Have you ever had one of those afternoons where you have back to back meetings with a barely a minute to catch your breath in-between?
Have you ever had a full day like that?
How about a full week?
In my experience most business owners are very familiar with over packed days – it might not always be formal meetings, but they are over scheduled and every free second is being used to put out fires or react to whatever might be going on. It’s exciting, it’s exhausting…it may even feel productive (it’s actually not) but it’s definitely the reality for an awful lot of business owners.
The problem with all of that fire-fighting and reacting (beyond the obvious challenge of maintaining that kind of pace) is that there’s no white space…no room to breathe. And without that room to breathe it’s impossible to open yourself up for higher levels of thinking. Actually that’s a literal sentence – studies of the brain show that as long as you’re stressed you will have difficulty accessing your frontal lobe which is where all of your big picture thinking occurs.
As a leader, you can’t afford to be in reactive mode – it’s your primary job to be out in front and looking ahead. As the leader you need to be finding creative solutions to the real challenges facing your business…not just the symptoms.
You need to be the creative leader – if you’re not doing that, who is? (Besides your competition…).
The good news is that it is possible to become more creative – it’s not always easy and some of these ideas may seem counter-intuitive when it comes to ‘work’ but here are 5 ideas that you should consider:
1. Give yourself some white space
Literally clear out your calendar and block out some time, ideally every week. Maybe it’s every Tuesday afternoon from 3 to 5 that you leave open…or better yet, schedule as a meeting with yourself. Don’t use that time to catch up on email or make phone calls, use it to think about the big picture, where you’re going, what’s going with your business. More time would be better – in an ideal world, you should probably have a day or two every week that’s freed up for big picture thinking.
2. Start saying no
As a business owner you’re wired to say yes to everything – it’s the nature of an entrepreneur to accept challenges. It’s a great trait, except when it’s used indiscriminately and you end up saying yes to things that strategically aren’t moving you forward. Look at your schedule for the last month or two. There are likely a handful of things that you’re spending time on that really aren’t helping you in the long run. It’s not easy to start saying no, but you will be amazed at how powerful it can be. Challenge yourself to cut out at least 3 things that you previously were saying ‘yes’ to.
3. Go offsite
Often it can be really hard to free yourself up when you’re in your office. Familiar surroundings make it easier to fall into habits (checking email, chatting, etc.) and it’s likely that you have people around you in that setting who are used to interrupting you or engaging you as needed. Find a place that you can retreat to on a regular basis that will give you the peace and quiet you need to think. Could be your home office, a coffee shop, a park, the library, maybe even the gym or taking a walk…lots of options, just find something that works for you.
4. Take a vacation
Your initial thought is probably: “I don’t have time for a vacation…” but I would suggest that you don’t have the time NOT to take a vacation. Numerous studies (and personal experience) have shown that getting away, going somewhere for at least a few days can work wonders in terms of helping you get out of a stressful, reactive mode. It’s a different kind of white space for your life and it will open you up for new ideas and give you some room to be inspired. When’s the last time you took a few days off and left town? How about more than a week? Start planning something now.
5. Get a sounding board
At Aspire, one of the biggest benefits we hear from our clients is that we are a great sounding board for new ideas. Sometimes you’ve got the glimmer of an idea and you really need someone else to talk it over with to figure out what that idea really is and what it could be. Find someone who will ask you great questions, challenge you, come back with a smart variation that you wouldn’t have thought about – that’s what a great sounding board can do for you and you should be using one on a regular basis.
Building a great business requires you to be a creative leader…and being a creative leader means you have to find the time and the space (white space) and the breathing room to let that happen. It won’t happen any other way.
What are some other ways you could become a more creative leader? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.
Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach
Picture by Dawn Ellner via Flickr