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Taking Action versus Strategic Thinking

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How do we know what to do, how do we approach a challenge when we want to reach our goal, change something in our lives or take on a new venture?

Do we jump up and ‘do something’? Do we take action because that gives us the momentum to propel us to the next phase?

Or do we clear our desk, take out a blank piece of paper and plan where we are headed?

The answer is of course, we do both. But how do we know what to do when?

Firstly, let’s look at the benefits of taking action. By taking action, I mean a physical event, probably involving another person, instigating some movement or being involved in production. This might be, for example, meeting someone, attending somewhere, creating something physical.  Doing something gives you a feeling of moving forward; we are able to tell people “This is what I’ve done”. Why is this attractive? It’s a measurable result; we can give it a time and date, placing it in our lives.

Taking action can pull you out of paralysis. Procrastinating saps your mental energy, puts your head in a spin and wastes days and hours.

Taking action can lead to further actions. If I go to a networking event, I may come back with business cards, promises to meet people or exchange emails. These secondary actions may start off a chain of events which take you further along your journey towards a goal. So does that mean taking action is the best step?

What if you don’t yet know what your goal is? Is that not a place for strategic thinking? Is that not the best way to start? If you rush around ‘doing’ things, without a clear idea of where you’re going, steaming ahead ‘doing things’ could leave you exposed to spending time and resources which aren’t going to help you move towards your goal; even if it’s not an onerous burden.  If you decide to go to a networking event without a fair idea of what you are going to say or are trying to achieve, the lack of results or perceived lack of success may put you psychologically two steps back. If you meet up with someone who needs your help but you haven’t got a clear idea of you can help them, you risk leaving them and you no better off than you started.

We all know the danger here though. By doing nothing, you invite fear.

Fear looms up at the strategist’s desk and ‘What if’ jumps out at them from every corner. If planning fails to be translated into actions, that is: clearly defined ‘next steps’, the planning we are so keen on no longer assists us and strategic thinking just melts into procrastination. We lose confidence and get nervous. We google endlessly claiming we need to do ‘more research’. We get paralysed; that is, stuck.

So we need both, but when and where?

If you’re doing lots of ‘Stuff’: meeting people to discuss your business ideas, attending networking events, drafting ideas for your book, or practising your song – great! Well done. Take 5 minutes to see each action’s worth. You are creating momentum and giving yourself direction so ‘take stock’ and analyse where it’s leading. Make sure within the busyness you know your end goal. Adjust to focus to that and keep going, noting your thoughts on ‘strategy’ when they come to you. Then make an appointment with someone who can guide you – a coach or a good friend.

If you’re struggling to ‘do’ anything, look at your strategy. Define the look of ‘success’ for you and get some actions going by using a backwards flow chart. Start with the end result and work backwards breaking down each action until you can do the first one tomorrow.

For example: the successful result you envision is a dance show, held in the arts centre nearby, attended by local people and few journalists. It features you and a couple of your friends, and some children from the local school.

Now we have the end result, we need to work backwards from each success ‘section’ we have mentioned. Let’s take the audience:

How will you get people to come? They will have to hear about it and decide it sounds like a great show. How will they hear about it? Perhaps through advertising or by word of mouth. So there are two strands we can start on. Firstly, you can start with asking yourself how you might be able to advertise it. Perhaps you can consider radio, local newspapers or notices in public places. The next step then might be to find out the costs of adverts or just who to contact. Secondly, who can you ring up, email or send a card to, who will help you out to spread the event by word of mouth? Your next step might be to draft the email so it’s easy for people to forward to their friends, or to design a card advertising the show. Do you get the idea?

There are many routes you can take and if you can involve another person – not necessarily to help with the project – just to keep you accountable to your own actions, you’ll find you’ll make faster progress.

Particularly for the very stuck, ANY action can create momentum. Especially for those creating art or learning a craft. But without a little strategy for where you’re going and without a clear idea of the actions you need to take to get there, it is counterproductive to book into every conference, course or networking event because you have to feel like you’re doing something and in the meantime lose your focus.

Whether you should take action or get thinking strategically depends on what your fear is. You can spend a long time Doing Things, but those things won’t necessarily bring you closer to your goal. You can spend precious time planning and strategising when you could be testing, creating, dancing, playing or learning. Aiming for a balance of both planning and doing, knowing which you’re prone to avoid and asking for help when you’re stuck is the best way to get where you REALLY want to be.

Over to you.

What do you most struggle with: taking action or strategic thinking?

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Claire Meredith is a speaker, writer, and coach who loves to inspire people to go for what they REALLY want. She left her job in May 2014 to live in Italy and splits her time between la bella Italia and good old England. Claire has previously been co-host of Hatch podcast and blogger here at Creatives Hub. Her website is www.clairemeredith.co.uk

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