Doing vs Thinking

Doing is carrying out a series of tasks. Thinking is reflecting on what tasks should be carried out. It includes questions like: Why are you doing these tasks? Is there a better way to do them? Should you redefine these tasks?

When I was younger, I foolishly thought the relationship between doing and thinking was linear. Someone spends a lot of time thinking. They come up with the ideal plan of what to do. Then they do it. Perfection and success follow.

Now, I see a symbiotic, but non-linear relationship between doing and thinking. Doing gives the mind new information to think about. Thinking helps refine doing in near real time. Different sets of activities and different parts of life seem to require a different cadence between doing and thinking. I’d also guess that different personalities are better suited to different blends of doing and thinking.

Here are my reflections on the balance between the two for me:

Too much thinking undisturbed by doing is bad. It tends to spawn intellectually elegant theories. They are often clever sounding, but are unrealistic. Feedback is usually best sought from smarter people, the market, etc. early and often. The theories birthed in prolonged periods of thinking evolve in a predictably homogenous way. Doing exposes a person to life’s randomness. That usually leads to more creative ideas. The highly educated, but unexperienced often make this mistake. It’s like reading too many books about Paris, but never visiting the city. Alternatively, it’s like developing an elaborate business plan without ever talking to a customer. I work very actively to not over engineer projects, products or ideas. It’s about extending the lean philosophy of getting feedback quickly to all parts of life.

Too much doing without thinking is also bad. It leads to wasted effort. Habits propel action. It’s usually good to spend some time reflecting. Doing creates a lot of information for the mind. It’s necessary for me to take some time to deliberately structure that information into insights. Personally, I spend every Sunday evening writing. I reflect on events and possible lessons from the past week. I’ll journal, share thoughts with some close friends and write a draft post for AWT. Sometimes I publish those posts publicly and sometimes I don’t. That has been a good weekly cadence of doing and thinking for me.

Recently, I’ve been trying to spend 5 – 15 minutes at the beginning of each day reflecting on what I need to get done. Then I spend the rest of the day doing it. At the day level, that seems like a good balance of thinking and doing.

I feel good about my balance of thinking and doing at the daily and weekly level. Now, I need to find balance for longer time horizons. I suspect this is one of the reasons that sabbaticals are popular.

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