Strategic Pauses

I enjoy reading the semi-regular newsletter from Triangle Associates. (Though, after a quick scan of their website, I can’t figure out how to help you subscribe.) Here’s what they recently wrote about strategy:

[S]trategy-making is about planting trees today that will bear fruit years in the future . . . The guiding question behind strategy is, “What should we be doing to ensure the long-term viability of ________?” (Leading Trends newsletter, November 2019)

The blank [“________”] above is mine, and it’s symbolic of the way I am currently thinking about strategic action and planning on a personal level. Where are the blanks in my schedule? Did they arrive there intentionally or haphazardly? More specifically, the questions I’m carrying around are: When am I using strategic pauses? And, am I being strategic about when, where, how, and why I pause?

In some ways, all pauses are strategic in that they allow a person or organization to rest and reset before further action. (Resets are trees that bear fruit.)

In other ways, though, pauses can and should be intentional — and pursued with discipline — because some pauses are more valuable than others. Also, some pauses are decisions that can be made once and then forgotten, because they will continue to happen until someone makes a different decision.

For example, I just learned that I can set a delay on every email I send. This action allows me to send an email and then update it, change it, or call it back before it arrives in someone else’s inbox. It’s a pause that is strategic because I programmed it — once — in order to make a positive difference in — all of — my future email communication.

Another strategic pause I’ve planned — albeit a weird one — is to schedule time to read through the owner’s manuals of the last few large purchases I have made. I’m assuming there are maintenance schedules to which I should be paying attention or gray flags (rather than red flags, which are obvious) that I might be missing. Baking in some time to read such manuals could save me time — and money — in the long run.

Blogging, for me, is a strategic pause — a time in the day when I write down things that I have learned and want to remember or ideas that are jumbled up in my mind and, if given the space, will become synthesized and usable bits of knowledge.

Skipping every other page in your notebook (if you take notes by hand) plants the seed for a strategic pause because it reminds you that you should go back and recopy your notes, from the full page to the blank page. This pause — and redo — promotes learning.

Having coffee every morning with a loved one (and no agenda) is a strategic pause.

John Cage’s 4’33” stands as a testament to the strategic pause in musical composition.

Adding buffers around meetings is a strategic pause in that, if the meeting ends early, you’re not butting right up against your next task. You have time to breath or process or just allow the conversation to move off the agenda.

(Planning a sabbatical is a major strategic pause, though one that few can afford.)

Sleep, quite literally, is a strategic pause.

I’m realizing as I’m writing this, that one way to test the value of a planned strategic pause is to imagine what would happen if you stuck with it, on a regular basis, for a decade. If you paused and paused and paused again at a regular cadence. Would your life be better? Would your business be better? Would your family be better?

I invite you now to plan your own pauses, to write them down, to test them, and to really commit to them as they appear in your planners and your calendars and your Apple Watches and your inboxes. A lot of reminder systems offer mere distractions; you can use these systems for good, though, reminding yourself, from time to time, to be purely and blissfully distracted.

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