ArtofManagingSometimes, you just have to call a time-out.

While our tendency is to respond to the gravitational pull of our devices and the unceasing demands of the urgent and urgent-unimportant in our work lives, some issues simply require deep thought.

Most organizations and professionals get into a groove of recurring meetings and outlook calendar-driven days. They associate “being busy” with working.

The hardest work is finding the quiet time to allow you and your colleagues to stare at and talk through and solve the real issues in the way of progress.

You won’t solve: “design new approach to market and supporting organizational structure for new strategy” or, “outline succession plan for management team” in-between your 8:00 a.m. production meeting and the 10:00 a.m. call to London.

The big issues of talent and strategy and structure all demand more than transactional treatment. The decisions that commit us to distinct paths merit the thoughtfulness that can only occur when we hit the stop button, change the environment and allow ourselves to honestly engage on the issues, risks, opportunities and fears about the path.

When working with executives who are struggling to get something right…sales, profits, team dynamics etc., I look for signs that they understand the need to occasionally slow down and focus. I asked one sales executive when he took time to think about the big issues in front of his team and the firm, and his response said it all. “Never. I enjoy the thrill of the daily hunt, and I focus my energy there every day.”  OK, that explains the visible stress fractures and performance problems all over his team.

6 Ideas for Creating Time to Think Deeply:

1. Make this part of your job. Recognize and accept the need to create time to think and talk deeply about the core issues with one or more of your key colleagues.

2. Accept that off-line time is still work time. In fact it’s the right work, even though you’ve turned off your devices and are ignoring for the moment the 147 issues that seemingly can’t move forward without you opining or approving.

3. Don’t restrict “thinking deeply” to the annual offsite. Be spontaneous. Don’t restrict deep thinking time to one or two off-site retreats during the year. In my experience, the best progress is made on the big issues when the planning is less deliberate.

4. Recognize the signs that it’s time for some deep thinking and talking. Most of our big plans are developed in an iterative fashion. A compelling strategy on the surface still requires deep thinking about the assumptions and the practicalities of implementing the strategy. Don’t let the pretty pictures and great words keep you from digging deeper and throwing some mud at the ideas.

5. Learn to stimulate thinking through re-framing. Just recently, I talked through a strategy program with the head of sales and we shifted frames 4 or 5 times on how we might build a go-to-market. Every time we got one side of the multi-colored  cube right, we would look at another side and something didn’t line up. This told us to keep thinking and talking.

6. Keep talking until the discussion exposes the real issues and the honest assumptions, opinions, biases, excitement and fears. If you never hit the fears, you’ve not thought and talked deeply enough.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Remember, being busy doesn’t mean you’re working hard. Call the time-out and create time for you and your colleagues to think deeply on the big issues. And then act.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.