The Art of War

The Art of War

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu

We love this quote from The art of war, because it holds an important lesson for business.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.  

Many professionals are extremely effective. They are results focused, know where they are heading, are clear on the activities they need to complete to achieve their vision, and have measurable goals.

Unfortunately, if they’re not efficient it can take a long time to achieve their goals. They may need to work more hours than otherwise would be necessary and are often stressed out.

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

You can be extremely efficient with your time. You can have a clean desk, batch your email regularly, and fight off time wasting habits like procrastination but you still won’t be successful if you’re not focused on the right activities.

When we work with clients we help them overcome their visible and invisible productivity issues. Efficiency related habits are usually visible; They’re about the environment, email, and interactions with their team.

Habits related to effectiveness are less visible. They are essentially about thinking, planning and action. The key to effectiveness is to be clear on your goals and high impact activities. It’s about prioritising, taking massive action, and reviewing and changing if necessary.

It all starts with clarity. Effectiveness is about aligning day-to-day action with strategy.

Most organisations should have a clear strategy. This strategy should inform the goals of each division. Divisional goals should inform team and individual key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs should inform key projects and activities, which should in turn inform what team members do each day.

According to an Ernst and Young study from 2008, 66% of company strategy is never executive.

To ensure alignment between strategy and execution we recommend three strategies:

  1.  Quarterly thinking: Getting clear on your priorities and the high value activities which will ensure you reach your goals every quarter.
  2. Weekly planning: Taking time every week to block out time for high value work, and set boundaries around low value work
  3. Daily action: Remaining present and focused on each task and taking massive action towards your goals each day.

The Eisenhower model isn’t new. It’s based on the work of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America.

This model is extremely useful to help you get a clear picture of how you’re spending your time and making the changes necessary to be more productive.

Thinking about your last month, note the activities you executed in each of the above quadrants.

Crisis: Work that is both urgent and important. Thus, you have to drop everything and do the task immediately. This might include:

  • Client work;
  • Projects you left until the last minute and now need to drop everything in order to complete; or
  • Work you had to complete quickly because it was given to you at the last minute.

Reactive: Work that is urgent but isn’t important. You may have to do this work but it won’t move your goals forward.

This might include:

  • Completing finance reports;
  • Answering email;
  • Answering phone calls;
  • Attending meetings that aren’t considered “high value”; or
  • Finalising tasks for other people.

Proactive: Work that moves you forward. It usually isn’t urgent, and thus we need to block out time for it.

This includes:

  • Business development and marketing;
  • Project work;
  • Policy development;
  • Client work;
  • Strategy meetings;
  • Time spent coaching your team; or
  • Time spent with your coaches, mentors or manager.

Downtime:  Things that you do during the working day to give yourself a break or downtime between activities.

This includes:

  • Meal breaks;
  • Exercise;
  • Tea breaks;
  • Social time with your colleagues;
  • Time spent meditating;
  • Time spent on social media; and
  • Time spent reading the news.

To gain greater control of your activities allow for crises which will come up, set boundaries around your reactive time and block out your proactive time and downtime.

Once you’ve mapped out how you’ve spent your time over the last month, we can start to find ways to improve your effectiveness over the next month.

Crisis:  Consider the tasks you’ve listed in your crisis quadrant.

  • Are there tasks you can do proactively to reduce the work which puts you in crisis?
  • Can you provide better communication with clients and stakeholders to avoid other people putting you in crisis?

Allow for 20% of your day to be impacted by these types of tasks to stop them from throwing out your day.

Reactive:  These are tasks you should either say “no” to or delegate as often as possible. They are the tasks which need to be “batched” in order to set boundaries (e.g. email and task batching). Ideally 15% of your day will include reactive tasks.

Ask yourself:

  • Which reactive tasks should you say “no” to in future?
  • Which reactive tasks can be better delegated to others?

Proactive: Aim for 60% of your time to be spent on these activities. Block out time for proactive tasks in your calendar during your weekly planning to ensure you’re moving forward.

Ask yourself:

  • What proactive strategies can I apply so I’m not put into crisis mode so often?
  • What proactive work should I block out in my calendar for the coming weeks?

Downtime: Your downtime can either be positive and restore your energy for high value work, or it can be negative and deplete your energy.

Ask yourself:

  • How am I spending my time in a way which depletes my energy? (For instance, gossiping, reading the news too often, getting involved in negative social media)
  • How can I spend my downtime to help me restore my energy between high periods of action and activity?

Keep it positive. Ideally around 5% of your day should include downtime.

The secret to achieving more with less is to block out time for high value work and downtime, and to set boundaries around low value tasks by batching them together.

Sit down with the model and go through your activities and the activities of your team. Look for the work that you can be doing in proactive mode to reduce time in crisis mode. Look for things you can be either saying “no” to or delegating to set boundaries on reactive tasks, and always look for positive activities to restore your energy between intense and productive work.

Let us know how you go.


Rod Jones

CEO – Profusion

P.S. If you enjoyed this newsletter, maybe your friends will too. Feel free to share it via one of the channels below and invite others to subscribe to fortnightly updates here.


If you haven’t already read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey,we recommend getting yourself a copy today. All of his books are worth reading.

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