any buffaloes lately?

John Rousch
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5 replies
  1. mike harper
    mike harper says:

    The hard part of Drucker’s first rule is making the measurement of what you want to control. Getting the data and the right data.
    Sort of like the FED’s problem of using the right measure of inflation and the state of the economy.
    best mike

  2. Barry Gloger
    Barry Gloger says:

    To Nitpick: The story involved an American Bison (misnomer buffalo), a different species than the water buffalo you used to illustrate it. Check the back of an old Indian Head Nickel, if you can find one.

    • Barry Gloger
      Barry Gloger says:

      John just wrote me that he correctly submitted a photo of an American Bison with the article, but that the Air Facts editor substituted the picture of an African Buffalo.

      SHOCKED, Shocked I say, that an editor made an error on an article concerning the prevention of mistakes!


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