Thinking is Productive Work
We praise actions. We boast about our own busyness. We stuff our calendar with meetings and appointments. It gives us a sense of achievement, of somewhat moving forward in a productive way. But how often do we sit and think for more than five minutes?
We don't. It scares us. To not do any "visible" action has become very uncomfortable. And yet sitting and thinking is probably one of the most important things you can do.
Thinking starts with finding relevant questions, whereas most people are rushing to provide answers to not important ones.
Thinking is about deciding what NOT to do, while people are trying to crunch dozens of not-so-important tasks every day.
Thinking is about avoiding costly mistakes (the one that are hard to recover from).
Thinking is about creating option C, when you're given A and B.
Thinking makes you proactive instead of constantly reacting to things.
Thinking makes an exponential difference in the long run.
Now, how do organizations support their employees to participate in such an important task?
They track your logging hours on computers, so that if you stop looking at your screen for a few minutes, you are flagged as "not working".
They let you work in open spaces, filled with noise, distractions and plenty of opportunities to be interrupted.
They provide you with a corporate email, tools with notifications and a company phone, so that you can react to things immediately (or be blamed if you don't).
They create a culture in which declining a meeting when your calendar is empty is not considered to be an option.
All these rules, formal and informal, create an environment where it has become extremely challenging to think at work. It is probably one of the biggest hidden opportunity costs for organizations. And yet, companies continue to favor action (or the appearance thereof) instead of having more enlightened employees.
Here are a few steps which could trigger a shift of habits:
Give open permission that doing a pause to think is fine, and even encouraged, and that thinking about work is work.
Shutting down phones and PC during work hours is okay.
Create quiet zones in the office, where people can focus and reflect.
Reward smart ideas over long hours. (a good idea takes work. It may take someone a decade of experience and ten thousand bad ideas to come up with a good one that will make a difference).
Make packed calendars seen as a sign of poor time management.
Allow employees to decline poorly planned meetings (no specific goals, no agenda, attendees roles not clearly defined etc.) or non critical ones.
Share insights on how to think (not what to think) and the importance of starting with good questions.
Ask more often your people about what THEY think.