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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

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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