There’s one thing I consistently suggest my clients do. I’ll even say, “If you only take one thing from this conversation, I hope it’s this.”
What am I talking about? Deep work.
Specifically, setting aside time every single week for deep work and strategic thinking.
I feel so strongly about this, I talk about it all the time! And still, most of the people I talk to don’t carve out this time. They’re ‘too busy’ or they block the time off and then let people book over it.
So today I want to dive into why this time is so important and hopefully convince you to start blocking off strategic time for yourself.
Why do I need deep work time?
Simple: you’ll never have a great strategic insight in the 2min you spend running from meeting to meeting. Your brain is on overdrive. You probably aren’t even taking a proper lunch hour (but don’t get me started on that).
Regardless of what level you’re working at, taking time to think more strategically will benefit you. But if you’re trying to get to senior leadership or you’re already there? It’s table stakes.
Senior leaders are expected to be thinking about the bigger picture, coming up with new and better ways of doing things or identifying risks that haven’t been thought about yet.
These things take time! They require dedicated brain power.
The problem is, most of us were never taught to block off time to think. Instead, we were rewarded for executing the tasks assigned to us and doing it quickly. The more work we got done, the better the feedback. So why slow down?
The other thing that’s happened is everything going virtual. When we used to all be in the office meeting face to face, it was less common to have a day of back to back meetings, because we understood that we had to physically get from one room to another. Not anymore. Now most of people in leadership I talk to look at their calendar and see a grid of connected rectangles with no space in between – every single spot in their calendar has been taken up with a meeting.
It’s insane. We were not meant to work like this.
I can’t even tell you how many women come to me who are stuck in the weeds, in execution mode and wanting to be more strategic leaders, and when I ask to see their calendar this is exactly what I see.
Zero space to think.
Now, I recognize the pressure. And perhaps you can’t even fathom finding a 2hr block each week to think. But if there’s one thing you can do to level yourself up, this is it.
If I’ve convinced you and you need some help freeing up time in your calendar, check out this previous newsletter.
The key here is to find a single 2hr block and dedicate it to strategic thinking work. No email. No Slack or Teams. No social media. Just the task at hand.
What do I do during this time?
Okay, so if I’ve convinced you of the value and you’re ready to carve out the time, you may be wondering how to get started. Now that you’ve finally slowed down, what are you supposed to be thinking about?
There are 3 ways I recommend using this time:
- Prepping for important meetings
- Analyzing metrics and data to really understand them and drive new strategies
- Gaining new insights / strategic thinking
When I first started blocking off this time I didn’t quite know what to do with myself! I was so used to running on adrenaline, going from meeting to meeting, fire to fire, that I wasn’t sure what to do with 2 unstructured hours.
The thing that helped me most was to create some powerful questions to get the ball rolling.
You can schedule these right into your calendar as a prompt, which I still do to this day. Although now as an entrepreneur, I try to give myself 1/2 day to 1 full day each month for this!
Here are some great examples of questions you can ask:
- How you I be do my job better, more efficiently or with greater impact?
- What wins should I share with my Manager when we meet next?
- How can I work better with other people on the team?
- How am I progressing towards my goals this year?
- What do I want next in my career?
Managers and Directors:
- Have I set my team up for success?
- Do I have the right people in the right roles?
- What trends am I seeing in the metrics or data?
- What’s the biggest problem in our department today?
- What’s the one thing we could do that would have the greatest impact?
Directors and VPs:
- What’s the one thing I/we can do that will have an outsized effect?
- What trends or observations can I leverage to create growth / reduce risk?
- Am I creating a scaleable organization? What should my org look like in 1-3 years?
- What’s the biggest problem in our department today? What needs to happen to solve this?
- What’s the bigger picture in what I’m observing and how does it impact the broader company?
You can come up with your own based on your function and goals. These are just a few general questions to get you started.
Okay, but do I really need this?
The short answer is yes, spending time thinking will benefit you regardless of what level you’re at in an organization. Although I will say, for senior leaders, you’re at a major disadvantage if you aren’t doing this.
Once you’re at the leadership table, you’re expected to know things on a deeper level, as well as the broader impacts that various factors have within the company. You’re expected to think strategically and bring these insights to the team.
If you aren’t carving out time for this, I can almost guarantee it’s not happening.
This habit was the single most impactful factor in my transition to senior leadership. It allowed me to go from winging it in senior leadership meetings to coming prepared with strategic insights. It 100% changed how I showed up as a leader.
So Brittany, I hope I’ve convinced you. As you start to see the benefit from this time, you won’t want to go back. And you may even find yourself ruthlessly protecting these time blocks.
I know I do.