It's easy to become mesmerized by the 10 Urgent and Important Things To Do Today that relentlessly present themselves for attention immediately we've dealt with the previous Top 10. We think we must first get them under control before we can afford the luxury of strategic thinking and well-considered planning. It's the main reason we get stuck on the treadmill.

Caught in this trap, we may register "This is a nightmare but I'm not a quitter!" or "I don't think I can do this for much longer, or I'm not sure I'm cut out for this." But we usually continue anyway, ignoring or suppressing our instincts, wisdom and real needs. It makes as much sense as running low on fuel while accelerating past gas stations because we have to get somewhere.

The wrong path to your goals will never lead you there. However how hard you work to do things right, they're always going to be the wrong things. Given how easy it is to establish you're on the wrong path, it's surprising how often people behave as though they don't understand this simple truth. They miss or suppress the warning signals, including:

* Persistent frustration with personal non-productiveness and a familiar set of recurring problems.
* An overwhelming and never-ending list of tasks that are both vitally important and urgent.
* Continually increased effort without a corresponding boost in results.

When these states become habitual, it's almost certain we're on the road to Nowhere Useful. Unfortunately, the usual response is to hope things will change through further effort, despite ample evidence they're unlikely to.

How can we find time to think strategically - or just to think? What could we most profitably reflect on? Which strategic imperatives may help us get off and stay off the treadmill?
Where can we find support for these things?

Given opportunity and techniques for disciplined reflection on their experiences (a routine part of professional mentoring), most managers recognize these conditions and their causes for themselves: they point to the strategic corrections they must make to get satisfying progress and better results. They may identify "the wrong path" as inappropriate direction-setting and planning, unsuitable methods, skill shortfalls or failure to really pay attention to their practices and circumstances.

Most commonly, they discover it's about the way they manage priorities: by paying insufficient attention to important matters which should never be urgent they eventually create a pile-up of matters that are both critical and desperately urgent. Their willingness to let the urgent crowd out the important, ensures that they) are on a perpetual and ever faster-spinning treadmill of operational issues. It's often called "fire-fighting".

Most of us don't pause often enough to reflect on, monitor and adjust how we approach what we do. We have the experience but miss the meaning. Managers rarely balance working in the business with working on the business and consequently very little strategic thinking or methodical capacity development occurs. Organizations become increasingly imbalanced, doing life at 90 miles an hour with the lights out. to the disadvantage and detriment of human needs. Quality drops. Individuals become unhealthily stressed. "Can't stop", they argue, "Too busy!" Heroic martyrdom and self-exploitation rule.

Bad call! Unless we pause sufficiently and often enough to reflect on where we are currently situated compared to our beliefs, vision and intentions; on how we got here; and on the significance of this for where we're heading and how best to get there - we get mesmerized by operational issues. We think we must first get them under control before we can afford time out for reflection, visioning, strategic thinking and new strategic planning.

Motivation to continue making this bad call may include pride, fear of failure (I am not a quitter and I'll die before I complain or ask for help!) or unwillingness to stand out as different. A tendency towards only-just-staying-on-top-of-it through prodigious-effort-at-great-personal-sacrifice may be an ego-gratifying Good Look that fits the organization's culture and gains sympathy including perhaps, our own. Whatever drives the phenomenon, it boils down to urgently hacking away with a blunt axe because we're too lacking in insight, wisdom or determination to stop and sharpen our equipment. This has inevitable, counterproductive consequences:

* We are less likely to foresee and pre-empt difficulties.
* We become confused or anxious about responsibilities, challenges and conflict.
* We make unwise decisions that create problems and unproductive wheel-spinning, or push for results without balancing attention to the best methods for getting them.
* We use out-dated and ineffective approaches or improvise inefficiently, causing greater stress, the wrong results or the right results at great cost.
* We get into negative-thinking loops which generate negative events. In our stress and distress, we spin out, freak out or lash out.

Where and how can we find time to think? What might happen if we slow down or pause for some disciplined reflection? How can strategic planning be better balanced with strategic thinking - and what's the difference? What should our strategic thinking and planning encompass? Which strategic imperatives may prevent or limit these crises and dilemmas? How are they distinguished from operational planning?

Answering these questions and acting on the resulting insights doesn't usually require unbearable discomfort or lots of time you don't have, but it may require strength and your willingness to experience the discomfort of replacing old habits with new practices. You can't have the pleasure of progress without the pain of change.

Author's Bio: 

Tom Watkins is a professional coach and mentor. His comprehensive website, has many further helpful articles and a subscription spot for Encouraging Progress, his free online newsletter.