Prepare to be Prepared

Tips on preparation to enhance performance and reduce stress

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“Preparation prevents poor performance” is an old adage that I’m sure we’ve all heard at least once. While it is something that was ingrained in my foundation since I was a child, it wasn’t something I truly understood until I was older. What exactly does it mean to be prepared? How can we, as pilots, do everything we can to continue to be prepared for all aspects in our personal and professional lives?

Regardless of the amount of experience you have, it is important to have a plan for how to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Whether you are preparing for an upcoming written exam, checkride, job interview, or simply your next flight, there are a series of steps you can take that will keep you on track to prepare for and achieve any goal.

Two-step preplanning

The first step is to clearly identify your goal and isolate it from others you may have in your life or career. In our industry, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what you are preparing for since it is often expected that you know everythingabout flying your aircraft and the rules behind it. While knowing everything about your aircraft is a great long-term goal that we should all strive for, it is more realistic and helpful to pinpoint and isolate your specific goal to something more clearly attainable.

The second step is to develop an action plan that includes what must be actually done, learned, or obtained to accomplish your goal. Also, within your plan, you should create a schedule to accomplish your goal. Cramming is a concept that I’m sure most are familiar with and while it may have worked in certain situations, this industry is unforgiving of those who wait to prepare. Start early, use a calendar (digital or otherwise), and stick to your timeline. Breaking your main goal down into smaller steps makes it easier to gauge your progress and stay on track.

Written exams

What can be done to prepare? What tools are available to you? While written exams are only one portion of a broad spectrum of knowledge you are expected to demonstrate in order to obtain a new rating or certificate, the good news is that the information you are expected to know for these written exams, such as FARs, limitations or systems of your aircraft, does not often change. Studies have shown that the act of physically writing something down can help the brain connect information with a physical action, thus making it easier to remember. For items that must be committed to memory, sitting down and repeatedly writing each title of the item and the action required of the pilot, until it is second nature could work for you as it does for me. There are also digital options available, such as digital flashcards, word processing programs to help draw diagrams and patterns, and apps available for your phone or tablet. Another option, which has helped me throughout my career, is audible studying. Listening to yourself (or others) discuss topics, information, and concepts repeatedly might be another piece of the puzzle you’ve been looking for. In a world where we are nearly always connected to our phones, it’s not difficult to record yourself reading off a list of the limitations of your aircraft, for example, and practicing along, almost like song lyrics. For that matter, nothing is stopping you from singing, likely as you did to learn the alphabet . . . but please, don’t do it over the intercom at cruise.

Job interview prep

Often, you are expected to bring a multitude of different types of paperwork with you. This may include, the job application itself, copies of your résumé, a cover letter, recommendation letters, and of course, your logbook. This is simple if you start gathering everything early. You run the risk of facing problems when you wait until the last minute, especially with paperwork. Issues with printing, the paper itself, or last-minute corrections that need to be made to the logbook can make your interview even more stressful. Do yourself a favor and get it done early! And speaking of logbooks – it’s important to think about keeping your logbook, whether physical or digital, as up-to-date as possible, even if you already have your dream job. You never know what may be around the corner and the last situation you’ll want to deal with when getting a call from a potential employer is to have to go back for a few hundred, or even a thousand hours, and make sure they’re logged correctly. It may the only part of your professional life that you “bring home with you,” but you’ll be glad you did. 

Getting it all together

This is simple if you’ve followed your plan. You’ve identified and isolated your goal, you’ve done the work to prepare in a timely matter, but now it’s time to review. Just like our briefings when flying, it’s important to take a look at potential risks one last time. Tie up any loose ends, review that topic on which you are less confident, check that paperwork and make sure it’s exactly the way you want it. The more time you have given yourself to correct errors, the better. At some point, there’s just simply nothing you more you can do. Once you’ve reached that point, the anticipation and stress kick in. This is where it’s most important to do what you need to do to relax. I listen to some calming music or see good friends to take my mind off of what’s putting me under pressure. It’s important for to identify what works for you as each of us is different. But one thing is certain – as different as we are, we are aviators. We are all professionals. Do what you can to be as prepared as possible, as early as possible to avoid any poor performance.

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