Tactical vs. Strategic: Getting Clear on How to Achieve Goals

Do you know what I mean when I say, “tactical vs. strategic” as a method for getting clear on achieving goals?

So we can start with the appropriate mindset, I’ll provide definitions of both:

Tactical:

: of or relating to tactics: such as

(1): of or relating to small-scale actions serving a larger purpose

(2): made or carried out with only a limited or immediate end in view

b: adroit in planning or maneuvering to accomplish a purpose

Strategic:

: necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct, or completion of a strategic plan

The way I like to think of it is this:

Strategic action is planning and executing the big picture of a goal or objective.

Tactical action is the carrying out of smaller steps that are necessary in the service of the strategic goal.

What I’ll do in this post is, as briefly as possible, layout:

  1. Some examples of strategic vs tactical action
  2. Why it is important to understand the difference
  3. Some takeaways for execution

My motive for writing this is because I find this to be such a critical concept to understand, and one that stands in the way of achieving bigger goals if it is not understood and practiced.

A confession: I love tactical action. I’m addicted to it. It feels so good to make a list of to-dos and start chipping away at it. But I’ve realized that tactical, in the absence of strategic, can often result in lots of small picture stuff getting done, but no movement on larger goals.

I aim to always be optimizing the way I do things, so getting a clearer focus on tactical vs. strategic strikes me as quite important.

What are some examples of tactical vs. strategic actions or goals?

A strategic goal would be something like losing 30 pounds, gaining 10 pounds of muscle, lowering my cholesterol by 50 points, reading 10 books this year, get a new career.

In other words, bigger things that require careful planning to accomplish.

It’s very likely that you’ve heard of “SMART goals.” That is a key to strategic planning; I won’t belabor that here other than to say that goals should be specific.

“Improve my running pace by 2-minutes per mile” beats “get faster at running” or “get in better shape” all day long.

Some tactical actions to support a strategic goal of losing 30 pounds would be:

  • Logging food intake: what types, the calories, macros
  • Reducing consumption of problem areas (too many calories, too much sugar, etc.) by a specific amount. E.g. Reducing intake by 500 calories per day.
  • Keeping an exercise journal
  • Weighing or measuring yourself weekly

To accomplish a strategy, it has to be broken down into tactical action. But where it gets tricky is determining which is which, and figuring out the right way to balance them.

This leads to the next point:

Why is it important to understand the difference between tactics and strategy?

I’ve wasted a lot of time over the years spinning my wheels with tactics (small actions) without clarity on the bigger picture, or strategy. In some cases, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t even have a strategy. I was just being busy doing things because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Without devolving too much into sounding like a motivational speaker, I’ve come to realize that strategy is more aligned with your “why” – the reason you do what you do. Furthermore, it is about your vision of who you are, who you wish to become, and what you want to accomplish.

A personal example

To turn the mirror towards me for a moment, I’ll share with you how this is playing out in my life as a business owner.

I wrote in my 2021 Year in Review post about my successes and areas for improvement in 2021.

I’ve realized that the following things all collided to contribute to my less-than-stellar performance:

  • Being blessed to have a growing client list that kept me hopping most of the year
  • My love for tactics over strategic planning, which led to:
  • Not using my time as well as I wanted
  • A lack of systems to keep me honest in how I used my time

So, what am I doing to address those things?

For one, I’m keeping it real by writing publicly about it. (Grimaces.) But otherwise, I am implementing the following:

  • I hired a business coach in the summer of 2021 that I meet with monthly to help me sort through my business challenges. (Update since this post was originally drafted: my coach took a different gig recently, so I am navigating my strategy and system-building solo at the moment.)
  • I plan to schedule regular periods of review regarding how I think things are going. Not just an end-of-year analysis, but at least twice-yearly, if not quarterly.
  • On a tactical level, I recreated my daily time planning grid to make it more accommodating to my style (I was previously using something I found online).
    • I added a spot at the end of each day to write “how did it go today?” and “what to change?” so I can provide analysis on even a daily level.
  • I am re-reading a book I read and reviewed called “Do More Better” by Tim Challies. This book was foundational in shaping my approach to productivity several years ago. I figured it was time to revisit it.

These things and likely more will be added to the mix to help me operate from a greater sense of purpose and with sharper focus and action towards my goals.

By God’s grace, I’ve come a long way over the years in increasing the order with which I live my life. But there is always room for improvement. Always. As I pursue life with the mindset of Colossians 3:17, 23, I recognize the higher purpose for everything I do, whether tactical or strategic.

Some takeaways on implementing tactical vs strategic goals

If I can distill down the top things I’ve learned, it would be:

  1. Get clear on your mission in each area of your life. Again, for Christians, I highly recommend Tim Challies’ “Do More Better.” It would help all people with organization, but its unique focus on Christian productivity sets it apart from other books of its kind. James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” is another outstanding book that will help in building better habits. Once you know your mission, you can honestly evaluate where you are and where you want to be.
  2. Write out your strategic goals (longer-term, more involved)
  3. Write out as many subordinate tactical action items as you need to under each item in #2 that will help clarify the task at hand
  4. Choose one or two things to implement to start. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to tackle everything at once. I know from repeat experience. Once you are established in chipping away at those few things, then add something else if you think you can sustain it.
  5. Schedule periodic reviews of both lists. Honestly evaluate your progress and correct course when needed. I’ve found that skipping this piece usually leads to any progress eventually getting derailed.

I hope you’ve found something helpful from this post. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this subject and what you struggle with. You’re not alone, whatever it is!

Thank you for reading this – I appreciate you!

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About Summer Sorensen

My aim: to live out Jesus' greatest commands (Matthew 22:36-40) & have the most fun while doing it.
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2 Responses to Tactical vs. Strategic: Getting Clear on How to Achieve Goals

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post, Summer. What you’ve written here makes a lot of sense and looks “doable” for people like you and your father. 🙂 People whose brains tend to make their personalities more random (like me) would likely have a more difficult time staying focused on strategic and tactical goals. I have accomplished most of my goals in life–and while I’m very happy about that–I must admit I’ve accomplished them using more of a “hit and miss” approach. After reading your blog post, one thing seems clear to me: You have inherited your tendency to be organized and productive from Bo! I’m thankful for that.

    • Summer Sorensen says:

      Thank you for reading, and commenting, Vive!
      Interesting perspective you shared. Prior to reading your comment, I would have assumed that hitting tactical/strategic goals is more a matter of discipline than internal wiring. But I could definitely be underinformed. I’m willing to admit that I know very little about goal setting and productivity from an ADHD / “random” person perspective.

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