How to set priorities

The Strategic Pause: 6 Reasons to Take a Breath

December not only heralds the onset of holiday busy-ness in our personal lives, but also the end-of-the-year closeout activities that make our professional lives extremely hectic. In the government, there is often a mad rush to finish projects that absolutely must get done before the end of the year or before people leave town on their use-it or lose-it vacation. This real or imagined urgency leaves little room for taking a break to evaluate successes, flops, and priorities on the personal and organizational level. However, it is often during the busiest times that taking astrategic pause can be the most beneficial to organizations. At first, it seems counterintuitive to strategically “pause” during the busiest time of the year. However, spending time reflecting on what has worked for your organization, what should be retooled, and what is truly important to you and your organization will help you focus your energy in the right direction. Here are some signs you might be ready to take a strategic pause:

1. You’re drinking from the fire hose. We’ve all been there – you check one item off your list, and three other tasks appear in its place. It’s easy to let some things that don’t seem as urgent at the time slip through the cracks, which all too often comes back to bite us later.

2. You’re burnt out. Project fatigue is all too common and can creep up when you least expect it. Nip it in the bud before it leaves you exhausted, unmotivated, and uninspired.

3. Your resources have changed. Maybe you’re getting some additional contractor support, or maybe your budget was cut in half. When your resources shift, your ability to carry out your mission shifts as well. Take a pause to make a plan for navigating the changes.

4. You just finished a big project. Whether it went exactly as you expected, or whether it crashed and burned, you and your colleagues could use some time to examine lessons learned and potential new ways forward.

5. You are starting a new project. Maybe your organization is heading in a new direction, or maybe you’re charting a familiar course. Either way, your project kickoff is a great time to pause and think about how this project fits into your organization’s overall mission or goals.

6. You’ve been working on a project for a while, and it’s time for a refresh.While the above scenarios are important, this one might be the most crucial. While established strategies contribute to your project’s sustainability, too much emphasis on process can stamp out creativity. This might be a great opportunity to bring in someone outside your organization to provide a fresh perspective. This outside perspective could be a consultant, a stakeholder, or a key partner. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes and ears to help you see what you could do better and identify your most tangible successes. Moreover, an outside assessment of your organization can help you see how well you are connecting with your stakeholder base – you may think your mission is clearly articulated, but your stakeholders might be totally missing your message.

While the end of the year often pressures us to go full-steam ahead, sometimes the best thing for an organization is not to just do something, but to stand there, take a metaphorical (or literal) deep breath, and evaluate.

What insights has your organization gained from taking a strategic pause?