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In many ways, last year felt like a never-ending wildfire — as soon as we put out one fire, another flared up. We tried to fix things with a flurry of meetings, committees and Zooms, but instead, we only got more stressed. By the end of the year, most of us were burned out and ready for the holiday break.
As we seek to get out of this spiral, we need to ensure we do not have a repeat of the same stressors that caused us to burn out. We need to make space for strategic thinking.
Do less to do more
Often, our response to feeling overwhelmed is to try to get everything done: pinpoint every issue, schedule meeting after meeting and keep working until everything is crossed off our list and “perfect.”
However, this mindset is based on a fallacy — a mistaken belief that we can get everything under control by doing more. The first truth we must acknowledge is that we will never get everything under control, and there may always be a fire blazing somewhere.
Further, doing more rarely solves the problem; sometimes, it adds fuel to a fire that may have fizzled on its own. When we are overloaded with problems, meetings and emails, the first victim is strategic thinking. We do not have the time and space to consider our options before forging blindly ahead.
Instead of holding another meeting, sometimes, we need to do less — pause the troublesome project or end it entirely so that we have the bandwidth to handle more pressing issues and strategize for the future without running ourselves or our employees ragged.
Make space to prioritize
During a reactive period, our capacity to prioritize degrades. So many things are happening that we do not know where to start. But when we don’t prioritize, everything becomes urgent, which wreaks havoc on our nervous system and makes it impossible to get much of anything done. We end up overworking ourselves — either everything is perfect, or nothing is.
By doing less, we give ourselves the space to prioritize, asking, “What needs to be dealt with first, and what can wait?” When we take the time to prioritize effectively, we enable ourselves to focus on creating action plans that can accomplish what we want.
Imagine a sales leader who’s feeling pressure from macroeconomic headwinds. They may double down on meetings with their salespeople, review forecasts repeatedly and become obsessed with each granular detail. In doing so, they might think they’re resolving the issue, but all they’re doing is making everybody anxious and wasting time — valuable time that could have been spent strategizing or making sales. Instead of another meeting, the sales leader might be better served by hitting pause and asking, “What do we need to be doing differently? Do we have the right people for this challenge? Is there an untapped market that we’re not addressing?”
Don’t forget to breathe
The first step toward making space for strategic thinking and behavior is simply to breathe. Breathing exercises clear space in our minds, allowing us to think clearly and ask important questions. Take a moment to pause and breathe before running full steam ahead. And once your mind is clear, ask yourself and your team these five questions:
- What are my top 10 projects?
- Which of these projects are the most valuable to our success as a business?
- Am I getting a return on the energy I put into my work?
- If I’m not, why? And what do I need to do differently?
- Are there projects I need to deprioritize or end?
It’s okay to step away if something isn’t working. If you ever took a course in behavioral economics, you might remember the sunk cost fallacy — we think that because we’ve already invested time, money, and energy into something, we must see it to the end. It’s why so many people stay in relationships too long or finish a movie they already hate. It keeps us stuck in an unpleasant present instead of allowing us to make space for the things that truly matter or future opportunities we are not yet aware of.
Now is the time to revamp your business
We’ve all heard the phrase “less is more.” It is high time we stop the pile-on of meetings and projects and calls and Zooms and take it to heart: cancel the unnecessary meeting, end the project that is not advancing and take care of ourselves as whole people, not just the bobblehead that shows up on Zoom.
Strategic thinking doesn’t just happen. We must make space for it. We live in a time where it has become exceptionally difficult to protect and preserve that space. This year, take a Marie Kondo for business approach: “Is this project, meeting or call going to give me, my employees or my business more energy and fuel for the future?” If not, it’s time to let it go and make space for something that will.