Time Management

Plan your day and know your “Commander’s Intent.”

July 31, 2007

There is a saying in the military: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” In your law practice, the “enemy” may show up in a number of disguises: a member of your staff, opposing counsel, a client emergency. The “enemy” is anyone or anything that “blows up” your plan for the day or the week.

Binoculars4 In the 1980s, the Army created a planning process inventing a concept called Commander’s Intent. Commander’s Intent (CI) is a plain-talk statement specifying the plan’s goal or desired end-state. For example, at the tactical level the CI might be: My intent is to have the third battalion on Hill 43, to have the hill cleared of the enemy, so we can protect the Third Flank as they pass through the lines. The CI never specifies so much detail as that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. (See Made to Stick, p. 26, for this example.) When you know your CI, you might lose the ability to execute your plan, but you never lose the responsibility for executing the intent.

Weekly and daily planning are essential, but you need to know your CI so that you can adjust your plans accordingly. To arrive at your CI for the day or the week, get in the habit of asking yourself questions similar to those that officers ask themselves to arrive at their commander’s CI.

If we do nothing else tomorrow, we must ______________.The single most important thing we must do this week is _________________.


  1. I love the clarity of this advice along with the commonsense room it makes for adjusting in light of changing circumstances.
    This line caught my attention: “The CI never specifies so much detail as that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events.”
    Even when we find ourselves changing like an “improv” actor we still need to know which hill we intend to take.
    Thanks for extending this conversation via your blog to the rest of us out here.
    Keep creating,

  2. Andrew says:

    I really like your blog generally and this post in particular.
    I’d not come across the CI concept but it’s very similar to some of the questions suggested by Tim Ferriss in his “Four Hour Work Week” book.
    This perspective allows you to focus on that which is most important.

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