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Productivity and “The Art of War”: Applying Sun Tzu’s Teachings to Business

Productivity and “The Art of War”: Applying Sun Tzu’s Teachings to Business

    Sun Tzu’s seminal work “The Art of War” has been referenced for millennia by historians, military tacticians, and world leaders. In fact, the book is still recommended reading for the US Marine Corps. With such timeless advice, I found myself asking one simple question: How can we apply Sun Tzu’s principles of warfare to our modern goals for productivity?

    1. Personal Accountability

    Sun Tzu said: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”

    The Bottom Line: If you communicate ineffectively, then any problems caused by unclear communication are your fault. Make sure that every email and conversation you have is clear and distinct.

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    The important corollary to this aphorism is important to keep in mind as well: “But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” If other people are hampering your productivity, take decisive action.

    2. Keeping Your Cool

    Sun Tzu said: “Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:–this is the art of retaining self-possession.”

    The Bottom Line: The fastest way to lose productivity is to lose your cool. Take a deep breath, and think before acting rashly. If you can keep your wits about you in the midst of a crisis, it will serve you well.

    An important quote that relates to this concept is: “Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.” Staying productive and staying professional are one in the same. Never lose your cool with co-workers or bosses. At least, not where it can get back to them.

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    3. Be Prepared

    Sun Tzu said: “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

    The Bottom Line: Do everything in your power to be prepared, because it’s only a matter of time until something goes wrong. If you have daily deadlines, work two days ahead to give yourself a buffer. Take initiative to track trends in your division, so that when your boss asks you to compile a report, the work is already done. Think of all the possible complications that you might have to contend with, and work out a plan to be ready for when the inevitable happens.

    4. Do Work to Get Work

    Sun Tzu said: “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

    The Bottom Line: The boss needs volunteers to stay late and work on a project? Do it. Your company needs a speaker to represent them at a conference? Do it. The more experience you gain, the better your resume will look, and the higher the quality of your contacts will be. Just be careful of spreading yourself too thin.

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    5. Grow Your Social Network

    Sun Tzu said: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.”

    The Bottom Line: Stay in touch with former co-workers, colleagues, and yes, even bosses. You never know when a former business contact may recommend you for a new position. But it’s not enough to just stay in touch. You need to have a plan for how you can leverage your connections.

    Note: This quote, while attributed to Sun Tzu, is likely apocryphal. Nonetheless, it is good advice.

    6. Be Selfless

    Sun Tzu said: “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

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    The Bottom Line: No one likes a manipulative ladder-climber. Just do what is best for the company, and ultimately, you’ll be doing what’s best for you, too. Stay humble, even after winning awards and accolades, and you’ll make more friends (read: allies.)

    7. Play to Your Strengths

    Sun Tzu said: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

    The Bottom Line: If you always play to your personal strengths, and understand any potential problems that could cause a decline in your productivity, you will always be successful in your industry. Stay abreast of industry trends, and always keep honing your skill set.

    Conclusion

    Sun Tzu may have been the master of wartime strategies, but his advice still resonates with us today because it can be so readily applied to politics, business, and our personal lives. Follow his precepts, and everything will go your way.

    Resources and Further Reading

    http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html
    http://www.history-of-china.com/three-kingdoms/sun-tzu.htm
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War (Contains original Chinese and variant translations.)
    http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=104545&v=history

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on November 2, 2020

    50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

    50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

    If you feel like you don’t have enough time to do everything you want to do, maybe it’s time to check-in with your time management skills.

    No one is born to be very good at time management, so that’s okay if you think you’re bad in it. But everyone can learn to boost their productivity and achieve more!

    Here are 50 ways to increase productivity and add hours to your day.

    1. Set a Timer

    Estimate the time you need to tackle different tasks and set a timer for each of your tasks. How you go about this is up to you as there are many different ways. There is the Pomodoro technique where you focus on a task for 25 minutes followed by a five minute break afterwards.

    In the event that you have a task that will take much longer than that, you can consider one of the many timer-based apps. One that comes to mind is Clockify. It’s used for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike, however it’s a good way to be setting yourself a timer. It provides reports and you can serve as a project manager of sorts too. Best of all, it’s free.

    Download Clockify here.

      2. Eliminate All Distractions

      Distractions include the phone, email notifications and having multiple web browsers open on the desktop. Just as it’s important to be organized offline, it’s key to have things organized online as well. One consideration is trying out Freedom an app that allows you to block certain sites during periods of time. Try it out on your phone here.

      You can also learn more on how to get rid of all distractions in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

      3. Listen to Music That Boosts Productivity

      Distractions should be avoided, but sometimes a bit of music in the background can help you focus.

      Of course, it doesn’t need to be heavy rock music, but a bit of Beethoven may do you some good.

      Here’s a complete guide to help you pick the right music for better productivity: How To Maximize Your Productivity With Music: A Complete Guide

      4. Find Meaning in What You Do (And Love What You Do)

      Enjoying what you do is the ultimate way to increase your productivity.

      If you aren’t sure what you love doing yet, don’t worry. Leo Babauta has some unique ways to help you: How to Find Your Passion

      5. Prioritize your tasks ahead of time.

      By listing your tasks in order of importance, you can make sure that you finish all of your most important tasks during the day.

      Learn a unique technique to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster.

      6. Batch Similar Tasks into a Single Batch.

      Tasks like blog writing, phone calls, email and errands can be grouped into a single batch. You will save time by completing similar tasks in one session. One way to help you with organizing all of those things is through the app Todoist. It’s an easy and simple way for you to plan out your day, set reminders, and group all of your most important tasks in a convenient spot.

      Download Todoist here.

        7. Complete Your Most Dreaded Tasks First Thing in the Morning.

        Whichever activity you are dreading the most is probably the one you need to complete first thing in the morning.

        Many people tend to check emails in the morning because after checking a list of emails, they feel fulfilled. But that’s just an illusion of having achieved more.

        Doing simple tasks like checking emails first in the morning is bad for you. Instead, do the difficult tasks because you have more energy in the morning to tackle them!

        8. Reward Yourself for Finishing a Big Task

        To stay motivated for whatever you do, reward yourself every now and then.

        Keep track of your small wins and milestones and celebrate them. So whenever you struggle about your progress, you see how far you’ve come!

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        Find out more about this 2-Step Approach to Self-Motivation: Track Small Wins and Reward Yourself.

        9. Don’t Multitask

        Research has shown that multitasking is not productive. If you think you can multitask, think again.

        For optimum productivity, focus on one thing at a time.

        10. Step Away from the Computer

        The Internet has become one of the number one distraction. To increase your productivity, try to do as much of your work offline as possible.

        I do this a lot when I try to brainstom new ideas and have found it to be very beneficial to simply unplug.

        11. Use Focus Tools

        Make good use of apps and technology to help you remove distractions.

        Here’re 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools to help you stay focused. This way, you’re not distracted by the web, e-mail, or IM.

        12. Just Start

        Often times, starting is the hardest part. People tend to wait for the perfect time with perfect condition to start. But there’s no perfect condition.

        Once you get going, you will quickly get into a rhythm that could last for hours.

        13. Find out Your Productive Hours

        Everyone has a certain time of the day in which they are more productive than others. For me, it’s the morning.

        Find out when your prime time is for productivity and optimize your work schedule accordingly.

        14. Keep a Notebook and Pen on Hand at All Times

        This way, you can write down your thoughts, to-dos and ideas at any time. The key is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Your subconscious mind won’t be reminding you about it every other second. Another consideration is getting the app Evernote. Not only does this save you on ink and paper, Evernote is a convenient place for you to jot down notes and thoughts and then share them with the team. In certain circumstances, this can prove useful if you’re the type of person that has a lot of ideas that you want to share.

        Download Evernote here.

          15. Write a Blog to Chronicle Your Own Personal Development and Achievements

          The blog keeps you accountable and always working towards self improvement and personal growth.

          When you write down all the small achievements you’ve been having, you’re also more motivated to move forward.

          And you know what, this is how I started Lifehack too! What also helped me in starting Lifehack is WordPress, which allows people to set up a website for free. WordPress has simplified a lot of the process of building a site to the point that virtually anyone can build a website now.

          Try WordPress out here.

          16. Write out a To-Do-List Each Day

          I like to plan my day the night before. This way, I can get started on my most important tasks as soon as I wake up.

          Make sure you don’t make any of these common to-do-list mistakes!

          17. Write Your Most Important Tasks and To-Dos on a Calendar.

          The key to good time management is knowing where to be and what to be doing there at any given time. Effective calendar management goes hand in hand with good task list management.

          Learn here How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space.

          18. Reflect on Your Productivity Constantly

          As you go throughout your day, repeatedly ask yourself:

          “Am I currently making the best possible use of my time?”

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          This one simple question can be an excellent boost to your productivity.

          19. Get up Early Before Anyone Else

          I know it could be difficult for some to wake up early in the morning but nothing beats a quiet house!

          Here’s How to Start Your Day at 5:00 AM and some Simple Things Early Risers Do to make waking up early easier.

          20. Get Plenty of Sleep

          When you work online, sleep can become a long lost memory. However, it’s important to get plenty of sleep so that your working hours can be as productive as possible.

          Try out this night routine which I highly recommend for productivity: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

          21. Exercise

          Research has shown that midday exercise boosts productivity and morale in the workplace.

          Take a short walk at lunch or do some simple stretches during your break to maximize your productivity.

          Here I have some exercises recommendations for you:

          22. Outsource as Much as Possible

          If you want to achieve more in less time, learn to delegate or outsource work. Here are just a few of the companies that will help you outsource your everyday tasks:

          Also, read this guide to learn how to delegate effectively: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

          23. Set Some Exciting Goals

          Without worthy goals, you will never be motivated to get things done.

          Set goals that are challenging and achievable. The best goal setting framework is a SMART goal. That said, there are other tools that can help you out as well.

          For example, Strides is an app that takes the SMART goal framework and amplifies it through reports, charts, and other helpful information to help you achieve your goals faster and regularly.

          You can download Strides here.

            24. Tell Other People About Your Goals

            When you tell others about your goals, you will instantly be held accountable.

            25. Listen to Podcasts

            Listen to educational podcasts or audio books while you’re driving to work, cleaning the house, exercising, or cooking dinner.

            Audio learning has the power to add hours to your day. Not to mention, your cranium is sure to thank you for it.

            Some recommendations for you: 11 Podcasts To Inspire Yourself

            26. Read David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done

            This is one of the most important productivity books you will ever read. Read it, apply the tips in your daily lives and get more things done.

            Here’re more great books about productivity too: 35 Books on Productivity and Organizational Skills for an Effective Life

            27. Learn to Speed Read

            When you can read faster, you will read and learn more! Check out these 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed.

            You can also make use of the app OutRead to help speed up your reading speed!

            28. Learn to Skip When You Read

            When you’re reading a book, just read the parts that you need and skip the rest. But you have to read with a purpose.

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            Learn how to make it work here: How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

            29. Focus on Result-Oriented Activities

            Pareto’s law (also known as the 80 20 rule) states that 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. This means that 20% of our actions result in 80% of the results.

            We must find the 20% that is creating the 80% of our desired outcomes and focus solely on those activities.

            30. Take a Break

            You can’t always be working at optimum productivity. Instead, you should shoot for working in short bursts at your most productive times.

            31. Start a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

            What is polyphasic sleep?

            Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern specification intended to compress sleep time to 2-5 hours daily.[1] This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short (around 20-45 minute) naps throughout the day. This allows for more waking hours with relatively high alertness.

            While you can learn more about it here, you’re recommended to take some naps during the day to recharge your energy too.

            32. Learn to Say “No”.

            We can’t do everything and therefore we must learn when to say no in order to save our sanity.

            Learn the Gentle Art of Saying No from Leo Babauta.

            33. Go on an Information Diet

            Most of the world lives on information overload. We must eliminate mindless Internet surfing.

            Stop reading three different newspapers a day and checking your RSS feeds multiple times a day. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything done.

            The key is to limit yourself only to information that you can immediately take action on. Here’re some simple tips you can try: 10 Simple Productivity Tricks To Manage Overloaded Information

            34. Organize Your Office

            The piles of paper around your desk can be a huge barrier on your productivity. Optimize your time by organizing your office, setting up a system and dumping the junk.

            Check out these 21 Tips to Organize Your Office and Get More Done.

            35. Find a Mentor

            By modeling after those who have already achieved success, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy.

            A good mentor is hard to find, so here’s a guide to help you: What to Look for in a Mentor

            36. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

            With technology’s help, you can double your work efficiency. Even better, you learn all the shortcuts when using technology, for example keyboard shortcuts.

            When you use keyboard shortcut, you gain 64 hours every year!

            Not sure what shortcuts to lear? Check out these 22 Tricks That Can Make Anyone A Keyboard Ninja.

            Besides learning the shortcuts, you can also create keyboard shortcuts with AutoHotKey.

            37. Improve Your Typing Speed to Save Time

            Do you know you can save 21 days per year just by typing fast?

            You don’t really need to take some serious courses to type faster, try these typing games online:

            38. Work from Home and Avoid the Daily Commute

            If your job is a flexible one, consider working from home. This saves you the commute time and you’ll find yourself more energetic throughout the day as you have saved the long ride.

            Take a look at these tips to help you stay productive while working from home:

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            How to Work from Home and Stay Ultra-Productive

            39. Get Rid of Time Wasters

            Common time wasters include Instant Messenger, video games, Flickr, checking your stats 10 times a day, television and extraneous Internet surfing.

            Don’t rely on your willpower, make use of some of these useful tools to help you stay focus: 10 Online Apps for Better Focus

            40. Plan Your Meals in Advance

            Plan out all of your meals a week ahead and make your grocery list accordingly. This allows you to focus on the necessary – saving you time and money. You can also save yourself even more time through a wide variety of apps. One app that I find helpful is Mealime. It’s an app that provides you with a wide selection of recipes and also a convenient spot for your grocery list as well.

            Considering the fact that over 4 million users have this app, it goes to show that there is a good selection of meal plans that you can follow and that the app is friendly to use.

            Pick up Mealime here.

              41. Cook Your Meals in Bulk

              When you cook your meals in bulk, you will have plenty of leftovers. This can avoid having to cook everyday.

              Find out more about how to make cooking in bulk works: Once a Month Cooking: Productivity Hack or Overrated Time Suck?

              42. Protect Yourself from Unnecessary Phone Time with Caller ID

              The minutes you spend on picking up unnecessary phone calls are time wasted. You can prevent that from happening.

              Check out this detailed guide how you can deal with those unnecessary phone calls: How To Lose the Useless Items that Weigh Down Your Day – Cellphone Calls

              43. Take Shorter Showers

              This one may sound silly but it’s actually something I struggle with. I spend up to 30 minutes in the shower. Think of the time I could save simply by speeding up a bit.

              44. Save the Trips to Bank by Taking Direct Deposit

              Many employers now offer direct deposit. If yours does, then be sure and take advantage of it and save yourself from a number of trips to the bank.

              45. Auto Pay Your Bills

              How many times have you been worried about whether you missed the bills deadline?

              Auto paying your bills will save you time and eliminate late fees and increased interest rates.

              46. Shop Online

              Whenever possible, avoid going to the store. When you shop online, you can be more focus about what you’re getting.

              47. Speed up your Internet with a broadband connection.

              Many people are aware of the slow speed of internet but aren’t doing anything about it. In fact, this is the number one Internet time-saver!

              If you must use dial-up, then you can use accelerators like Propel and SlipStream to double or even triple your speed.

              48. Keep up the Speed of Your Computer

              If you’re a Windows user, use Windows hibernation feature to avoid the slowdown of exiting and restarting Windows.

              Or maybe, consider switching to Mac as there’re plenty of Advantages You Probably Don’t Know About Switching To Mac From PC.

              49. Turn off the TV.

              The average American watches more than 4 hours of television every day. Over a 65-year life, that’s 9 years glued to the tube.

              For better health and productivity, turn off the TV. Here’re 11 more reasons to tell you to stop watching TV so often.

              Turn off the TV and you are sure to get more out of life.

              50. Use a Tivo or DVR.

              This can help you cut an hour-long television show down to just 40 minutes. You can save time while not missing the fun.

              So, here’s the ultimate list of techniques you should learn to boost productivity. Pick the techniques that work for you and make them your daily habits. As time goes, you’ll find yourself being a lot more productive.

              More Time Management Tips

              Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

              Reference

              [1] Medical News Today: What is biphasic and polyphasic sleep?

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