Recently I’ve been feeling as though the more work I get done, the more there is to do. Flying by the seat of my pants seems to be my norm these days. I am certain I’m not alone…for too many of us, days begin with a “quick” check of email, prioritizing emergencies that must be tended to before even getting out of bed. Most days start spending so much time working through email that there’s barely time to get dressed and make it into the office on time. Then there’s back-to-back meetings almost every single day…all attended while multi-tasking email, texts, and IMs from co-workers or subordinates about emergencies and “oh my gosh we need you NOW” issues.
Tell the truth…you’ve been there, too, haven’t you?
Based upon much of the content I’ve read lately, the buzz words of the day focus on the need for “down time” and to “unplug”. For some reason, those terms have negative connotations when I hear them…unbelievably strong negative connotations. “Down time” creates an image of sitting by the pool, drinking fruity drinks with umbrellas. Quite honestly, that’s not what I need. I simply need time to think.
There you go…it’s that simple. Most of us do not have the time to think strategically or otherwise. Our days our filled with fire drills and a focus on “urgent” tasks at hand that, if we’re honest, really aren’t urgent at all. But we focus on them because we’re either asked to by other people who don’t have time to think or we make poor decisions to prioritize initiatives because we have not had time to think them through. And, of course, there’s always the situation where there aren’t enough hands to help and so you have no choice but to “do” in order to get things done.
It’s frustrating to realize how much time has been spent on autopilot…making decisions that, in hindsight, were probably questionable…all because the focus was on “working” in order to get things done instead of “working smart” and making strategic decisions and progress. There are ways to overcome this struggle, even in the most fast-paced, understaffed environment. Here are a few ideas:
- Schedule a block of time each day for focused, directed thinking. Try starting with one hour each day. Give yourself this gift. Block your calendar each day and then respect the time. Do not reschedule or postpone this critical activity. Deep strategic thinking is integral to your success, the progress of your business, and the growth of your staff. Much is depending on your being focused and prepared. Honor the investment of your time by commiting to it.
- Proactively prevent distractions. Stop interruptions before they occur. Silence all mobile devices and desk phones, completely shut down email and email notifications, and close all social media sites from your computer. Protect this very important scheduled time and limit or prevent anything that has the potential to interfere.
- Set goals and objectives for your thinking time. Be careful that your thinking time doesn’t turn into daydreaming time. Establish what you want to accomplish, decisions that must be made, details that must be finalized. Set out to get it done in the time you’ve allotted.
- Get back into practice by writing or typing out your thoughts. Have a note pad or laptop handy to capture your thoughts, ideas, plans, etc. Draw from creativity guides such as “The Artist’s Way” and use “morning pages” to shape the flow of thoughts from your mind into strategies, plans, and process.
Make a commitment to set aside time for focused thinking every day for at least a week. At the end of the week, evaluate whether this has been a fruitful exercise. I would be surprised if you felt it was not valuable. Whatever you do, reclaim your time to think and approach your work and life strategically. It is not easy, especially if you are out of practice, but the path to success is much easier to navigate when you take the time to be prepared and planful.