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Maximising Your Strategic Thinking Time
How to balance day to day delivery with finding the headspace to think strategically
August Office Hours are live!
Have questions about how you lead? Thinking about how you gear yourself up for the second half of the year?
This August I’m holding ‘office hours’ each week, for Spark readers only.
It’s a complimentary 20 minutes with me, one on one, to talk about your leadership and help you fuel your fire for the rest of 2023.
I’m setting aside two hours each Thursday, across timezones. It’s an opportunity to bring the writing into your real life and I’ll answer your questions, share insight on the themes you read about here, and help you tackle other leadership challenges you’re personally facing. Today is closed out and there are a limited number of slots for future sessions, so book fast.
As ever, thank you for being a valued reader and a vital part of the growing Spark community.
Maximising Your Strategic Thinking Time
“My brain just feels fried” Kim confided a few weeks after we started working together.
Kim is a division leader in a small, international marketing firm. And she’s been struggling with how to balance day to day delivery with finding the headspace to think strategically.
Setting strategic direction and driving operational delivery are both critical to her role. And like many leaders, Kim is not new to balancing the two.
She loves getting stuck in and doing the work, and equally loves working on shaping it.
But too much of one and not enough of the other becomes frustrating and exhausting.
Her plan for dedicated ‘strategic thinking days’ has proved almost impossible.
Making it through a few hours without something urgent arising is rare, and on days when she has managed to clear her diary she hasn’t made as much progress as she’d expected of herself.
As someone who struggles with a touch of perfectionism, it meant she often felt pressure during her strategic thinking time and it became counterproductive.
Today, after dedicating real effort to fine tuning the way that she works, Kim tells me she’s starting to feel much more in control of how she spends her time, and it’s making a real difference to her productivity. Whilst it’s an ongoing process of learning and experimenting, the number of days where she logs off and feels fried have by far reduced.
How Kim manages her time will be different to how you manage yours. But figuring out what works for you is worth the effort.
The summer recess presents a great opportunity to experiment with different techniques so you’re ready to hit the ground running when September starts to ramp up.
Here are three things to give you a head start:
Tune in: Start by understanding your peak effectiveness times. We all have times when we are more effective at thinking deeply and when we’re better geared to crack on through our to do list.
Take a moment to pause and look back at times when you were in the flow of strategic thought.
What time of the day and week was it?
Where were you? What were your surroundings?
What were you doing earlier that day and right before?
Recording where your time is going can help and there are an abundance of time tracking apps that can make the process easier. Clients of mine give the free version of Toggl good reviews or a simple spreadsheet/pen and paper will also suffice. (Ping me a message and I’ll be happy to share my spreadsheet template with you.).
Although painstaking, the insights that come from tracking your time can be invaluable. And the results will help you identify and block out time for strategic thinking at optimal moments when you know disruptions will be minimal and your energy high.
For Kim, through experimentation and reflection, she has found that breaking her strategic thinking into blocks, with two ‘focus’ blocks per week, works well. Having a dedicated ‘strategic thinking day’ was impractical but she needed time set aside from the daily cycle. What about you?
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Assess: Identify what is within your scope of control and what you can influence. Kim told me she often felt like “her diary was managing her, rather than her managing her diary”.
Instead she started setting time aside to more actively manage her time; reviewing her agenda at the end of the week and looking back at what had gone to plan and why, and what hadn’t.
She also took a critical look forward at the two weeks ahead to see how closely it met the principles she’d set herself and where she had the scope to adjust or request to change existing commitments.
What could this type of approach make possible for you?
What would it look like if you were to design your own end of week review and forward look?
When would you do it and what would it include?
Contingency plan. Don’t plan for perfection. Where diaries are concerned things rarely go entirely as planned. Instead, plan for interference.
Identify potential sources of internal and external interference and get specific up front about what you’ll say yes to and what you’ll say no to.
What might get in the way of you using the time in the way you’ve planned?
What’s your plan B?
What expectations need managing?
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