How to get shit done: Do we really need self-help advice from soldiers?

There’s a group of authors who have hurled themselves into the arena of self-help and business books who have formidable backgrounds – they’re special operations soldiers. Whether it’s leadership advice from the SAS, strategic advice from the Green Berets, or the more modestly-titled ‘Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World’ from a retired United States Navy admiral who spent 37 years in the Navy Seals.

The trend seems understandable. People often use war analogies to describe their professional lives, as well as what happens at home. Why wouldn’t we want to get some tips from people who have not only survived the most incredible physical and mental pressure, but made that space their workplace?

But do we really need that kind of advice? Shoreditch is definitely not Somalia. Our personal and professional lives are – in objective terms – getting better. We’re living longer, we have more options open to us as to how and where to lead our lives than ever before. The stress comes from the increasing demands placed on us. We’re bombarded with media messages, choices, uncertainty and requests for our time and headspace – both of which are finite.

Rather than trying to get better at doing more, and coping with constant pressure-cooker level pressure, a more realistic option is be to become better at gate-keeping. This is the art of saying ‘no’ to more things immediately, and of fanatically guarding our mental capacity, time and to do list.

Soldiers aren’t allowed to gate-keep. They don’t have the option of asking the enemy to stop firing for a minute so that they can defuse the IED, or telling their commanding officer he’ll have to come back later, or requesting that only one person at a time gets injured so that they can be treated. So they are trained to be able to operate in a constant state of emergency (as are a few other professions, like Emergency Room doctors).

You don’t need to put yourself in that state. Gate-keeping has never been so important for coping with life and work. It’s about proactively saying no to things – turning off notifications, putting on an out of office, saying to yourself and others that you’re not taking on any other work for the next week, rationing social media and Netflix, dropping an annoying and time consuming client.

If disasters do happen – and even in our comfortable world, they do – your gatekeeping just needs to get stricter. Tell everyone you’re in crisis mode, and don’t let anything else land in your lap.

That way, you won’t need to learn from the soldiers – you’ll be avoiding the war zone instead.

Here is a link to Clever Boxer’s full round-up of the best gate-keeping tools and techniques for “Getting Shit Done” as discussed at Simone Baird's recent talk held at Shoreditch House on Tuesday 20 February, 2018.