Two Ways to Think: Ponder and Plan

Find a space to ponder and plan.

By Stephanie Leishman

You walk into your office, sit down at your desk, and immediately start working on a project. Sounds diligent. Sounds like hard work. But did you start the day with a plan? Have you taken the time to think through your strategy?

Being busy does not equate to moving in the right direction. You might get a lot done, but that work needs to lead to the achievement of a goal that is important to you and the success of your business. 

Thinking about your business and marketing takes on two forms: pondering and planning. 

First, Find a (Different) Place to Think.

Your office may not be the right place to think. You work there every day and often our thinking is tied to our physical surroundings. If we get in a physical rut, sometimes our minds can, too. Try to get out of your office and find a different place to be, hopefully one that is a little quieter than usual. 

When I worked at MIT, I had a university campus available to me. The many libraries offered different contexts in which to think. The Stata Center had wall-to-wall chalkboards and long wooden tables and benches where I could think through marketing challenges. You might not have a place as diverse as MIT in its architecture, but you might have a café around the corner, a park with benches nearby, or a conference room down the hall. With the permission of the hosts, I've also sat in the waiting rooms of dentist's offices or in the lobby of another building because it was quiet, comfortable, had a lot of light, made me feel differently, and changed my perspective. 

Second, Ponder.

Silence is your friend. No Internet, pencil, paper, device, or music needed. Give yourself at least ten minutes to just think about your business. Experience a different type of innovation.

  • Close your eyes or sit back and relax your gaze.
  • Breathe in, breathe out. Yes, it's a lot like meditation.
  • Now, let your mind wander within the realm of your business. 
  • You might even let your mind wander outside the realm of your business, where ideas from other parts of life can be of benefit.

What should I be pondering about?

You don't need a specific prompt; you can just think through current challenges, opportunities, or ideas. If a specific question helps spur your thinking, ask yourself if your goals need refining, what your competitive advantage is, or how you might improve your brand message.

Then, Plan.

Now get out the pen, computer, calendar, whiteboard, etc. and start planning how you can spend your time toward the ideas you discovered in your "ponder" time. 

Prompts for planning: 

  • Create a content calendar. What are you going to say this month and when? Plan your pre- and post-event communications. Schedule your promotions. Decide how often you'll talk about products and when you want influencers to help out.
  • Identify stakeholders and plan when you will reach out to them, create value for them, and motivate engagement. Who matters to your brand and why?
  • Get platform specific. During your "ponder" time, did you think of ideas for how to use your owned accounts in new ways? What are you planning for Instagram Stories that is different from the value you'll be sharing with your Twitter audience? How will you take advantage of the unique features of these platforms? 
  • Look at your annual goals. What do you need to do this month to make sufficient progress toward those goals? 
  • Do a SWOT analysis. Make plans for how to reduce threats, leverage strengths, reduce weaknesses, or take advantage of opportunities. 

All steps are important

Some people like to get straight to the planning. They love lists, calendars, bullet points, and frameworks. If this describes you, spend a little extra time on pondering. Pondering is free-form and open. If you have a hard time with meditation, you might have a hard time pondering. However difficult or useless it feels, do not skip this step. It is a way of thinking that allows your brain to dig deeper and reach wider. 

If you are a daydreamer, a person who loves to ponder on what you want to do, then spend some extra time on planning. While having a vision for what you want to achieve and the creativity to think of all the ways you can achieve it, planning is a way to put it down into writing. When you write a plan, you force yourself to put into words and onto a calendar exactly how you will make your ideas come to life. 

Also, remember how important your physical environment is. The physical environment in which you work influences your thinking and your mood in positive or negative ways. Even if you work in one of the most innovative, colorful, or unique office spaces in the world, you still need to leave it and ponder and plan somewhere else for a change, which will open your mind and allow different connections to emerge.