Sunday, July 20, 2008

Let me think about that

I read a post on Copyblogger a while ago about how the best writing takes a lot of time and thought. (Here’s the post if you’re interested: http://www.copyblogger.com/think-content-through/). This part really grabbed me:

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you spent a couple of hours just thinking? You have a brain; use it. Get away from the computer. Put down the books and magazines. Burn your to-do list. Cut off your feeds. Stop rushing around for a while. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you slow down.

Personally, when I was working, I found that I had gotten away from thinking. I mean really thinking—you know, where you sit with a problem for a while, ruminate, let it grow, look at it from many angles, then—hopefully—see it clearly. Instead, I react. I give an initial passing thought and move on. Come on, I’ve got a lot to do!

And, I fear, many of us in the corporate world do the same thing.

I was surrounded by intelligent, experienced, highly productive people where I worked. We got a lot done in a day. Whenever I talked to my colleagues about how things were going, the answer was always “busy.” I was no different: I had a to-do list of about 20 items and I was sure that I left something off. I dual-tasked and multi-tasked, paying only half attention on conference calls while answering AIMs and getting through some emails. I reacted to questions rather than giving thoughtful answers. In fairness, some emails and problems don’t require much thought; they require my experience or a quick answer, and that’s fine. But all too often, I think we go with the first solution rather than thinking it through to find the best solution.

Toward the end of my tenure at big corporation, I worked with a team to write a presentation to high-profile clients. We started with a blank screen and had about 2 ½ weeks to create the deck. Seven different people were involved and we turned out about 15 iterations—that’s roughly one iteration a day. I wonder, now that I have time to reflect, if enough deliberate thinking went into the final product, or if it was all reaction. You know, you give your initial feedback and move on, then someone churns out the next iteration out for the next round of reactions. And so on.

Now, when I’m asked to get something “turned around” by the end of the day, I wonder if I’m sacrificing quality for quickness. And am I measured on how much I get done or on how well I do it? Is meeting deadlines more important than meeting quality expectations?

I have to believe that there’s room for both, and I guess it’s up to me to determine when it’s more important to be fast and responsive or when it’s more important to be deliberate and thorough. Because not everything can be urgent AND important.

So, starting now, I’m going to use my brain (good idea, huh?). I’m going to make a conscious choice to think a bit more about my work—and not just react. I’ll try to focus on the one task I’m doing, shut off AIM so I can actively listen on a conference call, close out of email when I’m working on other things. Maybe I’ll even pause before blurting out answers to questions or take a walk to let ideas roll around my head for a while before I write.

If I do this, think about the possibilities…