• Wendy Castleman

Busyness is NOT a strategic choice

Updated: May 22, 2019

I was recently watching this video from Dorie Clark, who was talking with executives about how important taking time to think about strategy is, yet how rarely we make the time. She explained how being busy is keeping us from making the choices to do what we consider most important - like taking time and space to think about strategy. She suggested that being perpetually busy is a form of status, a social currency that we use as a surrogate to indicate that we are important. Then, she suggested that busyness is a choice that we are making to trade our priorities for other people's priorities. We make this choice when we are NOT being strategic about our own lives.

I get it. I've been there for most of my own life.

When I was early in my career, I used to look to my leaders to tell me what I should be doing, and expected them to evaluate me based on what I did (my actions). I remember struggling when filling out annual performance evaluation materials because I was supposed to list my accomplishments, but I would find myself listing my actions, instead. This would bother my leaders to no end, and I was commonly getting the feedback that I was tactical but not strategic.

I felt that this was clearly a criticism of me as a person, some failure of mine that I was frustrated by. No matter how much I did, I continued to get this feedback. I'd work harder. I'd do more. I actually had success in many ways, and eventually learned how to communicate the outcomes of my efforts, instead of just the actions themselves. But I was just so BUSY! And, I still wasn't seen as being strategic.

I got curious. I started observing people who were considered to be strategic. I began working closely with some of them and eventually developed my own approach to being strategic (and being seen that way). I started carving out space to work on strategy and aligned the work I was doing to have a clear line of sight to the strategy. I started learning how to communicate how my strategy laddered into the vision that we (whatever group I was working with) were trying to achieve. After some time, I was seen as being a strategic, passionate leader myself.

When I left Intuit a couple of years ago and after I returned from my sabbatical, I started coaching a lot of User Experience (UX) practitioners, including a lot of researchers and managers. I heard some of the same frustrations from them, and saw that there was a need to help them be more strategic.

Over time, I developed a workshop that I've given many times, and people have consistently given me positive feedback.

class feedback

I've continued iterating the workshop and improving it. In January, I tried a small pilot of the workshop that I could do remotely. Much of the content worked, but there were still things to improve. One of the barriers to taking the workshop, though, was carving out a whole day to do it.

So, I tried a second pilot in April when I attempted to change the format to take less time and deliver a better outcome.

Class Feedback

A few comments from prior attendees:

  • "I feel like I have an actual tool to help me move forward in my personal life, and a new way of speaking to stakeholders/others who might not see my vision."

  • "I [now] benefit from a new set of communication tools. As a result of this workshop I am able to better communicate the difference between a vision, a strategy, and a tactic. Additionally, I now have framework to structure my thoughts for where I need to focus."

  • "A really great introduction into formulating a strategic vision and how to write a plan to successfully reach your goals."

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