How to Conquer Your Time Like Alexander the Great
Use the famous military strategy to excel in life
For more than two centuries, the Empire of Persia ruled the Mediterranean world. Their empire stretched all the way from India, through Egypt up to the northern borders of Greece.
356 B.C was not the happiest year for the Persians — for their conqueror, Alexander the Great, was born. Tutored by Aristotle himself, Alexander grew up with a bright future.
On the first of October in 331 B.C, the battle between the Persian king Darius III and Alexander’s Macedonian troops would change history forever.
Up to this point, Alexander had already defeated the Persian army two times. Needless to say, the Persians were hungry for revenge.
This time, however, they had all the reasons to be optimistic. The Persian army consisted of two hundred thousand men. The Macedonian army? Merely fifty thousand — infantry and cavalry included.
Owing to their large size, the Persians had one job — sweep around both the flanks of the Macedonian army and kill’em once and for all.
Ah, only if it were so easy.
Knowing his weaknesses, Alexander rested his troops on a hillside above the battlefield the night before. As he drew his gameplan, he allowed some of his scouts to be captured by the Persian army for interrogation.
The scouts told the Persian army what Alexander wanted them to know — they alerted the Persians about a night attack.
Terrified, Darius kept his entire army awake to be ready for a battle.
To enforce his illusion, Alexander sent light skirmishing forces in a series of quick attacks on Persian flanks.
Thus, while the Persian soldiers were up all night, trying to fight the small attacks, the Macedonian army had retired and slept well.
The Day of Battle
Even though Alexander was smart to fatigue the Persian soldiers, it wasn’t enough. After all their army was four times his size.
As the battle started, Darius launched three hundred chariots with scythes spinning on the axles. The Macedonian army was ready for this. Alexander ordered all his javelin throwers to make it rain.
Darius then attacked their left and right flanks simultaneously.
In midst of this chaos, Alexnder and his army were disciplined enough to follow his master plan.
They launched a full-fledged attack on the left flank of the Persian army — or at least make it seem like so.
Darius, with the fear of being overpowered on the left flank, sent five thousand of his best cavalry.
To counter, Alexander sent another fifteen hundred mercenaries to hold the righthand position.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, Darius sent another ten thousand soldiers, almost his entire left flank, to counter the attack.
Finally, with what’s known as his ‘pawn sacrifice’ Alexander sent several thousand troops destined to die to lay the ground for his final move.
Darius realized what’s happening and initiated a full-frontal attack on the Macedonian army. But since the Persian army was disintegrated, his orders took time to reach the soldiers.
Alexander, waiting for this exact moment, gave a loud battle cry to pursue Darius himself.
Carving through the frontal Persian forces like a knife through butter, Alexander and his elite cavalry approached the chariot of Darius.
Darius seeing the face of death itself fled from the field on a horse. Even though Alexander was successful in killing his chariot driver, he could not capture Darius.
The word spread like wildfire throughout the battlefield. Knowing that the King had fled, the troops got a clear message — “The battle is lost. Run for your life!”
The fight ensued for another two hours. When the dust settled, the Persian army had lost ninety thousand men whereas the Macedonian army lost on five hundred.
The Separation Between Mediocrity and Extraordinary
The only reason Alexander was successful was clarity.
His strategy was clear from the get-go — The Persian army consisted of conscripted troops from all over the Persian empire. They were not loyal to each other. Thus, if he captured, killed, or fleed Darius, the Linchpin holding the troops together, the entire army would not continue fighting.
This victory made Alexander the master of Persia — the greatest empire on Earth. He was twenty-five years old.
Clarity of objective and its simplicity are the prerequisites for winning strategy
When Eisenhower was sent to take command of the Allied Forces in London during WWII, his goal was simple — “Proceed to London. Invade Europe. Defeat the Germans.”
When Norman Schwarzkopf was sent to command the Allied forces against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, his orders were as clear as day — “Get the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.” This clarity led to a simple execution rule against the Iraqi airforce — “If it flies, it dies.”
Darius III of Persia seemed to have no plan. His strategy was purely reactionary. He played to the illusions set by Alexander, never thinking about what his objective should be.
First, he kept his troops awake the whole night. Second, he kept sending soldiers to the left flank when the battle had nothing to do with it.
His fleeing from the battle-field doesn’t seem so surprising right? Again, he didn’t know what to do if the army approaches his own chariot.
Living in the pride of his large army, he sat in the middle, surrounded by troops. In hindsight, his plan was vague but sounded plausible — cover the Macedonian army from both sides and finish them.
In reality, it failed miserably.
These principles of warfare apply directly to our daily lives.
How much time are you spending reacting to others’ demands? How much time do you dedicate to your own objectives for the day?
Most people wake up without a plan for their day. Heck, they don’t even know what they’ll wear let alone what things they’ve to get done.
Checking your phone in the morning, replying to emails, and chatting with coworkers are just reactionary strategies. They only lead to one place — failure.
We think these plans are good. That checking off our to-do list or reducing the number of unread emails is a sign of progress. In reality, they don’t move the needle, even though they sound plausible.
On the other hand, a person with the utmost clarity gets up in the morning, knowing what to do in every situation. Whether it’s a small decision like picking an outfit or a big one, they’re ready to face the challenge.
To have more clarity in your life you need clear objectives. Once you have clear objectives, you can work backward and take daily action towards them.
In other words, having a clear objective allows you to put a system in place. This system automates decisions and, if followed consistently, leads to victory.
The Components of Clear Objectives
Brian Tracy in his book Victory provides five essential qualities of clear objectives:
Before doing anything else, determine if your objectives are clear.
The objective should be clear not only to the leader but to all who would be instrumental in achieving the objective.
Keep in mind, objectives are slightly different than goals. Goals are broad targets whereas objectives are narrow and resemble roadmaps.
The objective should be attainable. Don’t set superhuman objectives.
Clarity not only means clarity of the objective but also being clear about what is possible and what’s not. Don’t be afraid to aim high, but realize that there are limits to achievement in a given time frame.
The objective must be significant enough to affect the achievement of your higher-order objective.
In simpler terms, the objective should be a high-priority task that would yield rewards to justify the effort put in its execution.
What’s measured gets managed. Keep your objective as specific as possible.
Consider the following series of objectives:
“I’ll write regularly”
“I’ll write two times a week”
“I’ll write every Monday and Thursday”
“I’ll write between 8 am and 10 am every Monday and Thursday”
Every iteration makes the objective specific and increases the chances of achievement.
Deadlines drive execution like no other tool.
Deadlines trigger a stress response which leads to a boost in performance. This stress can come for various reasons — the consequences of not meeting the deadline, the limited time to complete the task, and so on.
Stress, according to the Yerkes-Dodson law, increases productivity up to a certain extent. Thus, deadline-induced-stress is good for us to get things done.
How to Gain Clarity and Reset Your Brain
I came across this life-hack only recently. Although I practiced it on a regular basis, I never knew there was a name for it.
I’m talking about brain dumps.
If you’ve ever tried to meditate or practice solitude, you know that your mind processes thousands of thoughts every minute. The number of tasks and ideas in there are just crazy.
The purpose of brain dumps is to get all the trash out of your brain.
The brain is good for processing information but it’s a bad office. If you want to go about your days, remembering every little thing you’ve to do, you cannot rely on your brain for long.
Inevitably, you’ll forget important pieces of information. Worse, if you try to use your brain to remember information, you cannot use it for other high-value tasks — doing great work in your field of expertise.
Bluma Zeigarnik, the observer of the Ziegarnik effect, noticed that waiters in cafes remembered twice as much about the unpaid orders as compared to those which were already paid.
This explains why we cannot carry around thoughts and tasks in our heads.
When we try to remember all the different things we do, the brain is constantly trying to not forget the information. In the quest to remember, it stops performing.
Tell me if this happens with you:
You open your email inbox to access an important piece of information. You’re bombarded with five other emails that you get lost in. After you close the tab, you have no idea why you opened it in the first place.
Familiar? Thought so.
Brain Dump 101
Only 3 percent of adults have clear, written, specific goals. Your aim should be to join this top 3 percent. These people earn five and ten times as much as the average. They experience a much greater sense of control and much greater feelings of happiness and accomplishment than average people do – Brian Tracy
Like your workspace, your brain too can get cluttered. The only way to make space is to turn it upside down and shake the hell out of it.
Meaning, you write every stray thought that bothers you.
Need a new light bulb?
Friend’s birthday coming up?
Want to plan for an important project?
Need to take your dog to the vet?
Just about anything. Don’t hold back. Don’t stress over the mechanics. Just do it.
Write it down on paper or on your laptop — especially, when you feel stressed, tired, or overwhelmed.
A helpful tip is to set a timer and write as much as you can before it runs out. This way it’s not an open-ended slog and you don’t overthink every word.
Once you do this, the brain no longer has the pressure to remember things. You’ve in essence exported everything into one place.
After taking the crap out of your mind onto a piece of paper, organize them into various categories.
These categories can be of your choice. I have categories and subcategories.
My categories include work, personal, spiritual, health, etc. Under the category of ‘work’, I further have subcategories — deep work, shallow work, and errands.
Although it’s good to have a system, don’t let the lack of it stop you from practicing the technique in the first place.
Five minutes is all it takes to write down your tasks and worries. Once you put these thoughts on paper, you can see patterns, batch them together and finally, focus on the bigger picture.
Remember, if you’re too caught up in what’s happening around you like Darius, you won’t be able to zoom out and plan your strategy like Alexander.
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