Strategos – The Art of Productivity – III

Planning an Attack | The Natural Planning Method

In part three of The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes of the unity and focus that are required in every part of the army. In the Art of Productivity we will discuss an incremental approach to planning a project.

Proper planning involves following a process that allows one to create a plan after fully defining the problem to be solved. Attacking a problem without focus or unity leads to disaster. In a typical environment, most difficulties are met with an increase in action – work harder, get busier, hire more people. When this doesn’t work, the response is often to rearrange things, and people, in the belief that we just aren’t organized enough.

Finally it will dawn on someone that we are approaching the problem from the wrong direction, because it is still here. Now it’s time to brainstorm those “creative” solutions, think outside the box, draw outside the lines. At the end of this creative session, when we have generated a few ideas that may or may not be related to the problem, we will come to the realization that we really do not know exactly what the problem is. How can we solve a problem that we have not properly defined?

Sun Tzu said:
In the practical Art of War,
The best thing is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact;
To shatter and destroy it is not so good.
It is better to capture an army than destroy it.
Problems require solutions,
The best solutions are found when the problem has been defined.
An undefined problem will resist solution,
It is better to solve a problem than avoid it.
To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence;
Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
Throwing money and resources at your problems will not solve them,
Defining and understanding the problem will lead you to the solution.
The highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans;
The next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces;
The next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field;
The worst policy is to besiege a walled city.
The best approach to problem-solving is to first define the issue;
The next best is to empower your team to define it for you;
The next in order is to hire a consultant to lead you through it;
The worst approach is to do the wrong things faster.


The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if at all possible.
The preparations of weapons and machines will take months;
And building mounds against the walls will take months more.
Do not attempt to start a brainstorming session without defining the goal;
You will waste your time attempting to engage the participants,
You will waste their time in attempting to be creative without tools.
Therefore the skillful leader
Subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting;
He captures their cities
Without laying siege to them;
he overthrows their kingdom
Without lengthy operations in the field.
The phases of natural planning in order to:
Discover the purpose and principles to be followed;
Envision the desired outcome;
Brainstorm and capture ideas for solutions;
Organize the components and priorities;
Assign the Next Actions for completion.
With his forces intact he will
dispute the mastery of the empire,
Without losing a man his triumph will be complete.
This is the method of attacking by strategem.
Knowlege of the Purpose and Principles,
Allow you to know when the solution is off-track;
Everyone involved will know the proper criteria,
Having defined the parameters for action.


It is the rule in war,
If we outnumber the enemy 10:1, to surround him;
If five to one, to attack him;
If two to one, divide the army in half.
The value of thinking about “Why”
Creates decision-making criteria,
Aligns the resources to be used,
And it can expand the options that are available.
If equally matched, we can offer battle;
If slightly inferior in numbers, avoid the enemy;
If unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
Though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force,
In the end it must be captured by the larger.
Having a clear picture of success
Affects what we perceive and how we perform.
If the vision of the conclusion is unclear there will be failure.
You will not see how to achieve the outcome
Until you see yourself doing it.
The general is the bulwark of the state;
If the bulwark is complete at all points,
The state will be strong;
If the bulwark is defective,
The state will be weak.
A powerful skill to have is conceiving clear outcomes.
Imagine the state of the project from beyond its completion;
What is the greatest possible success?
If the vision of the outcome is not clear,
The solution will be ineffective.


There are three ways in which a ruler can bring
misfortune upon his army:
1) By commanding the army to advance or retreat,
being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey.
This is called hobbling the army.
There are three ways that the process
can doom the project to failure:
1) Outlining the goals and objectives,
Without defining the operational reality.
This is called sandbagging the process.
2) By attempting to govern an army
The same way he administers a kingdom,
being ignorant of the conditions in an army.
This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds.
2) By scheduling meetings
And demanding the attendance of all,
Without knowing whose involvement is essential.
One meeting will become a group of smaller meetings.
3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination,
Through ignorance of the military principle
Of adaptation to circumstances.
This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
3) By attempting to assign responsibilities
without having knowledge of capabilities,
or being aware of the resources available.
This causes stress and fearfulness.


When the army is restless and distrustful,
Trouble is sure to come from the other princes.
This will being anarchy to the army,
And flinging victory away.
When meetings are deemed to be useless,
Participation in a meaningful way is impossible.
When contributions are not valued,
Solutions are never presented.


Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: There are five essential steps in the method of Natural Planning:
1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. 1) What is the true purpose of the planning?
2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. 2) What principles will be followed to bring a successful outcome?
3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks. 3) Focus on the final outcome and the features that will be in place.
4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. 4) Brainstorm for solutions, capture your ideas with a mind-map. Save every notion.
5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign. 5) Organize the ideas and identify the order of the components.


Thus the saying:
If you know the enemy and know yourself,
you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy,
For every victory gained, also suffer a defeat.
Thus the sayings:
“Proper planning prevents poor performance.”
“Failure to plan means planning to fail.”
“Lack of planning on your part does not
Constitute an emergency on my part.”
If you know neither the enemy
nor yourself,
you will succumb in every battle.
If you do not define the problem
nor envision the outcome,
you will fail at every endeavor.


Previous posts:
The Art of Productivity – Part One
The Art of Productivity – Part Two
If you would like to get StrategosThe Art of Productivity in your mailbox, ad-free, please fill in the form below:

Enter your email address: Delivered by FeedBurner

Feel free to discuss and share your thoughts in the comments. I am looking forward to the conversation. A public domain version of the Art of War can be downloaded here(.txt file, .html file). (from Project Gutenberg)

Strategos – The Art of Productivity

Welcome to the second installment of the Art of Productivity series. Today we will explore part two of the text, what Sun Tzu called “Waging War” and what the Art of Productivity calls “Creating a Trusted System”.

Sun Tzu begins part two with a discussion of the economic costs of warring with another state. The price of war is in the chariots, armor, weapons and food that an army needs to travel and fight. The price of creating a trusted system is measured in the productive use of your time, the resources at your disposal, and your personal energy level.

There is a finite amount of time, energy, and resources

It is important to make the best use of each. When you create your system, all of your current “open loops” need to be organized and cataloged. This catalog of Projects and Next Actions is where your lists of things to do will be organized into Contexts. Knowing where you are in terms of Context will allow you to make the correct decision when you ask yourself, “What should I be doing right now?”

Going to War | Create a Trusted System

Sun Tzu said:
In the operations of war,
There are in the field 1,000 swift chariots,
As many heavy wagons,
And a hundred thousand armored soldiers,
With provisions enough to carry them into the field,
The expenditure at home and at the front,
Including entertainment of advisors,
Small things such as glue and paint,
And sums spent on chariots and armor,
Will reach the total of a thousand ounces
of silver per day.
Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.
If you start fighting and are slow to win,
Then men’s weapons will grow dull
And ardor be damped.
Laying siege to a town will exhaust your strength.
The resources of the State will not support
a long campaign.
Now, when your weapons are dulled,
Your ardor damped,
Your strength exhausted,
And your treasure spent,
Other chieftains will spring up to take advantage.
Then no man, however wise,
Will be able to avert the consequences.
Though we have heard of stupid haste in war,
Cleverness is never associated with long delays.
There has never been a country that benefited from prolonged warfare.
Only one who hates war can be relied on to carry it out.
In a trusted system,
Being productive means making decisions.
You will have to process thousands of inputs,
Creating a Workflow system that works for you.
You will need an In-box,
This is where everything enters the system,
The inputs that consume your time,
Projects need resources,
Actions take energy,
There are some inputs that you do not need,
A more complicated system is more difficult to execute.
The system that is not invisible will cost more time and money,
Long “To Do” lists will demoralize you,
Only handle each thing once,
Duplicating effort wastes your time.
Do not fail to choose the correct Context
You will waste time searching for resources,
Make sure your energy level is appropriate to the task
Or the task will remain unfinished.
Do some things yourself,
Delegate the rest,
If you don’t trust your system you won’t use it.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are,
You cannot keep everything in your head.
You may make a wrong decision,
Learn from your mistakes.
You do not have to do it all.

If you would like to get Strategos – The Art of Productivity in your mailbox, ad-free, please fill in the form below.
Enter your email address:
Delivered by FeedBurner

Feel free to discuss and share your thoughts in the comments. I am looking forward to the conversation.A public domain version of the Art of War (.txt file, .html file) can be downloaded here. (from Project Gutenberg)

Strategos – The Art of Productivity

The English word for strategy comes from the Greek word Strategos:

The term strategos (plural strategoi; Greek στρατηγός) (literally meaning “army leader”) is used in Greek to mean “general”. In the Hellenistic and Byzantine Empires the term was also used to describe a military governor.

I chose this as the name for this new weekly column that will analyze the greatest book on strategy ever written as a foundation for your productivity system. Over time we will explore the five elements of Sun Tzu’s system – Philosophy, Heaven, Earth, the Leader, and the Methods.

These timeless leadership strategies will be invaluable to us in the study and evolution of productivity systems, personal knowledge management, toward the end result of stress-free life and work.

Sun Tzu created a complete philosophy of strategy, where a handful of principal concepts are used to articulate the key steps to achieving the most advantageous position. These steps – knowing, anticipating, moving, and positioning – when followed as a process create your strategic situation.

Over the next few weeks we will explore The Art of War together, with the translated text by Sun Tzu side-by-side with the productivity principles of Getting Things Done. The book begins with the definition of terms, the analysis of our mission. So, too, shall we begin to define our GTD practice.


Sun Tzu said:
This is the strategy of war.
It is of vital importance to the state.
It is a matter of life and death,
It is the road either to safety or to ruin.
On no account can it be neglected.The art of war is governed by five factors.
Deliberate on these factors when you plan war.
You must insist on knowing your conditions.

  1. …….Discuss the Philosophy.
  2. ……….Discuss the Heavens.
  3. ……………Discuss the Earth.
  4. …..Discuss the Commander.
  5. ………..Discuss the Methods.

It begins with your moral philosophy.
Command your people in a way that causes them
to be in complete accord with the ruler.
You can lead them to death.
You can lead them to life.
They must never fear danger or dishonesty.

This is productivity.
It is the skill that leads to success.
It is the basis of Getting Things Done.
It is the practical application of Workflow.
You can learn to be productive.The workflow process is based on five steps.
Implement these steps every day.
The workflow will guide you to the proper context:

  1. Collect
  2. Process
  3. Organize
  4. Review
  5. Do

Productivity begins with the workflow.
Organize your contexts in a way that leads to
accomplishing goals.
Avoid micromanaging yourself into paralysis.
Only use as many contexts as you need, no more.
Keep the appointments that you set with yourself.

I trust that this brief introduction to the format of the weekly Strategos column will be useful and informative. Feel free to discuss and share your thoughts in the comments. I am looking forward to the conversation.A public domain version of the Art of War (.txt file, .html file) can be downloaded here. (from Project Gutenberg)