How to Instantly Be More Strategic

Think before you work

People often ask me to describe what it means to be strategic.

The first and most fundamental step to being more strategic is to simply think before you work.

And an even more clear way to say this is that if you just accept a task or a project and start working on it without thinking about it, that’s a pretty good definition of being NOT-strategic — trying to do everything equally as it comes in.

If you don’t take the time to think about the work, assess it, clarify it, judge its importance and relevance against the bigger picture, think how it could be done more effectively or efficiently, think how it could be eliminated by a better process, etc…

…If you just start working without thinking you are being reactive, not strategic.

Many people also tell me, “I’d be much better at my job if I just had more time to think.”


Strategic people schedule time to think.

If you wan’t more time to think, schedule it.

But when I suggest this to people, they often tell me a long list or reasons why they can’t do this.

They tell me how busy they are, and that in their work environment they are expected to be always available, or they don’t have enough control of their schedule, or something urgent always comes up…

These things happen to everyone. And a lesson I had to learn when I was getting crushed with work and had no time to think, is that you simply need to make time. That’s it. Schedule time to think.

Since the topic in my Executive Mentoring Group this month is on Developing Strategic Habits, I ended up telling this story on a recent member Coaching Hour call…

No time to think

It was when I got my first real executive job. I was reporting directly to the GM of a billion dollar business.

I had multiple levels of management in my organization and I had global responsibility. And it was a turn-around situation in the business so it was very busy and very messy for a while.

I was totally overwhelmed.

I was scheduled from 7am to 7pm straight through every day, with pressure to schedule calls at 5am and 6am too, and have dinner meetings. And I was still not seeing everyone who wanted to see me.

I had no time to myself. I had no time to think. I felt out of control.

I told an executive coach, “I would be so much better at my job if I had more time to think”.

She told me, “You have to make time to think.”

I told her I couldn’t imagine how. There were so many expectations. I showed her my calendar. I told her why that was impossible.

Here’s what she said to me…

“Patty, you are just not that important”.

Ha! It was indeed true…

I think we all can sometimes get too caught up in ourselves and our busy-ness, and think we are so important that the world will stop turning if we take the time to eat a sandwich.

She challenged me to schedule and protect 2 hours a week to think about the business, and think about what I needed to get done.

It was transformational. And I have done this ever since.

The pay-off

Giving yourself time to think will have a bigger impact on your success than almost anything you can do, so don’t ever feel guilty about it. 

Because if you stay overwhelmed with activity, you are not doing your job fully, and you are certainly not being strategic.

A key part of the role of a leader is to figure out how to improve the work so it does not take up all your time and energy, so you can think about and do more strategic stuff.

Key point: Remember, your job as a leader is to build capability in your team so THEY can handle more work, and so YOU can apply yourself to being strategic and solving higher order problems.

  • Let your team handle the customer escalations — you need to create the quality program that reduces them.
  • Let your team handle the marketing events and deliverables — you need to create the market-changing channel strategy.
  • Let your team handle the product development — you need to figure out how to deliver more, predictably, and faster.

If you work tirelessly 24×7 to accomplish a goal or meet a deadline once in awhile that is OK, and sometimes necessary. But if you work tirelessly 24×7 for years at a time you will be stuck.

No one will ever look at you and say, “Look how busy and overwhelmed that person is, let’s promote him.”

Think about how you can improve all of this chaotic, reactive, repetitive activity and do something better instead of simply staying over-busy.

Staying too busy is not strategic. Giving yourself time to think is strategic.

Patty Azzarello

Patty is available to speak at your company, annual meeting, or customer event. She can also deliver a custom workshop on Leadership or Strategy Execution for your leadership team. Contact Patty.

Or if you would like some personal help on your own professional development, check out her Executive Mentoring Group. It’s filled with insights, resources and support to build your executive confidence, advance your career, and includes direct mentoring from Patty.


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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

Protect your time: And don't feel guilty
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