NT3: No Time to Think: by J. William DeMarco

NT3:  No Time to Think

 No time to choose when the truth must die
No time to lose or say goodbye
No time to prepare for the victim that’s there
No time to suffer or blink
And there’s no time to think.

                                                   -Bob Dylan

ImagePerhaps we should all have an ever so slight fear of getting bogged down in details.  I can’t help but fall back on flying experiences or the expression of being “too far down in the weeds.”   Most aircraft today have a GPWS (ground proximity warning system) to let pilots know when we are too low to the ground or too low and/or not is a proper configuration–usually a loud voice will announce “TOO LOW GEAR, TOO LOW FLAPS” or “TERRAIN, TERRAIN, TERRAIN!”   So where is my personal GPWS?   As we go through day-to-day life… how do we know when to “FLY UP” and get a good glimpse of the strategic picture?  On a deeper lever… do we have time?

We live in the world of Hyper-Speed and it is only getting faster… when do we have time to think?  How do we know when to think?  So many times we find ourselves having to just handle whatever is on our schedule.  Many days, we are living life on the tactical level and for some that is fine.  For me… I desperately want to get to the operational or more importantly the strategic.  When we live from the strategic perspective, life actually gets easier… the really tough part is finding the time to get there, reflect on it daily, and execute ideas from that perspective vice the tyranny of the inbox.

The accelerating pace of life is reducing the time for thoughtful reflection, and in particular for strategic formulation and contemplative scholarship.  The loss of time to think is occurring at exactly the moment when leaders, scholars, educators, and students have gained access to digital tools of great value to leaders, scholars, etc.  We have become a world of reactors, not thinkers, at a time when deep thinking is so desperately needed.

What most determines risk or opportunity — is what a leader is thinking.  It’s from that thinking that assumptions are formed, judgments and decisions are made, priorities are established, and courses are set.

With the military, business and political worlds getting more complex and difficult, coupled with the demands of people, cellphones, BlackBerrys, iPads or just too much communication, having the quiet and time to sort things out and figure what to do is fast disappearing.

We face volatility and velocity–and most, including myself, have begun to respond to this by trying to move faster, reacting to every vibration of the blackberry.  Schedules are filling up with more and more activity, all of it reactionary attempts to respond to the risks generated by all this volatility.

Trapped in a commercial aircraft is when I catch my breath long enough to remind myself that a leader who is constantly reacting is a leader who is no longer thinking, whose priorities are now ordered by random and wildly fluctuating externalities, and thus is a leader who is putting his flight/squadron/group/organization at risk.  I’m amazed at leaders who operate at such a fast pace that they resemble rocks skipping over the tops of huge issues — never stopping sufficiently to understand, frame, and act in a way that resembles insight, wisdom, or good judgment.  As they travel at warp speed toward a certain wreck, they do the only thing they now know how to do, speed up even more.

Ideas on collecting more time to think…and concepts I know I need to work on…

1. Begin by analyzing what is exactly happening to your time…FOCUS!

2. Eliminate all things that I should not be doing.  Thinking that we are indispensable is one root cause of this habit.  Peter Drucker was quoted as saying, “What managers decide to stop doing is often more important than what they decide to do.”

3. Create blocks of time in your schedule devoted to thinking.

4. For the extended periods of time, get away from the base and get off the grid.  Lose the connectivity for a few hours (ouch, that’s a tough one for me).

5. Leave the urgencies and do-lists behind.  Focus on the purpose, future, and health of your unit and its people and the critical priorities that will move the organization forward.

No time to think… Really?  Is this a matter of better time management? Not really. Time is not managed. We can only manage ourselves. If we understand that good thinking is absolutely necessary for personal and organizational well-being, then we need to zealously pursue it and guard it as a priority.

“Mercury rules you and destiny fools you
Like the plague, with a dangerous wink
And there’s no time to think.”

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9 thoughts on “NT3: No Time to Think: by J. William DeMarco

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