The Importance of the Business Day's First Five Plays

I'm writing this the day after the Bears were eliminated from playoff contention, so forgive me if this goes astray.

Big name football teams (pro and collegiate) do something that you might want to adopt yourself: They script the first five (or so) plays of the game.

The beginning of the game is the same every time. Nobody starts with 14 points down or with any new holes in your offensive line. You have time to think about the most effective way to make an impact days before the game starts, so you plan.

Planning does a few things. One, it makes sure every player knows those five plays by heart. They have been practiced, in succession many times, so there's no chance to misunderstand the play-calling or where a player is supposed to be. Contrast this to the end of the game, in which everyone is tired, frazzled, playing in a loud stadium, can't hear well, has been hit all day and is ripe for mistakes. Planning out those first five plays lowers the opportunities for mistakes.

Every mistake the players make lowers the coaching staff's trust in the player. And over the course of the game, will fall into more conservative and more rote plays, plays designed to stem the bleeding, or run out a clock, or save face, not to win.

It also allows the team to set the tone and the tempo of the game. With those first five plays set up, there's no need for a huddle. There's no need to think. You simply do. The part of the brain (coach) that did the high-level strategist thinking yesterday isn't beset by the noise and the pressure yet, so they are plays designed to make the biggest impact.

Can you prepare the first five plays when you go into work? What are the first five interactions you know you're going to have, with your boss, with your sales team, with your support staff? What about your customers? Who are the people you need to make an impact on early in the game?

You can plan those plays on your commute, but it might be better to think them through on the train home the night before, when the problems are still fresh in your mind.

What about the weekend, scripting out Monday's first five plays, the phone calls you are going to make, the emails you need to send and the staff you need to talk to? Plan out who you are going to take to coffee and what you want to talk about.

Scripting out those first five plays can make all the difference, especially when you can't know how the day is going to go.

James Ellis is a digital strategist, mad scientist, lover, fighter, drummer and blogger living in Chicago. You can reach out to him or just argue with his premise at

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