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 “I know you must be incredibly busy…” Many preface their email requests with this. It might even feel like a good ego massage to the respondents!

Being busy, slammed, swamped or up to your eyes, whatever you call it, is considered a marker of status symbol. The busier you look, or you actually are, the more ‘in-demand’ and ‘sought-after’ you come across.

Be warned, this thinking could be sabotaging your breathing space, killing your creativity, and leaving your strategic thinking out in cold.

Let’s look at how busyness is the biggest obstacle for strategic thinking, and how business strategists can fight back!

2 big barriers to strategic thinking

  • The External Pressure – Long hours proxy for loyalty & productivity?

First barrier, which gets cemented with ‘being busy’ mindset, is the absence of enough incentives or rather the presence of a culture counter to successful strategic thinking.

There is always a pressure, often unconsciously embedded, in the workplace that those who put in long hours are better employees. This mentality is present among both juniors as well as senior executives. Employees see their leadership stretching their work hours, they do the same as they are aspiring for these roles. Trouble arises when executives must double up as business strategists. Evidence suggests investing in long hours at workplace doesn’t necessarily improve performance and increase productivity.

A study by Stanford University suggests, taking a short walk, especially outside, is a good way to power creative thinking. Instead of just being tethered to your desk.

This is an external pressure. It eventually makes people settle for short term thinking and even give sub-optimal results. You may end up completing your tasks, but the quality might be suffering.

This is especially true for those at the leadership level. They often very easily fall into the trap of always (24/7) being on! In this practice not only people’s personal lives become the victim, but also the value they lead for the business.

Coming up with an original and innovative idea, or even reviewing existing processes, can be a huge problem when your head is cluttered with targets and metrics.

This is how stretching work hours become the biggest enemy of business strategy professionals and strategic mindset. It requires creating space and tethering to desk can on occasion be the hardest block to your strategic thinking.

  • The Internal Pressure – Being busy mindset.

Second and the most common barrier is internal in nature. We often rattle out reasons for being busy, to an extent it now feels like a badge of honor. However, Derek Sivers, an entrepreneur, and author opines, “busy is when you are at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.”

Appearing busy can clog your thinking, clutter your space, and in more tangible terms, make you seem ‘unapproachable’.

3 Ways for Business Strategists to power strategic thinking

  1. Create space for yourself.

Strategic thinkers make effective business strategists. What makes them effective is how they manage their days. Leaders are all oppressed with meetings and a plethora of emails. 96% of the leaders surveyed in a study published in Harvard Business Review said they didn’t have time for strategic thinking. An analysis by Radicati Group shows,

Senior executives receive an average of 126 emails every day.

A wise saying goes, 90% of success is planning and 10% is execution. Important to remember is,

Strategic thinking doesn’t require a lot of time, it’s about having a psychic space.

Even with limited time, you can think strategically for your business if just you can clear your decks. Write down your outstanding tasks, triage them, don’t get constantly distracted by the feeling that you are forgetting something.

  1. Know where your time is being spent.

Business strategy professionals usually undertake this experiment. It’s about logging in your hours. Track the time spent by you over the course of a month. Log in your every half hour. It sounds simple, but it can turn out to be a difficult project to keep. This practice will give you valuable data and insights in your day to day activities. You can then figure from where you can buy in extra hours or defer time or combine a few tasks – all to enter in a flow of your work. In time that you get, you can take up some hobbies, find some thinking space, or just review the work you have been doing.

  1. Let go of Busy = Important equation.

Finally, once you are consciously aware of ‘busy is important’ notion, it is easy to let go of it. Borrow Sivers mindset and connect appearing busy or being busy with servitude; to run by someone else’s schedule. Try to shock the world and most importantly yourself by sometimes saying, “No, I’m not busy!”

By changing how we think about busyness and giving up the self-esteem we implicitly get by being busy, it can become easier to say no to unnecessary interruptions and take on important obligations to become more effective in planning.

It becomes easier when we associate busyness with servitude than a mark of social status.    

The amount of work you have today, or the responsibilities placed on you are unlikely to stop existing anytime soon. Rather, when you as business strategists move up in your career, responsibilities increase, and you will be expected to not only produce more but do work with top-notch quality. Strategizing would only become more pertinent.

The challenge for you is to not, yet again, let the need for a business strategy slip to the bottom of your priority list.

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