Among all the activity, we should make time to think

Time spent thinking is not the same as time spent doing nothing, says Helen Simmons of the Diocese of London

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons

Welcome to the next chapter in the eternal quest to be more effective as a charity finance director. This week: the value of thinking before doing.

Hectic diaries full of meetings, dealing with emails and writing papers can leave little time for that most important of acts - thinking. It occurred to me recently how much easier it is to deal with a difficult issue if it arises on Friday, compared with Monday, because you have time to process it and plan a solution over the weekend.

I wouldn't usually spend much of the weekend working, yet I always spend a portion of it 'work thinking', often in short five-minute bursts while cleaning the sink, running round the park or changing duvets.

Financial strategy, like all strategies, requires us to consider not only where we are now but what vision we are aiming for - and, therefore, what steps will move the organisation from A to B. Strategy is not just a task to be undertaken once every three years; it is a continual process of reviewing, adjusting the steering and checking the wing and rear-view mirrors. This needs a lot of quality thinking time, which is often hard to find between phone calls or emails in a busy office space. Aside from the fact that if you did sit motionless at your desk as if in a trance, your colleagues would probably think you'd had a stroke.

I've recently spoken to several people who all agree - a senior research scientist who does all his strategic research planning on the bus and never at work, a teacher who keeps a notebook by the bed to capture ideas for creative lesson plans and an insomniac marketing manager who comes up with strategy at 3am that she develops the next morning while walking the dog.

It seems the trend these days is to fill our evenings and weekends to capacity with activity, and it worries me that we might lose something we did not recognise or value sufficiently in the first place - the time to really think through ideas, problems and issues, to think deeply and without distraction and to bring all that unrecognised 'working from home' back to the office on Monday morning and apply it to moving our organisations forward.

In short: take it easy and don't feel lazy. Value time spent just thinking.

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