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Taking action vs. Taking Time to Think

February 1, 2017 by 108 Ideaspace

2017 Blog Graphics SQUARE-23Taking action to achieve goals, objectives and deadlines is integral to each organization. Actions, or the implementation of a strategy and plans, are all necessary for organizational, professional and personal success. However, in completing an action or implementing a plan, is something lost in the process? 

Said another way, is the path to achievement exclusively achieved through action? Action is necessary, but is it not necessarily sufficient? Moreover, can an organization (or you as an individual) do better with less action, and more of something else? 

Yes, they can.  In this era of quick change and immediate results, we typically don’t take time to really sit down and think. This is true for several reasons: it’s hard, we’re stretched for time, and often there’s a bias against it (some feel thinking looks like “sitting around”… doing nothing). 

So what is the case for spending time thinking?  A few of the benefits:

  • Creativity:  Intuitive leaps and creative solutions are only possible when time is allocated to them.    Time opens the gates of possibility.
  • Setting direction:  How do we know what we are doing will lead us to where we need to go?  Explicit time on planning ensures that we are taking the most direct, and effective route to our goals.
  • Motivation: The pause of thinking helps answer the questions of why and how, and provides an energizing mental break that makes future action more meaningful – and often, more effective.   
  • Internalization:  Whether it be a high-level mission statement or a colleague’s new idea, thinking time allows for internalization – the first step in using the information within your own thinking. 
  • Risk reduction:  While most people would not willingly jump off a cliff, sometimes unthinking action is doing precisely that.  Time allows us to both consider any pitfalls, and increase the probability of successful action. 
  • Connecting the dots:  We live and work in a complex world; when we act quickly, we may not consider the implications on existing processes and people.  Thinking time helps us identify these moving parts, and build better alignment.  It also provides an opportunity to incorporate others’ (better) perspectives.

Yet despite these benefits, many people do not have the time to actually sit and think.  Or are uninspired about scheduling a block of time in their calendar to spend time thinking.  Here’s the good news: there are literally hundreds of more inspiring (and practical) ways to spend time thinking.  Here are 11 of them: 

  1. While you exercise: Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, most people have experienced that “big” problems often become less daunting after exercise than before.  While your body is working hard while working out, your mind is working hard solving problems of your day.
  2. Keeping a journal, or blogging:  Writing is really the process of organizing your thoughts so others can more easily understand.  Regular writing forces regular thinking. 
  3. In transit: Whether it be in public transit, long-distance business travel, or in your car, transit is a gift of time: why not use it to listen to thoughtful podcasts or keep a journal?  (About 50% of these Tipsheets are written on the subway!)
  4. Go outside the box:  This may mean registering for personal interest courses, reading books outside of your professional sphere, or seeking exposure to other cultures or languages.  A new (or different) stimulus will help you look at existing issues in a new way.
  5. Early morning: Schedule time early in the morning, before the bustle of the day.  (Here is a challenge: schedule thinking time from 6-7am each morning for a month – your return on this investment will be more than you can imagine.)
  6. Writing weeks: Schedule an extended time period away to focus on larger, deeper thinking projects.  (This is when I tackle book-writing.)
  7. Hire a coach: Too many leaders spend time in the business, not on the business. Regular coaching forces thinking time, with the added bonus of external accountability. 
  8. Mentoring:  Helping others helps you process from a different perspective.  Being mentored opens you to different approaches to solving your problems.   
  9. Teaching: Thinking happens both in the preparation and in the delivery of your content.  The interaction with students also exposes you to different ways of thinking, which is valuable in and of itself
  10. Formal education: Attending professional development courses, earning a professional certification, or pursuing part-time graduate studies institutionalizes thinking time, with the double benefit of getting exposed to new ideas and new people.
  11. Public speaking: While the delivery of a speech is certainly important, the vast majority of time is actually spent in the preparation: research, structuring, and writing. 

The beauty of thinking is that we are all fully equipped with all of the tools we need: our brain.  It’s just a matter of using it.  If an organization truly wishes to operate at peak efficiency, then it must not just hire smart people, but also require them to think.

Notwithstanding the importance of thinking time, the case for action cannot be overstated.  Getting things done is difficult, and thus too many organizations (and people) are paralyzed by inaction.  The best outcome is always when both thinking and action occur together, and when an organization’s culture rewards both.

This week’s action plan:  Schedule a specific time this week, and each week going forward, to think.  The more the brain is exercised, the better and more efficient it becomes. 


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