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Tactics & Strategy: Do you know the difference?

Tactics & Strategy: Do you know the difference?
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    Attaining true productivity can be an elusive process, and often when I look around at the methods people are using I see two distinct approaches: tactics, like motivation hacks, or overarching strategies, like applying the concept of minimalism to productivity.

    But the best productivity systems use both approaches, with the strategy providing a framework for action and the tactics defining those actions. People often use the terms strategy and tactics interchangeably, and that’s where the danger begins.

    A system based on tactics without strategy leads to shooting in the dark—you might get something done, but it doesn’t become sustainable or provide you with a path to continue on. A system based on strategy without tactics means the strategy has no means of being carried out.

    The principle is that tactics are defined by the strategy, and that neither can exist effectively without the other.

    What is your strategy?

    If you want to set up a productivity system, invest the time in not only learning it but making it a habit, and be able to use it for many years to come, it’s very important to consider well your strategy—the foundations of the system.

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    If you do a knock-up job here, you’ll pay for it when you find you need to start from scratch. A builder once told me that when you buy a house, it’s important to check the foundations: you can fix most problems, but if the foundation is unstable, you may end up having to start from scratch.

    It’s a good time for a retrospective, introspective look at the way you work. Do you work best under pressure? In a minimalist environment? Does having information scattered and cluttered around you inspire you to work?

    Know your optimal working conditions and set these up as the basis of your strategy, so that your entire methodology motivates you and you get the job done. Avoid the temptation to go with a mindset that doesn’t suit you—don’t choose minimalism just because it’s the trend if clutter actually does get you working.

    Productivity systems are inherently about getting you to do things, and each person ticks to a different clock. That’s where pre-packaged systems like Getting Things Done often fall down. It’s a great system that works for some, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s not your fault.

    Though all productivity requires discipline, if a system just doesn’t work for you, don’t beat yourself up because you just “can’t” become a motivated, productive person. Persist, experiment, and you’ll find out what does work.

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    The other important starting point for developing strategy is your strategic outcome. Know specifically what it is that you wish to achieve through your system; is it purely to get more done, so you can spend even more time on your new business? Or do you want to get all your work done in a shorter time and set boundaries so you can spend more time with your family?

    Knowing your work mindset and your strategic outcome allows you to form a workable strategy.

    I’ve found that defining your strategy clearly on paper (or screen) helps you adhere to and retain it. If you leave it to the memory you’ll likely forget all about it next week.

    Implementation is the next important step, and the way to implement a strategy is through tactics.

    Tactics

    Every tactic must suit the strategy. If you can’t explain how a tactic helps you achieve the strategic outcome, then it’s probably not the best choice and needs to be rethought.

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    Tactics are the actions that lead to execution of the strategy. The keyword is action, but tactics are made up of a few elements (some of the following are optional, depending on how you work):

    • An action
    • A purpose
    • A schedule
    • A measurable result

    The Action

    This is the most obvious element. Without an action, what would a tactic be? For every action that needs to be taken care of in your life, a tactic can be created. Writing this article was one action in a daily writing tactic. This is the tactic I use to ensure that I keep writing despite the temptation to fire up NetNewsWire. This tactic is made up of several actions, since I write for a few different publications.

    The Purpose

    Sometimes our to-do lists get filled up with tasks that have no purpose. What are you achieving by carrying an action out? Is it helping you achieve your strategic outcome? Is it helping you achieve any of your goals? This component of a tactic serves two purposes:

    1. It ensures that every tactic adheres to the principle outlined earlier: all tactics must help you achieve your strategic outcome.
    2. It ensures you’re not wasting time on tasks that provide no return.

    I regularly go through my task list and ask myself, if I do this, what goal or strategic outcome will it advance or satisfy? and frequently, if I don’t do this, how will that affect my projects and outcomes? Shaving unnecessary tasks is important when the list gets too long to complete.

    The Schedule

    Most effective tactics contain a scheduling component—don’t just decide that you’re going to use an empty inbox tactic (a tactic of the minimalist family), but decide when and how often you’re going to process messages.

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    I would suggest adding those regular tactics to a calendar like Outlook or iCal with a reminder, but that depends on your strategy. Perhaps you avoid tasks when you’re reminded to do them?

    Actions move you towards your goals, while scheduling ensures actions are executed.

    The Measurable Result

    When you complete something, can you measure the result? After finishing this article, I’ve got several metrics to work with:

    • One more piece in my body of work
    • Roughly a thousand more words in my body of work
    • One account receivable
    • Comments (measure success of article and refine for next time)

    There’s usually no need to track these results meticulously for every task, but when you’re unsure whether a task is working for you or just wasting your time, measurement provides hard answers.

    When you adopt a new system in any area of life, changes don’t happen overnight. New systems take time before they become second nature, so work hard at sticking to it and developing those new habits.

    Most importantly, remember that the most effective productivity systems have the strongest foundations.

    More by this author

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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