Few organizations understand crisis better than the military. Not only do you have all of the burdens of running a traditional business. Deadlines, office politics, strategy thinking, are all necessary, but you may also have the added requirement of having to duck for cover or take emergency shelter. Imagine running the hectic start up business you have but the stakes are not losing your investors money, it is losing your life. Or imagine the high pressure office environment where the consequence for failure is not missing a deadline, but someone dying. While you were rolling out of bed at 10:30 to grab coffee your average military service member has already been up for 3 hours, eaten, showered, dressed, and been at work. This is assuming they are not even in a combat zone.
So how do they do it? Well the US military has a very special way of managing time, and setting priorities. Here are 5 tips that could help you better manage your most precious resource.
Before any of the other things are introduced, it is imperative that you learn to do things that you don’t necessarily enjoy. Many solo-preneurs, creatives, and managers alike claim they can not work without their creative “flow”. This may be true but establishing a baseline for performance is the type of fundamental skill that is built up over time. Being able to produce quality work, is not as fickle as the weather. Your education, practice, and willingness to push through in times when it doesn’t seem to matter is exactly what will kick you into the home stretch in times that you need it. Set a constant, something you do everyday and MAKE time for it. Even if it is only a 10 minute call to your parents or spouse, the regularity will give you a back bone to work from.
2. Recognize Black Wholes
Is there a meeting that you could cut out? Has this conversation gone on for 5 minutes too long. Before Dave Chappelle came up with the wrap it up button military leaders have used the phrase to let their subordinates know they are wasting time. If you are speaking to a superior, recognize that they may not even notice they are keeping you from the assigned task. Try and summarize your deliverables, let them know you are exited to begin while the item is fresh on your mind.
3. Set Microdeadlines
Long term goals can often get lost in the fray because they are hard to measure but setting a micro deadline can make all the difference. If your goal is to get a certain project done by the end of the year, what are the bullet points along the way that will allow you to track your progress? Keep in mind also that if you are working on a team other people may need a heads up to get started so its good to set a marker as to when to let people know they have work coming their way. They can prepare to receive your information or let you know that they need more time so you can adjust.
4. Devote Time To Prep
Military cooks know that most of the work is not done to make breakfast is not done at the stove but instead at the cutting board. Preparation should be considered a part of the task process. Whether you are organizing files for easy access, or saving phone numbers on speed dial, or simply packing your headset. Set aside 10% of each day to preparing, researching, or getting ready for the next day or making innovations. For those of you that have down time, get rid of that idea.
5. Triage System
The triage is a medical method that allows for mass casualty management adopted by the military to manage other types of situations.. If you have 5 fires to put out this method tells you which ones to address first and in which order. The medical triage works upon the priority of preserving life limb or eyesight.
Those that are likely to die whether or not they receive care.
Those that are likely to live whether or not they receive care.
Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference.
The same is true for business. In some cases you shouldn’t be worrying about the catastrophe that happened. What’s done is done so address clean up later and do what you can to save the other things that are hanging in the balance. Also sweating the small stuff is a waste of time, if you have a needy client that is not literally dying, while you have another deadline that is make or break. Make the tough decision, stay focused and get back to that person when you can. A great question to ask is “Is this fixable?” If the situation at hand will not cause permanent detriment then focus on the things that you can’t go back to later and adjust.
6. Stay Calm
No one makes good decisions when they are freaking out. Once you have taken inventory of the situation. Focus on taking action and safe the freak out until after the crisis is averted.
For more on military time management and decision making read this white paper by Major Harry D Scott.