Trying to find time to think and be creative about our business is very hard in the print industry.  We live in an industry where our customers rely on us daily to pull off impossible deadlines on difficult projects. However, we must find the time to think strategically not only to keep ourselves feeling challenged, but to move the business forward and complete complicated projects for the benefit of our own future growth.

In our industry, we spend so much time enabling our customers to be creative about their business. We scramble, rush, meet impossible deadlines and do it all over again multiple times a day. In a senior management or executive level of most print companies, we are in the world of sleeves rolled up and jump in where needed to get the job. That is the nature and reality of our business. We open our office door early in the morning with a full plan, and even an agenda of what to get accomplished, and often leave knowing we completed many important tasks – none of which were part of the plan. Our own creativity and thinking is hard to come by. Yet it is so critical to success and growth.

Strategy, creativity, and implementing change is the best way to lead our company to a more proactive and profitable business. It lets us work on the business instead of in the business.  So often we spend a lot of time thinking about how to grow, innovate and change when we are on business trips and attending conferences. We attend shows, invest a lot of money in a great Print MIS or web-to-print technology and go home to our “roll-up-our-sleeves” life. Six months later we are wondering why our new software is a disappointment or not even installed.

In my former life as a VP of Operations for a large printer, that was my constant challenge – I knew what I needed to do to move things forward but struggled to find the time to do it. I hear this same challenge from almost every manager/leader I meet in our industry. The reality and necessity of the day-to-day business is an obstacle. You know you are capable of achieving the initiatives that will greatly enhance the success of your business, if only you could find the time. So how do you inject time when there are already not enough hours in a day?

Here are some ideas that worked for me:

1) Book a weekly one hour “think date” with yourself. This most likely should be at the start of your day or you will risk canceling on yourself. Go to your favorite coffee shop or stay home and let yourself linger and think over a pot of coffee. Take one process or new concept you have been thinking about and map it out, think through the “how” and the “when”. Put some music on if that helps you think. Turn your phone off to not get disrupted, don’t check your email.

2) If you are facing a large initiative such as implementing a new Print MIS system, consider consistent “out-of-office” project time. If you have a supportive boss and direct reports, this can be the biggest enabler of meeting a project deadline successfully. Working remote is key so it’s not easy to get disrupted or distracted.  It would allow you to work with vendors and other project team members in a focused manner. When I was leading the transition of a legacy Print MIS, I actually took a “offsite sabbatical” so I could give total focus to the project two days a week. I believe this was the differentiator for our implementation success. A Print MIS touches every corner of your business, the decisions during implementation require focused and sustained attention.

3) Consider fun team offsite strategy sessions. While not practical to have these frequently, these are important and if you are struggling with creativity and think time, so is your team. Some of the best team strategy sessions I had with my teams were in unconventional but creative spaces – parks, outdoor walks, even at the zoo. Everybody gets a change of scenery and some time to think and come up with new ideas and how to implement them. When you get people together do not rely solely on verbal communication – it results in the same people talking all the time. Use post-it notes and a timer (your cell phone) to brainstorm as a team on certain topics. Five minutes, each team member enters one idea per post-it, discuss as a team, find duplicates, prioritize, and move forward. It’s an excellent way to get everyone to participate as equals.

You have to prioritize the time to work on your business. It’s just too easy to go in everyday and stay “busy” – your level of activity is not going to guide your business in the information age. The market, your customer, the technology are all changing around you, it’s vital that you give yourself the time to adapt your business to these evolving conditions.