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11 Ways to Free Up Time to Think Strategically

In a recent survey of 10,000 executives, 97 percent of them reported that being strategic was most important to their organization’s success. Yet, in another study, 96 percent said that they lack the time for strategic thinking. How do you find time to be strategic? Here are 11 ways, eight of which I’ve personally used. Guess which 3 I'm testing?

[if !supportLists]1. [endif]Delegate Download Stephen Covey’s, Time Management Matrix, aka the "Urgent/Important" Matrix and make it your screen-saver. The greatest leverage you have is in how you and your team spend time. This matrix will make you more aware of it, so you can spend time working on the bigger, strategic issues. I had this matrix taped onto my computer for years.

2. Schedule it Schedule strategy time with yourself for one hour, once a week.

3. One Page Strategic Plan Create a simple, one-page strategic plan with 3-5 strategies that have at least 2 tactics each. If the plan can’t be distilled into simple, memorable statements, then it can’t be executed consistently across the organization. Then hold quarterly “board meetings” with your team to review the plan. Solicit facts that would refute your strategy and those that would support it. Having your team think more strategically is a win-win.

4. Standing in Line Make standing-in-line-time strategic time. Keep a small notebook with you so you can capture your thoughts. Turn off the notifications on your email and apps before going to bed Sunday night.

5. Exit Row If you fly business class or sit in exit row seats, use air travel time strictly for strategic thinking, and bring no other reading materials or work with you.

6. Chief Strategy Officer Hire a part-time, Chief Strategy Officer to hold you accountable, serve as a sounding board, monitor trends and manage the strategic planning process for you.

7. Office Hours Schedule Strategy Office Hours – in which anyone on your team can come in and discuss a strategic issue with you – with no appointment, no data and no judgment. If no one shows up, use it as your time to think strategically. But based on my experience, your team will show up. And once you publicize your office hours, it will be hard to cancel them unless you have an event that’s “urgent and important”

8. News Skimming Time Replace news-skimming time first thing in the morning with strategic thinking time. It’s true what they say: No news IS good news. In a recent study, executives who were most successful at scheduling strategy time, did it first thing in the morning.

9. While Exercising Think strategically while you exercise – no music, no audiobooks, no friends, no tv. Use it for just “think” time. I’m more optimistic and creative when working out. This observation is supported by recent research that indicates exercise increases our ability to think more imaginatively.

10. Exercising with AudioBooks/Podcasts Or conversely, listen to a book or podcast on strategy while you exercise and keep a notebook next to you to capture ideas. I have not found a consistently good podcast on Strategy per se, but “How I Build This” by Guy Raz is fun and popular. Early episodes of the Traction podcast are also good, although they’re focused more on technology startups. Let me know if you find a good one, and I’ll include it in the next newsletter.

11. Measure It Get a habit tracker app and measure your strategic thinking time. Because in the words of Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. I’m trying Done, because it’s simple, and Habitica, because it’s fun.

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