Do you find time for strategic thinking?

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was adviced by Bill Clinton to schedule time to think strategically on a regular basis. Watch this short video of him talking to Garth Saloner, Dean of Stanford Graduate School of Business, about Clinton’s advice:

Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Catarina Alexon, Catarina's World

Do you think Clinton’s advice to Tony Blair was good?

What Tony Blair has to say applies to all of us, no matter what we are doing. Not least when we run our own businesses. It’s easy to devote all our time to dealing with day to day business and forget about how to reach our goals.

Have events taken over your life?

If so, you are not alone. Apparently most people in high positions spend less than 5% of their time dealing with their priorities. Above all we lose our grip on strategies when dealing with a crisis.

Have personally almost always devoted time for strategic thinking. Mainly without even thinking about the fact that I was doing so but suddenly just realizing I had figured out a strategy that could lead to success in whatever area. And when ideas start flowing I usually have an abundance of them and then instead have to figure out what strategy I should start with. If it ‘s not a success I move on to the next.

Did Bill Clinton give Tony Blair good advice? Do you schedule time for strategic thinking on how to succeed with your priorities? Is finding time to do so hard? Have you noticed what a difference it makes when you find time for strategic thinking? Have not done so yet, maybe it’s time you do?

Video: stanfordbusiness – Picture: Center for American Progress

60 responses

  1. The advice is great, if sometimes difficult to implement. In government we often said that urgent trumped important. Experience in the private and not for profit sectors has been the same. Although taking the time to think strategically seems like a good idea, implementing takes a ruthless determination and focus. Perhaps that's one of the defining characteristics of effective leadership, having the strength to be strategic. When I have done it, it has often meant coming into conflict with others who wanted me to "hurry up". The outcome is always worth the wait and not surprisingly, ultimately less time consuming. Good post as always.
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    • Good points Debra. Personally have found that taking the time to think strategically has made a difference. Agree with Blair and Clinton that if you don't you can easily end up putting out fires all the time.

  2. I'd like to say I set aside time for strategic thinking but that wouldn't be quite truthful. I find my pattern is that this kind of thinking is going on in my mind "behind the scenes" so to speak. Strategic thinking is really problem solving. I find that some sort of big insight pops out that makes me step back and solve a problem or think about how to set a course of action. I know this may sound strange but it's how I work.

  3. This so very true. It is important to schedule thinking time. Otherwise it will never happen. I know this from experience. I learned to schedule it as if it were the most important date on my calendar. My staff knew not to intrude on that time. I truly believe it was why I was as successful as I was. The aha moment with this post is I need to the samething now with my blog. :)
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  4. I do think it is a must to take the time to strategise. It is those who do it and implement them that really succeed.
    I am not sure I am all that good at it though. Maybe that is why I am not running a large company!
    My recent post Taking time for oneself

  5. If you don't take time, there will be more and more fires to address. No one said it would be easy, just that it's important. :)
    My recent post Motivational Monday: 5/13

  6. Catarina – You bring up an excellent point. Strategic thinking is not only important, but required of all the people. Many people fall into what I call "Busy Trap." They always seem to be busy, but do not feel like they accomplish much after all that. The reason is they are not working on the right things, which is what comes out from strategic thinking or commonly known as taking a step back and looking at the big picture.
    My recent post 4 Essential Tips to Increase Productivity in Small Business

    • Yes isn't it amazing Harry that the majority of people in this world are neither in charge of their lives nor their businesses:-) Instead they let events run them and spend their time putting out fires. No matter how busy you are it's common sense to devote time to strategic thinking.

  7. A great piece of advice, Catarina – and the comments are so valid. Running an organisation (or a government – which is a very large organisation), one is always caught up in the day-to-day running of things and seldom has time to sit and think strategically. I certainly know from my own experiences that when one's in a company, it's much harder to step back and look at things from a bit of a distance than when one's on the outside looking in. That's why consultants are so much in demand…

    Actually scheduling time to think is key, and definitely something I need to get around to doing as soon as I have time :-)

  8. I tend to fall out of the habit of strategic thinking when I am feeling overwhelmed, which seems like the norm for most people. However, I'm able to realize when that happens, and steer myself into a reflective mode so I can think about which best practices to apply to my current situation.
    My recent post On My Mind: Teacher Appreciation Week

    • Happens to all of us now and then Jeri. The important thing however is that if we don't find time for strategic thinking events will run our lives. Not to mention that we will become fire fighters:-)

  9. As others are saying, it's sound although not easy advice. I find that if I schedule time for planning it happens. Otherwise, that planning ends end like thoughts in my head. Something else that gets in the way is the often overload of feelings, thoughts and head chatter. To put planning on the schedule and make it effective, not just happen, it helps to do what I can to get my mind quiet and focused before that.

    Thanks for the valuable post.
    My recent post Want to Get a Little Help from Your Friends Online? You’ll Want to Join Empire Avenue

  10. No surprises Catarina I think you have to make the time. If you do not think strategically then in business I have found you waste time, money and lose opportunities. The other thing I would say is once you have set a strategy then take action as over thinking can lead to paralysis.
    My recent post To Retain Your Customers, Do Not Make Them Think

  11. Catarina, you make this post at a perfect time as I am currently writing a post about time management. It is so hard to schedule your day and there is always things that pop up here and there. Even with all the "interruptions" it is vital to try to prioritize your tasks.
    My recent post What is Triberr?

  12. I just wish Tony Blair had listened to his own advice before taking the United Kingdom to war in Iraq on the basis of flawed and manipulated information. The world should remember that Tony Blair has just one strategic priority and its name is Tony Blair.

    • True, Geoffrey. Blair should have listened to Clinton's advice. However, the important issue here is to schedule time for strategic thinking. Not Blair or Clinton.

  13. We tend to be full of excuses to make time to do what we need to get done. The problem is that what you don't get accomplished is there tomorrow and then piles up and you end up getting frustrated. I feel like I am stuck at my computer all day long doing my business. If I am not thinking strategically in my business, then pretty much I am out of business. Enjoyed your post

  14. Strategic thinking is a big part of the success of a company or a business. We should have ample time for strategic thinking to ensure the success and growth of our business.

  15. Early in the morning, Catarina. When the mall walkers are walking the mall for exercise, I find a comfortable chair, open my notebook, and write for about an hour. In the afternoon, between buses, I sit and recap the day in my notebook. Slim

    PS. I skipped the bus and walked the two miles home from the bus stop last night. That is twice this week. S.
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  16. This is an excellent discussion. But what do we consider Strategic Thinking? In a nutshell, it is looking at the most important long term interests or objectives. That being said, it is easy, and effortless to fill our days with tasks and check them off one by one. But where are we going and how do these little tasks get us there? That is the point of strategic thinking, stepping away from the immediate demands on us and asking what it is all for. Only then can we evaluate and prioritize the multitude of tasks and cut out ones that do not move us forward. This then opens up time and resources for those that will help us achieve our goals. This applies to our personal as well as professional lives.

  17. Excellent link within the post! I currently live in a world that justifies it's time and position with "meetings". As a combo visual/auditory, I often perceive meetings as filler, particularly when they are longer than I think necessary or repetitiive. I've experienced a "leader" that fills his time with other people and so you sit in meetings that eat up the day and during the time you may think you're getting something done, you walk out and realize that you've accomplished way less than you would have sitting at your desk or engaging with others! 1:30-1:51!

  18. Sounds like a great idea to me – scheduling time to think strategically. As even with balancing work and family, I'm not quite as busy as Clinton or Blair, I find time to think. However, whether that thinking strategic … that I should work on. Sometimes when I finally have time to think, it takes a while to get to that strategic mode. I find this with artwork as well – the transition to being productive in one area to another is tricky.
    My recent post Twitter for Beginners: Taking the Steps to Your First Tweet

  19. I think it is becoming increasingly harder to set time aside for strategic thinking and increasingly more important. Short-term thinking and immediate reactions tend to consume us.

  20. I think it is good advice. You have to find the time and the place that fosters strategic thinking. That’s probably not your desk or your office and maybe not even your home. One of the things that always worked for me was devoting my train ride to work to thinking things through. It was only a 30 minute ride but it was a good opportunity to be disconnected.

  21. It is the best advice, but I agree with Debra. It's so hard to implement these days; particularly in government when every single thing seems to be a crisis. Then it seems harder and harder to get off that hamster wheel. One thing I have noticed, is when I actually vocalize, "I need a little time to think about that…" people get annoyed with me:)

    • Do people really get annoyed when you say you need to think about something, Jacqueline. That's often essential for all human beings. If not, we make mistakes. If it's an email or message of some sort just don't reply until you have thought about it. If it's a phone call. Just say you are in a meeting and will get back to them as soon as you can:-)

  22. I am becoming more and more business minded. Still a way to go but at least each I am on the journey.

    I would benefit by attending a few conferences. I am reading some great books.

  23. I think it’s a good idea to set aside time for strategic thinking by scheduling it, as in scheduling a weekly planning meeting for example. I find that I do some of my best thinking just by taking a long walk by myself or with someone else involved in the planning.

    • Glad you agree with me, Michele. Taking a walk works very well for me and also when I'm falling asleep or waking up. Or even in the middle of the night I suddenly know what to do.

  24. I’m going to have my husband watch that video. He complains all the time that he spends his entire work day handling emergencies, and he barely has any time to actually take care of his main responsibilities. I will say that he was just awarded employee of the quarter at work, so he is deemed as someone who is doing a good job. Yet, he feels like he has lost control so maybe this well be helpful for him.

  25. I know from my past experience, if I don’t schedule thinking time, other stuff becomes more important and it just gets pushed aside. I made it a top priority on my Outlook calendar, marked it in red and urgent so staff knew not to interrupt. It was crucial in me attaining the measure of success that I had.

  26. A great informative post. I will admit I am someone who thinks a lot about strategy, my issue is follow through. It seems I take the time to plan the strategy for my goals, but then fall short of implementing it. To be successful, you have to have the whole package, strategy, planning and being able to complete it.

  27. It is so vital to take time to consider strategies and goals. Otherwise we just get “stuff” done and don’t progress. I do my best thinking in bed in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping, unfortunately. The upside to that is that often after I have drifted off, my brain continues to work on the topic without the rest of me and I may wake up with a new idea and that’s a real bonus.

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