Finding the balance between doing and thinking

I have long argued that people spend too much doing, and too little time thinking. Why? Over-doing depresses our creative consciousness, a view shared by Arianna Huffington, founder of the online newspaper, the  Huffington Post. And our creativity is the fount of innovation and progression.

Woman sitting on a jettyI contend that leaders are paid to think, not just to do. It is little surprise then that at Steve Jobs’ memorial service, mourners were given a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda’s spiritual memoir. Jobs always claimed that he had some of his best ideas after meditating, and I fully appreciate his viewpoint.

Meditating is one of my best daily routines. It helps me to create the space to review my day, count my blessings, express my gratitude, and think.

It is this latter point that is vital. It is an invisible art, one which many might label lazy or idleness, depending how you do it. I’ve been ‘caught’ feet up on the table in a relaxed posture, staring out of the window, and going for a stroll. However; the counterpoint is dealing with minutiae that give the appearance of being busy, while maybe not being that productive.

That is known as ‘presenteeism’, and it is a modern plague in organisations around the globe. If anything, my sense is that the global recession has exacerbated that plague, as more and more people, work apparently harder to do what, mainly ensure their job security. Surely that is not a great recipe for modern, innovative and progressive organisations?

Do you want your people burned out and exhausted from countless hours on the treadmill of daily work, or refreshed, relaxed and sharp after a short time out to think? Progressive organisations now include rest areas, games spaces and one company I visited recently had even turned part of their car park into a beach, complete with deck chairs.

It is about providing a climate where staff are encouraged to take time out to think. Google famously followed its 70-20-10 rule – 70% time on core business, 20% on related tasks, and 10% thinking about something completely unrelated. Many other companies have followed suit, applying their versions of the maxim to their cultural approach.

Striking the right balance is key to creativity. Of course, doing is necessary, as leadership is an active role. However, leaders must find out what works for them. They must also remember that their most powerful business tool is their mind. It needs exercise, and not just with mundanity.

How much thinking time do you need? Some argue it should be 50:50, others 60:40 of your overall working week. There is, however, no hard and fast rule about the balance between thinking and working. For me, I’m more concerned that you spend some time in your working week just thinking.

As a Head of Service, I regularly had a two-hour meeting with myself each Friday afternoon. Then, I reviewed my working week, planned for the following week, and thought through ideas and longer-term plans. I supplemented this with regular reflection through the week, though this would often only be a few minutes here and there.

My point is I was constantly thinking, not just doing. Self-reflection, meditating, and my weekly review session combined to give me the opportunity to take new ideas and develop them into better actions. It also helped me to hone one of my best skills – the adaptation of others’ ideas into practical applications for my team and my organisation.

So, how much thinking do you do in your working week? How do you do it? How effective is it, and how might you improve on what you are already doing?

I love meaningful dialogue. I am always happy to listen and ready to help.  Please reach out to me if I might be of value to you.

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