Column: Risk Management

Stop and Think

By: | June 1, 2017

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Topics: June 2017 Issue

I have always seen myself as a good multitasker. I think I enjoy the challenge of taking on more and more; like a juggler training to beat a world record for how many balls can be kept in the air at any one time. My philosophy has always been: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

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Research tells us that busy people really do accomplish more. Simply put, being busy reduces our sense of failure by staying busy.

But I confess, my thinking started to fall apart when I started working as a senior executive. My day typically started just after dawn and didn’t end until well into the evening.

My days were filled by my eager admin with back-to-back meetings, all day, every day.

I rarely took lunch. I never took a break. So many balls, so little time, no time to work.

Only after staff went home did I have a chance to do any work. I was tired and wired. I likely wasn’t making the best decisions. Quite frankly, I was poised to become a strategic risk for the organization. Ironic, of course,  since I was the risk officer.

I knew this juggling act was unsustainable long term. I sought counsel and got the simplest advice from a very seasoned and successful executive colleague. I was instructed to boldly “schedule time to think.” Stay busy, but stay busy in a smart way.

We have all heard that taking scheduled breaks makes us happier, more focused and more productive. Science has proven time and again that breaks save us from confusion.

Our brains were not designed for extended focus. Our brains need a brief interruption to reset, an opportunity to deactivate then reactivate. In fact, a break helps us better retain information, helps us make better connections with information received, and forces us to take a step back and reevaluate what we are trying to achieve, keeping us from getting lost in the weeds.

Knowing all this, why do people still find it hard to take breaks? Is there a stigma attached to them, making one feel almost guilty or less productive? Moreover, why is this attitude more prevalent at the C-Suite level? Does the idea of the boss taking a break make them look weak? Fallible?

Quite frankly, I was poised to become a strategic risk for the organization. Ironic, of course,  since I was the risk officer.

Staffers who take a break often take a walk, exercise at the gym, get a coffee, or chat with friends or coworkers. In my experience it is rare to see senior leaders do this. We tend to take our breaks in private.

The best advice I got was to first commandeer my calendar from my zealous admin and personally schedule chunks of time in my calendar for “thinking.” I used a calendar code in the subject line: “ABC” – “Available By Cell.”

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These time slots were not to be interrupted with impromptu meetings and I was to be communicated with by cell for emergencies only. I needed the freedom to leave the office; the freedom to think.

A dominant part of an executive’s role is to think strategically. Leaders need to think, analyze and access information as to guide the future for their staff and the company. Strategic thinking is one of the most critical activities for a company.

Stopping and thinking is the best risk control measure, assuring that proper decisions can be made.

As Meg Wheatley said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences and often fail to achieve anything useful.”  &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]