Using a Daily Plan of Attack to Give Your Day Structure

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When I was in the Army, we were taught a five-paragraph order method to inform troops of what they needed to know to get through a mission. Then, like most grunts proudly clutching their honorable discharges like a dog with a toy, I promptly forgot all about this model. Lately, though, as I have been thinking about productivity as part of work I have been doing with the Creative Alliance of Tacoma, I came across my old notes for the five-paragraph order. I realized that the five-paragraph order represented a great way to frame my day for getting things done.

This post will look at the value of how we frame our approach to the day, then break down what we need to address as part of a daily plan of attack, and finish with an example and a template that you can use to develop your own daily plan of attack based on the five-paragraph order.

What is the Five-Paragraph Order?

When military leaders examined how information was presented to soldiers, they often noted how a lack of structure led to soldiers failing to receive the necessary information about locations, equipment, or other such important factors. The five-paragraph order was designed as a way to ensure that commanders in the field would relay information in such a way that they would not neglect to cover these details. The five-paragraph order covers the following factors about a mission:

  • situation
  • mission
  • execution
  • administrative matters/logistics
  • command/signals

On the face of things, these five terms don’t mean much to those not actively deployed in a combat zone. When placed into the context of a day in the life of a professional, the five-paragraph order still gives the necessary structure to make sure you don’t fail to reach your goals: i.e., your new mission. Using the five-paragraph model as an entry into your daily note-taking system, whether it be a bullet journal, Day One, or Evernote, and then having the journal entry out throughout your workday, ensures that you stay on target despite the many distractions that exist.

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Your Situation

In combat, the situation refers to how a unit is being affected by the actions of enemy forces, by adjacent friendly forces, and by the geographic terrain. These are things that a unit has (generally) little control over.

For professionals, entrepreneurs, and the like, often, our appointments are somewhat beyond our control. They are obligations created by the terrain of business: commitments mandated by bosses, clients, networking groups, and the like that we cannot skip out on just because we don’t want to deal with them. They are our dental cleanings and our need to make sure we schedule a time to get groceries or go to the gym. Appointments are unmovable terrain features that break up our days.

 

Your Mission

In combat, the mission section of the five-paragraph order focused on the “who, what, when, where, and why” of a tactical plan. This was the part of the five-paragraph order where a leader was expected to brief their troops on what they needed to do in broad strokes, and why it was important to their cause. Thus, for Operation Neptune Spear, the mission for JSOC was to travel on May 1, 2015, to Abbottabad, Pakistan, breach bin Laden’s compound and kill or capture him.

Our day to day work missions are a little less significant than that.

When we think about what our everyday missions are, we are talking about our goals. Our goals – which should follow the SMART model of goal-planning – are our “who, what, when, where, and why” of what we want to accomplish.

For someone who is setting up a retail business, that SMART goal may be to publish 20 Instagram posts that depict their products no later than by the end of the month. For a freelance writer like me, the goal may be to present a document to a client no later than their due date.

Your Execution

No, this is not the “gallows pole” sort of execution about which Robert Plant sang. Execution is the step-by-step methodology of how a unit will engage the enemy to push toward the mission objective. In our every day, non-combat lives, our execution is the steps we will take to advance our progress toward completion of our goals. In this section of your daily plan of attack, you should be going through whatever task manager you use, whether it be on paper, in OmniFocus, Todoist, or Things 3, and identifying the priority tasks that you can accomplish today. You should then take those tasks and then enter them into your daily plan of attack so that they are at the top of mind.

Logistics

When we think about logistics, we are thinking about what we need to overcome challenges to accomplishing our mission. To know this, we need to know how things could go wrong. As someone put it, no plan survives enemy contact. However, if our planning includes preparing for enemy contact, we can at least adapt and steer back towards the accomplishment of the mission. Consider what are the enemies to you accomplishing work.

The most apparent enemy is that you may find yourself lacking the energy or the concentration needed for particular tasks. There are some days when I am too spent to handle specific tasks. For example, after spending a few hours at the VA, I generally find that I am not in the right mindset to write for my website. However, I still have all that time. I can use that time productively if I know that my fatigue levels and distraction levels are at the point where only low-level tasks are likely to be accomplished. Thus, in the logistics section of my daily plan of attack, I rate my fatigue and distraction on a scale of one to ten. If I see that I am distractible, I am not going to try and write copy for my clients. I am going to focus on those administrative tasks I know I can accomplish so that, when I do have the right level of focus, I can produce a quality product for my clients.

Command

“Command” is about putting it all together. It’s a timeline of what we have to deal with and when we plan on doing it. Command is about visualizing how you accomplish your daily plan of attack. This isn’t some new age approach to your work. This is running a mock battle drill, planning out your maneuvers on a sand table, or practicing CQB in your glass house.

For me, the best way to plan out my attack is to create a timeline of what I expect to devote to any particular task, and then I wall off intrusions from other things (phone calls, impromptu meetings and the like). I leave dedicated blocks of time to deal with emails and phone calls later so that I have the freedom to focus on what I am working on now.

Putting it all together

The easiest way to see how applying the five-paragraph order to productivity works is to see an example of it. The veteran five paragraph order should look like this:

  • Appointments
  • Priority Tasks
  • Logistics
    • Fatigue (1–10)
    • Distractibility (1–10)
    • Other Factors
  • Plan

Here’s an example from my life:

  • Appointments
    • 0800 – Biz to Biz Meeting
    • 1000 – Initial Consultation with Client Lead
    • 1900 – Team Rubicon Meeting
  • Priority Tasks
    • Set up Analytics assessment for client
    • review notes for branding presentation
    • clean bathroom (hey, it’s gotta get done)
  • Logistics
    • Fatigue: 7 (Iraq nightmares1)
    • Distractibility: 5 2
    • Other Factors: Annoyed/surly due to recent screw-up by company I am working with
  • Plan
    • 0700 – Prep for B2B meeting
    • 0730 – Travel to Mtg
    • 0900 – travel to Client Lead’s office
    • 1000 – mtg w Client Lead
    • 1100–1200 – travel home (I work from a home office)
    • 1200–1300 – lunch, rest, recharge
    • 1300 – 1500 – work on blog post
    • 1500 – 1600 – review email; respond to social media contacts
    • 1600–1700 – draft social media marketing posts related to client fundraiser
    • 1700–1830 – dinner, rest, recharge
    • 1900–2030 – Team Rubicon Meeting
    • 2100–2330 – Free Time

Planning things out with this level of detail – even going so far as to block off time in my calendar, so others see that I am busy – frees me to accomplish the goals I’ve set for my business and my volunteer work. Rigid structure, ironically, frees me from having to figure out what I need to do.


  1. I feel awkward acknowledging still dreaming of Iraq years later, but it has an impact that other entrepreneurs may not face. ↩︎
  2. Unsurprisingly, I’m distractible on days with combat nightmares. It changes my work from detail-rich work to more middle-ground work. ↩︎

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Everyday Carry in light of School Shootings

I recently wrote about retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, who coined the term “sheepdog” to refer to those who, by virtue of their profession or their values, had a capacity for violence and a willingness to stand up for the innocent against those who have a capacity for violence but lack empathy for their fellow humans. The same day that I wrote about Grossman, a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of protesters, killing one and injuring 19. After the attack of this white supremacist, I thought about taking down my post, worried that it would be misinterpreted as heartless or worse. Instead, I decided to talk about something Grossman does not talk about in his book On Combat at length, which is the duty of “sheepdogs” to be ready to save others, not just through the use of violence, but also through the use of lifesaving skills and equipment.

In 2011, in another act of violence, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, sheriff’s deputies saved her life through the use of a low-cost first aid kit based on a piece of equipment well-known to veterans of the US Armed Forces: the IFAK. The IFAK – or Individual First Aid Kit – was issued to service members like me throughout the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and serves as a response to the leading causes of combat fatalities in those two engagements. Inside this softball-sized nylon pouch, soldiers kept a small collection of first aid items. In the IFAK, one can find[1]:

  • a nylon pouch ($11.99)
  • a tourniquet ($9.59)
  • a roll of medical tape ($3.49)
  • disposable gloves (100/$10.99)
  • a nasopharyngeal airway tube (used when injury limits someone’s ability to breathe) ($5.30)
  • an Israeli Bandage ($7.97), and/or
  • a Quick Clotting or Hemostatic Bandage ($12.16)[2].

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The total cost of the IFAK pouch and its contents (even with having to purchase the gloves in bulk)?

$61.49

Now, this amount could change as one customizes it, adding and removing useful items based on one’s training, comfort level, and personal preference, but basically speaking, I am talking about having a pouch full of equipment that can save a human life for less than $100.00.

The American Red Cross[3] offers basic first aid training, including CPR use and AED use over the course of a six-hour training block at a rate of approximately $110.00. Depending on the nature of this training, it would not take more than two hours additional time to add in training on the proper use of a tourniquet, nasopharyngeal airway tube, Israeli bandage, and hemostatic bandage.

This means that, for roughly $175.00, any American could be trained on and provided with the contents of an IFAK, and be able to prevent some of the most common forms of death:

  • obstructed airways,
  • external bleeding, and,
  • cardiac arrest.

Typically, after violent incidents, such as the one in Charlottesville or the shooting of Giffords, there is a great deal of discussion about whether we have a duty to ban weapons that cause grievous injury. The debate is polarizing, unsettled, and seems to accomplish little. Never is there debate over the affirmative duty to learn how to help heal others after these incidents. Ironically, this training applies to far more than increasingly rare violent crimes, as it covers accidental death and death due to illness.

At the same time, right now there is a trend for people to carry what is known as EDC or Everyday Carry items, typically involving a well-designed pocket knife, a flashlight, and one or two other items, sometimes a multitool, sometimes a firearm (in the case of concealed carry permit holders), and sometimes other gadgets. The EDC trend seems to be an offshoot of the Sheepdog movement that has grown since 9/11 and LTC Grossman’s essay.

I have never seen people choosing to carry first aid gear on the popular websites and forums concerning Everyday Carry. And yet, for such a low individual cost – less than $200 – an individual could be trained in the steps required to save lives from some of the most common causes in fatalities. This is a decidedly unpolitical failing on the part of people on all sides of the debates concerning gun control, violence, and policing. There is no reason a person, heartily in favor of expressing their Second Amendment rights, should not be capable of and ready to save a life, whether it be due to a violent act or due to accidental injury. There is no reason a person heartily in favor of banning all firearms should not be equally as trained and equipped to save a life.

In the case of people that are EDC aficionados, it seems like such a such a basic thing, adding just this small component of knowledge and equipment to their list of what they carry everyday. For those that adopt the mentality of being a “sheepdog,” it seems almost like a moral failing, to be ready to defend others with violence but not to be ready to save others.

[1] Often, in the military, the IFAK would also contain equipment to treat tension pneumothorax, AKA a collapsed lung.

[2] The prices listed are examples; I can provide specific links if requested, but did not want to cheapen my argument with affiliate links.

[3] For better or worse the American Red Cross is the leading provider of first aid training in the USA.

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How is a cult like a corporation?

So what do heinous organizations, like the Children of God, an organization that we all have immense pride in, the US Army, and a corporate giant have in common? And why does it matter? Is it possible that there is something that corporations, small businesses, and teams all over the world can learn from them? I think there is, and here it is: it is their need for deliberate programming–and not the type that you might be thinking.

Strong leaders, strong teams, and strong organizations are built deliberately and over a lifetime, and this is done with a strong focus on how they program their people, their teams and their leadership. Mini-cult building, if you will. It doesn’t happen by accident, but with intense focus and purpose.

Over at Task Force Art, former US Army CPT Daniella Young is starting a series on leadership and team-building with some interesting assessments of the cult known as The Children of God, the military, and corporations. Check it out, even if just for the gripping writing.

Mistakes are good, and other lessons from the Lean Start-Up

I started this site in 2017 after starting my career as a freelance writer. While I got started on this career, I made a lot of mistakes.

 

 

Mistakes – I’m learning – are a good thing for entrepreneurs. They are part of the iterative model of market testing addressed in the brilliant book The Lean Start-Up.

 

New ventures rapidly assemble minimum viable products and immediately elicit customer feedback. Then, using customers’ input to revise their assumptions, they start the cycle over again, testing redesigned offerings and making further small adjustments (iterations) or more substantive ones (pivots) to ideas that aren’t working.

Steve Blank, Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything, Harvard Business Review (May 2013).

 

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When I left the military, I went through a process known as the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP). Along with teaching soldiers – some of whom have never worked in the private sector – before how to put together resumes and prepare for interviews, the ACAP program had a short talk about how soldiers could instead become self-employed as entrepreneurs. During the presentation delivered by a government employee, the soldiers were given instructions about putting together business plans, using their homes as collateral for loans to start businesses in a way that was old-fashioned back in the years of the first Dot Com boom (I left the military in late 2013, long after Eric Reis and Steve Blank began developing the lean start-up model). No mention was made of venture capital. No discussion occurred regarding agile entrepreneurialism.

Since my ACAP class, I’ve learned a lot about the changing nature of business that I wish I had in front of me back in 2013 when I decided to hang up the uniform. I began to use the skills I developed in the military with digital forensics as a stepping stone to a career in marketing and copywriting. I learned from non-profits and networking groups how to better approach landing clients, manage my business, and refine my products and services.

Looking at other websites out there geared toward veterans, I saw a gap. While sites like Task & Purpose covered foreign affairs and politics well, and Duffel Blog covered… um… entertainment, there was no blog that provided business, culture, and tech news to veterans interested in starting their own companies in the same vein as Wired or Fast Company.

It should be noted that, while the issues faced by veterans may be unique (combat PTSD, TBI, and other chronic ailments, for example, are not as common outside the military as within), the information is intended to be of interest to anyone in business. I appreciate you taking the time to check out the site. Look forward to new content soon!

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