Strategic Heaven and Tactical Hell

Takeaway: How close you are to a deadline with your work drastically impacts the degree of stress you deal with and the degree of control you have over events.

Understanding the difference between strategic heaven and tactical hell is one of the single most important things you can do for your overall productivity and well-being. Designing your life to stay as much in strategic heaven as possible and as much out of tactical hell as possible is one of the most important structural goals you can attain because it will drastically improve the quality and productivity of every single aspect of your life.

Entering Tactical Hell

Consider how you feel when you have something that’s important to do that has to be completed very soon because of a strict deadline. Stress and anxiety are what you’re going to feel and deal with because of the immediate nature of the task combined with the pressure of how important it is. Any outside interference will put a real bind on you, and there are a lot of things that could happen outside of your control that would keep you from making your deadline.

In fact, one crisis could happen, completely due to no fault of your own, and that would throw off any ability you have to get the thing done before the deadline. This is the source of a lot of the stress and anxiety that comes along with this sort of thing. This is tactical hell, and it’s where productivity goes to wither away and die.

Most people in most situations react to this type of stress with escapism of various types, and this includes going along with any convenient distraction that will take you out of that stressful environment. You then alternate between fire killing and procrastination, and that’s a terrible way to live because it takes control out of your hands while filling you with guilt for your frequent escapes into unimportant activities that don’t get anything done.

Ascending to Strategic Heaven

Now consider a different scenario. You have a very important task to do, and you have set aside time to work on it soon. The task isn’t due for a week, and it will only take you a couple of hours to complete. You’re able to work without all of the stress and anxiety that comes from the deadline being so close. You also know that if something else comes up or if a crisis happens that you’ll be able to deal with it with confidence instead of worrying about missing your deadline.

You have flexibility, options and a lot less stress. This is strategic heaven, and this is where you should aim to be as much as humanly possible.

Note that just because you’re in strategic heaven, that doesn’t mean you have to be productive all the time. You can still do things that need to happen right away that are unimportant in a sense, like taking a break from your work to relax for a few minutes, which we covered heavily in Cultivating Empty Space and Stress and Recovery.

The Opposite of Procrastination

Procrastination is making the choice to descend from strategic heaven to tactical hell. This is the opposite of ascending to strategic heaven. The reasons behind procrastination can be somewhat complicated, but this is more or less what it comes down to. You’re choosing to do your tasks closer to their respective deadlines instead of doing them out ahead of time, which gives up control and takes on a lot more stress for no net gain.

In fact, it’s generally at a net loss because you’ll be less productive and put out work of a lower quality when you do this.

Procrastination is when you opt to ignore the fire-killing you have going on to space out and do something that isn’t as stressful, even though it’s a waste of time. It’s reactive, and it shows a complete lack of control. It’s this control that can be regained by changing the structure of your life to ascend to strategic heaven.

The Eisenhower Matrix and Making It Happen

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower (Source)

This quote shows us exactly how to achieve a firm standing in strategic heaven. To have an easier understanding of what this quote means and how it ties into our discussion of strategic heaven and tactical hell, considering the following matrix:

Strategic heaven means staying in Quadrant II and Quadrant III. Tactical hell means staying in Quadrant I and Quadrant IV. Design your life to make this happen, and it will start to seem like you are now playing in “easy mode” on virtually everything you do.