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A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

by Leadership Participant

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Before I started the leadership journey, I was doing a lot of just that. Wasting a lot of my time and mind focusing on the immediate, the unimportant, the routine tasks that certainly were not going to make a significant difference in creating, influencing, or advancing the strategic mission and goals of the university.

I knew this was happening as I constantly struggled to find time to focus on leading, but it wasn’t until the completion of session I in Minnesota, that I really understood why. Session I demonstrated to me the amount of time I spent focusing on “doing” instead of “leading” was completely out of balance. It became clear to me that if I spent more time providing strategic direction, aligning, motivating, and empowering others, and less time doing the work that others could do better (yep, better!) than me, that I could break the mind consuming cycle of focusing on day-to-day operational tasks.

But there was more to it than that. I also had to learn to break away from my own bad habits and replace them with new, better ones. That was what session II in Nebraska showed me. The Neuroscience discussion really brought to the forefront, the cuereward, and routine aspects of habit and how the brain is wired for routine. So, to change the interrupt based, immediacy-focused bad habits I had formed over the years, I started taking the cues away. I turned off notifications of messages on my phone (vibrate, too!), focusing on them being a pull (when I wanted to get them) versus a push. Taking away the cue of the message alert-> I read process and respond->something gets done but not what needed to get done habit, helped me to break from this routine being constantly executed. I also disabled the Outlook email “message alert splash” notification from my laptop and in many cases shut down my outlook and IM completely when spending time planning, creating, or communicating with someone.

I have been replacing those “bad” habits, with new ones, such as reviewing my calendar and planning each morning, and checking my email and messages once an hour or after the completion of a task I needed to complete. Thus far, I have not missed any urgent requests that could not be responded to in that interval. I found that if there are true emergencies (which there appear to be very few of), the phone is going to ring if I do not respond to a text.

So more bad habits to break and better habits to develop, but I feel like I have more control now of what I should be doing, and mindful enough to make it happen.


Gary Clark
Ohio State University