Take a Strategy Break

Are you cognizant of the difference between tactics and strategy? Oh sure, you probably know the words: their dictionary definitions or maybe even specific examples. But are you consciously aware of when you’re actively pursuing a meaningful strategy for your own work and life and when, instead, you’re primarily responding to daily nuts-and-bolts issues that have nothing to do with such a strategy?

Most of us become so wrapped up in the day-to-day processing of immediate problems and opportunities that we lose track of any strategy we may have set out for ourselves. Even worse, some of us have not even settled on a coherent strategy to guide our overall efforts.

Either way, now is the perfect time to take a strategy break – a brief period when you stop fighting those daily alligators and intentionally cultivate a longer-term perspective. The benefit is simple: with a meaningful strategy in place, you can begin to keep your efforts in close alignment with your values, with the paths you want to pursue, and with the goals you want to achieve.

Here’s how to do it:

Clarify Your “Mission”

An effective strategy is a long-term plan that maximizes the likelihood of getting where you want to go. Obviously, then, you need to know your preferred destination.

So the first step in setting a strategy is to consider your values, your aspirations, your dreams, your desires, and every other emotional driver, all in an integrated fashion.

Your second step is to consider your needs, resources, constraints, and opportunities.

When you put these two considerations together, you have the basis for establishing a mission – or perhaps two: one for your work and one for your life. Look to set a strategic target for your efforts that:

  • Makes practical sense, not “pie in the sky,”
  • Makes you proud just to try for it, and prouder still when you achieve it,
  • Seems likely to add to your happiness and fulfillment.

Set the Criteria for Completion

A good strategy contains within it some objective criteria for knowing when you have achieved it.

For example, if your goal is to retire within ten years, it’s important to establish how much savings you’ll need in order to live your desired lifestyle for as many years as you’re likely to require. If you reach that level of savings, you’ll immediately recognize that you’ve successfully completed your strategy.

Different strategies entail different kinds of criteria, such as:

  • What conditions must be satisfied? How soon?
  • How long must these conditions be maintained?
  • Who must be involved and/or satisfied by the process and the achievements?

Evaluate Alternative Strategies

Once you know where you’re trying to go and how to be sure you’ve arrived, you can begin to consider possible strategies to take you there.

To begin, investigate the range of tested strategies that others in your situation have tried. Ask around, search the internet, and study the relevant text books for ideas and information. Don’t be afraid to innovate a strategic plan that suits your situation.

As you consider possible strategies:

  • Evaluate them against the important factors you’re facing, including your needs, resources, constraints, and opportunities.
  • Think not only about economics, but also about human resources, political/social influences, technology, business conditions, and so forth.
  • Factor in your strengths and weaknesses, as well as any real or potential dangers that may lurk in the situation.
  • Look for strategies that offer the most room for midcourse corrections as conditions change.

Don’t forget to prioritize both the problems and the opportunities at hand.

As you sift through and narrow down the workable strategies available to you, give preference not just to the ones that promise the greatest results, but also to the ones that seem likely to yield the best outcome under the widest range of possibilities.

When you’re ready, make your choice.

Identify Milestones or Interim Goals

Because a strategy is inherently longer-term and broader reaching than a tactical task, project, or goal, it’s rare that you can complete it quickly. Most of the time, your strategy will require weeks, months, or even years of effort, including preparatory steps, preliminary goals, and larger objectives built on earlier efforts.

Because of this, you’ll benefit from a roadmap to guide you from the beginning to the end of your strategic plan. The easiest way to build such a roadmap is to identify important accomplishments along the way.

There’s no hard and fast rule about how many milestones you should identify, but generally each one should be:

  • Clearly defined,
  • Requiring less than a month to complete,
  • Relatively self-contained.

Once you’ve built and fleshed-out a roadmap for implementing your strategy, you’re in position to adjust your schedule to accommodate more of the specific tasks, projects, and goals that will lead you toward completing it. You’re also in position to defer or reject many of the tempting opportunities and looming demands that would otherwise drag you off your optimum strategic path.

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