Our focus on activity causes us to overlook the importance of idle time—time to think, reflect, plan. We seek to fill every moment of our time with activity. Whether it’s prospecting, managing deals, reporting, time for meetings, etc. We go from activity to activity, rarely pausing to reflect on what has happened. We go to the next activity, not taking the time to think about what we want to accomplish.
Much of the WFH argument is based on activity. We don’t have to spend time commuting, so we fill that with more activities. We don’t have the social distractions and interactions with colleagues, so we can do more activities.
We have tools and technology that don’t free us up to think/reflect, but focus on increasing our capabilities to do more activities.
And that strategy isn’t serving us well. Filling our days with activities doesn’t seem to be working. People are unhappy, disengaged, their activities aren’t producing the outcomes expected. Customers are unhappy, they aren’t getting the help they need, so they leverage other channels, preferring rep free buying experiences.
Even manufacturing experts, decades ago, recognized the importance of scheduling idle time. When problems occurred, they stopped everything, getting everyone together to think, analyze, figure things out, and take corrective action.
Yet we seem not to have learned that lesson in selling.
I always valued commute time–it gave me the opportunity to think about the upcoming day, what I wanted to accomplish, where I should spend my time, issues that might arise. And on the return trip, I reflected on what had been accomplished, what it meant.
Traveling to customer meetings, I thought about the meeting, the attendees, the goals, possible challenges. I walked into each meeting better prepared. And on the return trip, I could reflect on what happened, what I might have done better, what the next steps might be.
I treasured standing in Starbucks lines with colleagues/clients, or having lunch with them. The conversations would cover all sorts of things, both work related and others. But it is always an opportunity to test new ideas, to learn from what they were doing, to share experiences, maybe even to validate some of the things I faced.
And not all that time was spent in thinking, reflecting and planning for work. Sometimes, it was thinking about other things, or just watching what was going on around me. The opportunity to refresh myself and and learn something new, or see something I hadn’t paid attention to. (A high school girlfriend always use to say, “A day is wasted unless you learn something new and see a thing of beauty.)
Today, most of my “commutes” are on airplanes. These times give me great opportunities to think about the meetings I’m going to, the issues I’m helping my clients are concerned with. I just returned from an inspiring SKO with a client. On the return trip, I thought about innovation–a key focus for the client. I thought about how they were approaching it, what I could to to help them improve their effectiveness. I got onto the airplane wi-fi to do a little research and send them ideas.
I also use that “idle” time to learn. I read incessantly on planes. I read on very different subjects, trying to get different ideas and learn different perspectives.
As I talk to leaders and sellers, they don’t take the time to think, reflect, strategize, learn, or figure things out. They are consumed with activity. When I talk to them about scheduling idle time, time to think, reflect, learn, figure things out, recover, refresh; they say push back, “We don’t have the time….”
Yet, they struggle, increasingly, to produce results. Year over Year, we see continued declines in productivity and effectiveness. We seldom take the time to figure out why and what we need to change. Instead we blindly increase our activity. Per capita productivity seems to be in free fall.
Any work involving human activity and interaction is filled with differences in understanding, perspectives, opinions. It is filled with fear, ambition, risk, uncertainty. Attitudes, views, understanding is constantly changing. Nothing is constant.
And to interact effectively with other humans, whether they are customers, peers, colleagues, we have to constantly think and figure things out. And that’s tough work….. (Perhaps, that’s why we don’t do it.)
Haven’t we spent enough time focusing on de-humanizing human interaction? Haven’t we learned how ineffective this is? Why don’t we pay attention to the results—or lack of results.
Why don’t we take the time to think, reflect, refresh, learn? Why do we have to constantly be engaged in activities, particularly since they don’t work?
Schedule idle/think time. Take several 15, 30 minute breaks just dedicated to thinking and reflecting. Take breaks with your colleagues, spend time just getting refreshed, sharing ideas, talking about things outside work.
Start your day spending time thinking and planning. End your day reflecting, thinking, learning.
If we start doing this, I suspect we will actually start becoming much more effective, and we will be more deeply engaged.
PJ Murphy says
Dave – Good reflection and thanks for the reminder. Things are different today – post Covid (I think it’s post covid) as we had to adjust our working habits and surroundings. But it’s more than that. It’s an eCommerce/Social Media/ Amazon-esque life style we lead. Admittedly I am old fashion in my thnking and miss the networking and face to face challenges that the day brought. I learned from that. I reflect on my wins and losses. Did I do everything right and did I make a difference. Hard to do that on a TEAMs meeting.
I learned from season veterans. I learned from skilled young professionals. I learned from industry groups and individuals with expertise in their respective fields. Take a breath and learn what world is around you. It comes in all sorts of forms – but you have to take the time to understand it
David Brock says
PJ, such great observations. Things have changed so much–we tend to have our attention so distracted by our devices and Social Media, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to reflect. Thanks so much!
Phil D Goode says
Excellent prod David! Thank you.
Listen Think Plan Act works very well..
Humans have let computer driven activities consume all awake time..
Doing less work exceptionally well can often get significant results..
David Brock says