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People have long looked to the military for lessons in productivity. When life or death is at stake, the need for efficacy is as high as possible. It’s safe to assume that the military of the world have by now figured out what works and what doesn’t. As such, uniform clothing has been implemented in almost every setting imaginable, and many productivity gurus on the internet point out the importance of making your bed every morning. One lesson that has been vastly understated, however, lies in the structural chain of command itself, which is native to all militaries. I’ve found that an easy way to think about this lesson is through the “soldier versus general” metaphor.
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When I was an australiabusinessblog.com, I liked to tell people, “I’m my own boss.” I thought it was just a clever way of saying I didn’t have a boss. It turns out that I have indeed always had a boss, just not a good one. Being an australiabusinessblog.com is not just working without a boss, it is functioning as both the employee and the boss. This is a distinction I have not fully understood for years; I was a bad employee, but a worse boss. I became much more productive and disciplined in my work as I started to think about my role in terms of military positions.
Soldiers follow orders or people die. There is much more mutual consultation within a conventional employment relationship than within the armed forces. When I was an employee, I could argue with my boss, ask them to help me with a particular task, and sometimes even convince them to change guidelines completely. Soldiers cannot do this. The power hierarchy within the military is absolutely and clearly segmented. Soldiers have no strategy, because they are too busy to take action on the orders given to them, and action is what wins battles.
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Generals are not the boots on the ground that produce tangible results, but they are indeed the reason soldiers are so effective. A general’s goal is to do all the critical thinking for soldiers so that the soldiers can focus on action. Generals know that time spent on strategy is time that cannot be spent on execution, and vice versa, so it’s a general’s duty to relieve soldiers of the burden of strategy making. On the battlefield, latency and ambiguity cost lives. If a general fails to carry out thoughtful orders, soldiers’ lives are wasted.
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The biggest productivity hack I’ve learned from the military is that the roles of soldiers and generals (action and strategy) have always been very clearly segmented from each other. As an australiabusinessblog.com, I am often an army of one. Entrepreneurs don’t always have teams of people to help complete tasks, which means I have to wear multiple hats, so to speak. I realized that anytime given time during my workday, I function as a soldier, general or some shady combination of both. It turns out to be very easy to unconsciously mix these two roles. Failing to segment them definitively was the biggest drag on my productivity as a young australiabusinessblog.com.
Every time I started re-evaluating my plans while I was still executing those plans, I failed to get things done quickly. Trying to take action and devise a strategy at the same time is counterproductive and creates friction and latency. The most productive entrepreneurs are those who have clear boundaries between the two roles. In practice, this translates into fixed time blocks for each role. This isn’t to say that the secret to improving my productivity was simply creating a schedule (although that was definitely a requirement). It was more than that. The secret was to completely separate all executive decision-making from the part of myself that was responsible for completing a particular task. That is, the secret was actually to minimize the total amount of time I was allowed to think.
I realized that if I could reduce the time I spent thinking, I was actually creating more time for action. Most importantly, what this meant was that I had to stop switching sporadically from soldier to general in the middle of the day; latency killed me. I found that routines and habitual schedules were key. I further realized that as a soldier, without exception, I had to obey the orders of the general in totality; when I started something, I had to finish it, no doubt.
I did this by allowing myself to function as a general for just one hour a day just before bedtime. During this hour, I mapped out all orders for myself the next day, along with priorities, so that I knew exactly which task to switch to after completing one. I started preparing my outfits for the next day and planned my meals. The goal was to remove all uncertainty; I always had to know what was coming.
The moment I began to segment my responsibilities as definitively as military positions was the moment my entire career changed. I started to achieve in a day what used to take almost a week. Things that felt difficult became the new standard. If I ever felt unproductive, I would first determine if the soldier or the general was to blame, and that helped me solve problems much faster than usual. The militaries of the world have shown us that the secret to being effective is not to be a one-man army, but to know your role.
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