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Thinking versus Doing

How to manage your time


How much time do you spend thinking about a problem before trying to solve it? Do you rush straight into a burning house or do you take a step back to first look at the floorplan?

Thinking involves creating steps for doing tasks, analysing and exploring multiple methods, looking for opportunities and threats, deciding the needs of a task, looking at the bigger picture, and finding the necessary tools for the job.

Doing involves carefully following predetermined plans, actioning items effectively and efficiently, creative ‘on the fly’ thinking and problem solving, and using all required resources towards the successful completion or implementation of a task.

In order to start doing action points on any project, detailed thought and planning are crucial. Thinking begets doing, but how much thought is necessary to execute a solid strategy? We will be exploring two different approaches to problem solving and project management, one focusing on the “thinking” and the other focusing on the “doing”.


The “Thinking” Approach


“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem

and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Albert Einstein


This approach highlights the benefits of strategic thinking to fully explore a problem instead of just trying to solve the immediate issue at hand. When you take the time to explore every facet of the problem, the chances are good that you might find more issues that need addressing, nuances of the problem you might have missed at first glance and a more holistic view of how this problem, and potential solutions, could affect other parts of your business or project.

By focusing your time on strategic thinking, you eliminate the ‘one size fits all’ problem solving trap that lots of teams fall into. You also make smarter decisions in the long term, because all of your project management and problem solving take into account your goals for the entire project instead of just this one part of it. The “Thinking” approach to a project means that you will spend most of your time strategically thinking about issues and opportunities and will only act on anything once planning is thoughtfully laid out.


What is strategic thinking?

Professor Collis of Harvard Business School defines strategic thinking as “analyzing opportunities and problems from a broad perspective and understanding the potential impact your actions might have on others.” This means that strategic thinking is a holistic thought strategy that is intentional in its goals and analysis and considers external factors and variables that are/could be influenced.

When used correctly, you can find threats, as well as opportunities when problem solving and ultimately create a clear roadmap of the way forward. In the constantly changing world of digital marketing, strategic thinking is especially helpful to consider long term business impact and contingencies for potential issues going forward. New trends emerge frequently and your ability to use strategic thinking to forecast, adapt and capitalise on new opportunities could mean the difference between trending and getting left behind.

Strategic thinking must take into account available resources and requires the following skills:

  • Researching
  • Planning
  • Analysis
  • Innovation
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Long term thinking
  • Leadership
  • Decisiveness


How to use strategic thinking and the “thinking” approach

Before you tackle any new project or attempt to solve a problem, you will need to come up with a strategic direction or plan by following these steps:

  1. Define the need/issue
  2. Explore opportunities and vulnerabilities
  3. Define the feasibility of each idea or problem solving approach
  4. Work out the costs associated with each step that you are considering
  5. Calculate the likelihood of success of each initiative
  6. Discuss how to align the objectives of the task within your overall plan for the business/project
  7. Research the possible effects competitors, clients, and others might have on your strategic plans
  8. Define a step by step plan for the new project/issue


After completing the above steps, you will likely discover additional obstacles and opportunities, follow these steps to deal with them:

  1. Research every facet of the new opportunity or problem
  2. Define the opportunity or issue in one simple sentence
  3. Brainstorm possible implementation steps or solutions
  4. Identify any further challenges that could arise from implementing a fix/new idea and how to solve them
  5. Delegate responsibilities for future research, follow ups, brainstorming etc. amongst your team members
  6. Schedule realistic dates/spaces in your roadmap to return to the issue/idea to explore any new information collected from the designated responsibilities
  7. Either create a step by step plan to implement the idea/solve the issue or repeat steps 1 to 7 if it needs more attention

Using strategic thinking efficiently requires an equal amount of agility and decisiveness in order to prevent getting stuck in a feedback loop. It is a constant balancing act between consistency and flexibility and needs to be highly structured in order to ultimately move along into the implementation phase.


The “Doing” Approach


“Leaders spend 5% of their time on the problem and 95% of their time on the solution.”

– Tony Robbins


This approach is the complete opposite of the “thinking” approach and puts emphasis on taking fast and effective action on an issue or new project without getting too caught up in the nitty gritty details but rather the overall affect or impact. This is often called the “firefighter” approach because it is fast, ruthless in pursuing its goal and largely effective in “dousing fires” or solving large problems that have a time crunch.

Focusing most of your resources or energy on fixing an issue instead of thinking too in depth about it, makes sure that things happen NOW and results can be seen a lot quicker. This approach works especially effectively in fast paced industries where the marketing team is always on a deadline and under pressure to provide ‘quick wins’ for the client or shareholder. Some thought and planning is still required, of course, but the emphasis is on the ‘how’ not on the ‘why’. We call this coordinated action.


What is coordinated action?

‘Coordinated’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “bringing the different elements of (a complex activity or organisation) into a harmonious or efficient relationship” while ‘action’ is defined as “the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim.” Put the two together and coordinated action is basically achieving a goal efficiently by getting all the moving parts in sync.

Coordinated action is all about identifying a new opportunity or issue and then determining the most efficient and effective way to accomplish or solve it. As previously mentioned, trends in the digital marketing industry happen at warp speed, and a lot of the time you won’t have weeks to implement or fix something, you need to capitalise on it now! Implementing coordinated action into your team/business can be a one stop shop to sprint through the planning phase and get into implementing things when they matter most – as soon as they occur.

Effectively implementing coordinated action requires the following skills and abilities:

  • Calculated risk taking
  • Planning
  • Fast thinking
  • Innovation
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Decisiveness
  • Agility


How to use coordinated action and the “doing” approach

By devising a ‘go to’ problem solving/new idea list, you can get through the planning process quickly and efficiently. Here are the things you need to do before you jump into action:

  1. Define the problem/opportunity
  2. Decide the fastest route to getting it solved or implemented
  3. What is the desired outcome?
  4. Is it feasible or worth the risk?
  5. Define a step by step plan to get it actioned
  6. Start doing it!


After completing the above steps, your plan will be set in motion, but what happens when unexpected issues pop up? Follow our “firefighting” steps below:

  1. Make sure you know what all the moving parts are of your plan and which parts are affected
  2. Determine the severity of the issue and whether it can be dealt with now or later
  3. Can the main goal still be accomplished without putting you at too much risk? If yes, push forward. If no, halt all moving parts and go back to steps 1 to 6 above.
  4. Once it is completed, go back to identify any new opportunities or threats that popped up during the project and head back to steps 1 to 6 above to get going on those.

Being efficient at coordinated action requires strict protocols and rules. Decisions often need to be made on the spot and having processes in place can help to make sure you don’t take on too much risk by trying to accomplish something quickly. Long term effects of your decisions should also be taken into account if possible.


Conclusions – Which approach is better?

Both approaches have their pros and cons, as well as ideal use cases. Strategic thinking is great for coming up with a monthly marketing calendar or a new service offering, while coordinated action is much more suited to solving a critical problem or launching a campaign to boost sales in the last week of the month. Every company, team or individual would be better off alternating between the approaches when the situation calls for it as relying too heavily on just one approach won’t be beneficial in the long run.