Ten Commando Tactics to Boost Productivity and Take 2020 by Storm

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A tongue-in-cheek guide to help business owners or the self-employed achieve Commando productivity and destroy their to-do lists.

It took me a long time to let go of the Corps, but nowadays I’ve well and truly embraced civilian life. I occasionally wake up and spend the first few of hours of a school day playing with friends or exploring nature. I have a haircut that resembles the top of a pineapple. I’ve also adopted the Californian greeting of hugging everyone as a superior (and more hygienic) alternative to hand-shaking. To lead a stress-free life and make time for high-quality leisure I often apply some principles I picked up in the cream of the British military.

1. Prepare to be bumped in the night

To earn the coveted green beret and become a proud Bootneck (Royal Marines Commando) recruits have to complete nine months of grueling commando training. One of the drills that the training team instill from day one is being fully prepared for the next day. You never know when you might be dragged out of bed and forced to begin your day earlier than planned.

Philip McDougall

As a Commando operating behind enemy lines, there’s always a very real chance of being bumped in the night. This is when enemy forces have the audacity to interrupt our beauty sleep by attacking. When you’re surrounded by people who want you dead there’s only way to sleep—with a clean, made-ready (cocked) weapon, fully-loaded magazine, boots tied, backpack packed, other weapon systems checked and rechecked, buckles, buttons and straps done up. That way we could jump straight into action within seconds of waking.

Before going to bed or before switching off for the afternoon/evening, imagine there’s a chance of being bumped in the night. Imagine that you could be woken unexpectedly and have to get straight to work within minutes or seconds. This involves having a plan and visualizing the process that you want to follow when the alarm sounds. Consider which will be your first tasks and how you’ll do them. Have any clothing laid out and ready to go. Have your breakfast prepped, lunch prepped and have an auto-pilot morning ritual. This way the first hour or two of your day becomes full of productivity and sets a good tone for the rest of the day.

2. Immediate action

This means get up and jump straight into action. You’re prepared, so no need to use up any creative juice while you’re still sleepy. Look on it as a game. How quickly can you be doing something after your alarm goes off?

Alarm clock

Fortunately, my wife and I have the same sleep pattern. During the week our alarm sounds between 5am – 5:30am. Within 10 seconds of the alarm going off I roll off the bed and put my exercise clothes on. Within 90 seconds I’m in the kitchen drinking my pint of water. Within three minutes I’m dragging my reluctant French bulldog out of the front door for our morning walk, training session, run or hike. I don’t allow myself any time to talk myself out of it or procrastinate. These are mindless actions that always make for productive days and healthy living.

3. Win the fire fight

When under attack, you must win the fire fight. Otherwise, pop smoke (deploy a smoke grenade for cover), activate booby traps where required and get the hell out of there. Basically, you take situational control away from the enemy and dominate it yourself. The same can be applied to your morning. Don’t let your day be dictated by the agendas of other people by checking social media messages or emails for at least the first couple of hours of any day. Maintain your power by having the discipline to stick to your planned morning ritual. Then get at least one critical, proactive work task done before opening the inbox or checking messages.


4. Proactive before reactive

In Afghanistan we relieved a regular Army infantry unit of their responsibility to occupy a forward operating base, deep in Taliban territory. The Army had taken many casualties through booby traps and frequent attacks. Morale was very low. They had barely been patrolling outside the base due to fear of losing more soldiers. They subsequently allowed the Taliban complete freedom of movement and freedom to plant booby traps to their hearts’ desire. They basically sat there for several months, reacting to anything the Taliban threw at them.

This is not the way we liked to do business in the Corps. Our first few weeks at this base were very busy indeed. We patrolled the entire area outside, clearing booby traps and obstructing enemy activity. We dominated the area and made life for the Taliban very inconvenient and brought balance to the galaxy. Proactive Commandos win battles. Proactive civvies win at life.

All of your weekly tasks can be categorized under either proactive or reactive. Of course, it’s necessary to react to incoming curve balls, fast balls or potentially lucrative opportunities whenever they arise. Reactive tasks include time on Instagram or Facebook, checking and responding to emails, conversational text messaging and completing some low payoff tasks. But if you spend all of your time reacting, you become a slave to others.

Identify and categorize your weekly tasks. Do the proactive ones first because they’re more important. Lucrative opportunities and luck are created by proactivity. Such tasks include learning and reading, writing proposals, writing blogs, creating re-usable content, forward planning, video-making, system building, brainstorming and performing tasks that directly bring income. This is another reason to avoid checking messages or emails until a bit later in the day.


5. Don't be a yes person

In the Marines only rookies volunteer, because volunteering leads to unfavorable tasks and jobs. Experienced Marines know how to blend in and avoid delegation. Experienced Marines recognize favorable tasks and know how to manipulate circumstances to their advantage, because we’re sneaky like that.

I’m all for positivity but don’t be a yes person. You’re nice. Nice people like to please others so it’s perfectly natural to want to say yes to everything. In business saying yes often leads to outcomes that you have no control over and can lead to a great deal of wasted time. Instead, at the hint of any request, offer or proposal, make your default answer, “that sounds very interesting. Let me think it through and get back to you.” Under commit and over deliver.

6. Time management ninjutsu

During one operation in Afghanistan we were on a night-long tactical march through enemy terrain. Being a heavy weapons specialist, I was carrying almost 200lbs of kit and equipment (including boots, clothing, helmet, body armor, water, ammo and weapons). The terrain underfoot was thick, wet quagmire that stuck to our boots. It felt like walking with buckets of cement on the end of our legs. This was all perfectly normal. However, on this particular march I had a bad case of man flu.

Being sick transformed this already difficult task into a brutal test of will. All I wanted to do was collapse but that would have put the entire company in danger while they evacuated my pathetic ass. I would’ve been faced with the shame of weakness for rest of my days in the Corps. Operational life as a Commando in Afghanistan was full of these character-building moments. You learn to disconnect your mind from the pain of your body and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.

During normal life in the beloved Corps we had the luxury of a concept called orders. Someone else higher up the chain of command plans your daily schedule, types it out on a piece of paper and displays it on the company notice board. Not following orders is not an option. Like putting one foot in front of the other, you just do it. There are no other possible options.

As a civilian, you make the orders. You are in control of you. Decide what you want to do, make a schedule and stick to it as though there are no other options. Commando discipline can be applied to many aspects of civilian life, including time management. Make a weekly timetable and have certain periods allocated towards certain activities. Stay on task and don’t give in to distraction. When it’s time to switch fire from one target to another, do it. Stay strong!

Activities such as checking messages and emails should be allocated to certain windows of the day. Switch off all notifications, including text messages, to help achieve commando productivity in other areas. Don’t be someone who everyone expects an immediate text response from. Set expectations and be someone to expect a text answer from within several hours.

7. Train hard, fight easy. Train smart, live easy.

Elite military train to push beyond pain barriers because that’s what’s required on operations. Most elite military also have no respect for movement or longevity. It’s all about “go hard or go home,” “If you ain’t dying you ain’t trying.” “No pain no gain.” Most elite military are physically broken (to one degree or another) after ten years of service. Civilians should not train like elite military if they want to be able to collect their own mail on the day they die. The civilian version of this motto is train smart, live easy.

All exercises, programs and training goals should be answerable to one question, “Will this improve my life at 80?” Developing the ability to move should be a priority. Train movement patterns, not muscle groups. Sitting down while resistance training (fixed resistance machines or free weights on benches) develops strength in the seated position. You’re a human not a cashew nut. Stand when you’re lifting, just as you would in the real world. Include mostly three-dimensional movement in every training session. Kettlebells, ahoy!!

There is, however, one training principle that can be learned from the commando mindset. Treat your exercise sessions like they are part of your religion. Don’t let your sacred training time be diluted by instant notifications or messages. Switch it off and focus. The gym (or park) is your temple and training is your meditation. Healthy body, healthy mind, better mental focus, super-productivity inside the gym and out.

Royal Marines Commando Flash with Irish Pennant

8. Know your enemy

As an operational commando it’s essential to be able to understand enemy movement, spot signs of enemy activity and clearly identify anyone you have in your sights. As a civilian there are enemies of your commando productivity lurking around every corner. Identify them and eliminate them. (Forgive the theatrics)

Civvie street is full of time wasters and people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do. That’s cool, just don’t let them affect you. If someone in your professional circle makes a promise or a statement saying, “I will…” and they don’t deliver or they forget, give them one more chance, because everyone makes mistakes. If it happens a second time, don’t waste another minute of your life communicating with or working with this person. When it comes to being stood up for a meeting or phone call stick to the policy, “Everyone deserves a second chance. Nobody deserves a third.” Identify habitual cancellers and steer away from them.

If you’re a self-employed helper of people, like me, you may be on the receiving end of many butterfly questions. Someone might have a quick thought about something you may have professional, expert knowledge about. They think of you and just ask away. Then they flutter away onto their next thought like a butterfly in the wind. A five-minute Google search could probably have found their answer, but they’d rather just spend 30 seconds asking you. You’re a good egg and like helping people. You also think that offering an awesome answer may boost your credibility or lead to future business. You spend five to 20 minutes writing a well-thought-out response, and… crickets. Learn to recognize and ignore butterfly questions from people who aren't real life friends. Maybe send a generic response along the lines of, “Thank you for asking! I’d be really excited to write about this in a future blog so thanks for the inspiration.”

9. Obliterate the enemy. Create the biggest bangs with the smallest bucks.

In the heavy weapons branch, we liked to select the weapon system that did the most damage to any given target. Overkill was the name of the game. Assess every forthcoming work task and evaluate which will create the biggest bangs for your buck. All tasks can usually be placed into one of the following four categories:

  • Small buck, large bang
  • Large buck, large bang
  • Small buck, small bang
  • Large buck, small bang

Always consider what the payoff might be when it comes to deciding whether or not commit to something. Gravitate towards the tasks that offer the greatest bangs for the smallest bucks. Strictly avoid the tasks that offer small bangs for a lot of buck.

10. If you go down, the battle is lost

If you can’t operate, neither can your section. If your section goes down, the troop goes down. If the troop goes down, the company goes down and we lose. Taking good care of yourself is paramount to success.

Don’t let your health suffer because you’re “too busy.” By taking care of yourself, you’re directly taking care of your loved ones. Good daily movement habits (walking, joint lubrication, movement-based exercise), awareness of the chemicals that you’re ingesting from household products, clean unprocessed foods and good quality sleep lead to many more able-bodied, disease-free years at the end of your life. You do you.

Go smash 2020!

Phil McDougall

IG: @phil.mcdougall

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