Strategy Needs Space

Strategy needs space.

Time, headspace, and physical space.

I’ve just returned to New Zealand after a few days professional development in Melbourne and I’m thrilled to be back at my desk and plotting the next few months. Every 90 days, I disappear over the ditch for three days to plot, plan and think big picture. Then, I dedicate a half-day each week to checking in, reflecting on progress and getting ready for the week ahead.

Yeah I know, good for me right?!

But here’s the thing – strategic thinking and action doesn’t happen by accident. Creating the time, mental leeway and physical space is critical if you want to think clearly, make non-obvious connections and pinpoint opportunities for change.   

Richard A. Swenson talks about the concept of ‘margin’ – emotional, physical, financial and time reserves for overloaded lives. Creating margin, or space, shouldn’t be considered a luxury item. Yet, in a recent survey, 96% of leaders reported that they lack time for strategic thinking. My strategy and coaching clients report the same. I hear “BAU already demands 110%” and “we’re stuck in the weeds” a lot.

Here’s a tip: you don’t get out of the weeds by going deeper into the weeds.

The more senior your position, the more ‘margin’ and strategy space you require. It is literally what you’re paid to do! Even better: the more margin and strategy space you create, the more successful you are likely to be.

When Michael Porter followed 27 CEOs of billion-dollar companies for 13 weeks, he found that the average CEO spends 43% of their time on activities that furthered their business. They also spend about 25 minutes of every morning, strategising and planning – leaving emails, calls and other stuff until at least lunchtime.

The most successful CEOs report diligence about time away from work too – spending an average of 45 minutes a day on exercise, sleeping an average of seven hours a night, spending three hours a day with their families and two hours on personal pastimes. Richard Branson estimates that a morning workout adds at least four hours of productive time to his day.

My opinion: if CEOs of billion dollar companies can do this, we can too.

If this seems ambitious, take heart. Research suggests that if you can achieve the 90/10 rule – (10% of time spent in strategic thought) then you will achieve massive benefits. That’s a half day per week, two days a month, or a week per quarter.

How to: Make Space for Strategy

  • Schedule time – And protect it as a sacred appointment. On LinkedIn this week, Leanne Mash suggests blocking out two three-hour blocks each week with DO NOT TOUCH written on them!

  • Get in the zone – Reset your headspace through meditation, exercise, chatting to someone that lifts your energy

  • Go somewhere else – Leaving your usual work environment triggers creativity and perspective.




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