The holidays are fast approaching with fewer and fewer shopping days left. Even if you are shopping online instead of waiting in long lines at the store, there are countless important gift choices for those in your life that probably need to be made soon. With everything else going on at this time of year, it’s easy to put off making very complicated decisions about who gets what gifts and how much to spend, not to mention those who are not on your list this year. That’s where another kind of line comes in.
Putting off these inevitable decisions just makes problem worse—take it from a reluctant shopper.
Thankfully, here’s a military strategy that may help you reach decisions sooner than later, as your window of time for holiday shopping and mailing is closing. It is known as the Dimmock Line and it is related to making good decisions under pressure without wasting time.
I first heard about the strategy in classes my senior year at West Point. Near the end of the Civil War, the Confederates in Virginia were manning a long fortified wall of earth with placements for 55 artillery batteries known as the Dimmock Line. During the siege of Petersburg, Union Troops attacked the emplacements the first time with almost 6,000 soldiers. Due to the fortifications and cannons, they were not able to breach the line. They did not realize that there were only 125 Confederate troops inside, and they were boys too young to be in the army or too old. They were also not well supplied.
After the first thwarted attack which lasted only a few days, the two Union generals began wringing their hands, thinking about different tactics to employ, as well as calling for reinforcements from up north. The generals were not able to reach a decision about how to attack until after the Union troops arrived in Petersburg. By then, the Confederates had reinforced the line with 18,000 soldiers and resupplied their depleted munitions. The result was a ten-month long battle that caused more than 70,000 casualties and prolonged the entire war—all because two people could not come to a timely decision.
At the Academy, I learned about the Principles of War or ways to prevail in serious conflicts, like competition and also making it through the holidays without injury to myself or my friends and loved ones.
The four relevant strategies to this challenge are Mission, Offensive, Maneuver, and Decisiveness.
You can use these principles to successfully navigate the minefield known as holiday gift giving.
If your mission is to get the appropriate gifts to those on your list on time, you need to take the offensive right now or ASAP. The clock is already ticking. You need to maneuver to get yourself in position to make purchases. Go to the bank to determine the funds available, or go online to check out your credit card balances or Amazon account. Then you will be in position to make many correct decisions in a short amount of time.
You can start by gathering all the other relevant information and laying out on a table in front of you, or on a spreadsheet or screen. Determine the amount that you will spend on each person, and the total amount for all your gifts this year. Make adjustments if the funds are not available. Then think about each person in order of their importance and the time it will take to get their gift to them. Imagine at least three possible gifts that would be appropriate, that they would like or love, and that are within your budget.
While contemplating the three gifts, trust your gut to choose the best one. This is the one that feels right to you. As soon as you do, be decisive and act on your intuitive sense and inner guidance. Without hesitation, order the gift or plan on how you will buy it and get it to the person in time. Once you’ve made the final decision and acted on it, don’t look back. Move on to the next person on your list and follow the strategy. Once you have maneuvered successfully through everyone on your list, you can hopefully start to enjoy the holiday season. Now that you’re finished with your holiday shopping, you can spend even more time with friends and family—free from stress and distraction.