Five tricks for fast-thinking leaders

"I have never known anyone move as fast as you do in business."

When my financial advisor told me this I think she said it as compliment … maybe. My team would tell you I work way over the speed limit, whether it's brainstorming, actioning, changing or completing projects. I am a fast-thinker, and always have been.

However, I've learnt over 14 years in business that some of the most talented people on the planet work at a slower, more methodical pace than I do. Neither way of thinking is wrong; it's just a different way of creating.

As a fast-thinking manager, how can you ensure you don't leave prized team members in your slipstream? Here are my top tips.

Learn to self-filter

I have approximately 300 ideas a week for new projects, side products or collaborations. If I shared every single one with my team they'd be – quite rightly – totally overwhelmed. That's why I've learned to self-filter some of the good ideas from the bad, before sharing them with the people who will have to action them.

Try this technique – write an email to yourself outlining the idea in one or two paragraphs (basically an elevator pitch). Then email it to yourself and read it back aloud. Sometimes just seeing an idea in black and white is enough to make you realise it's not the one (or that it's brilliant, in which case forward that email on).

Get in the flow

You might think that flow diagrams are an old-school technique for time management, but modern software has made them easier to create and, dare I say, cooler. You've probably heard of, and maybe used, the online to-do list Trello, but did you know you can switch your Trello board to a 'calendar view', which lays out your to-do list in chronological order?

Other good apps for creating flowcharts include Gliffy, Lucidchart and Cacoo. Sometimes just remembering that not every task needs to be ticked off immediately is enough to take the pressure off. I have ideas that I'm not going to action until 2017, but I'm still excited they're in my future.

Donate an idea

There is a difference between a good idea and a good idea for you and your business. You might be sitting in the movie theatre and have a brainwave for how to revolutionise ticket sales. It's brilliant, it's perfect – but does it really suit your personal skill set or your company's mission statement?


If it doesn't, is there someone else in your social or professional circle who might take the idea and run with it? I love passing the baton of a brainwave onto friends who I know will action it better than I ever could. Think of it as good business karma, as hopefully one day they'll do the same for you.

Pause and prosper

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahneman describes fast thinking as instinctive, automatic and something that pops into your head with "no sense of voluntary control".

Whilst I don't think that's always true, I do think-fast thinking leaders can be in danger of reacting too rapidly – whether an employee has made a mistake or a project has taken a downward turn. Doctor Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages once said, "When people respond too quickly, they often respond to the wrong issue. Listening helps us focus on the heart of the conflict."

So before you jump to judge, why not pause for thought – in the name of workplace peace.

Talk in time frames

The most important tool for fast-thinkers is good communication. When you're feeding down ideas to team members, give them a very clear time frame - so they can prioritise, plan and prepare. This is particularly important out of office hours.

If you wake up on a Saturday morning with a busy brain and just have to email your right-hand man or woman, then make the subject line: 'Doesn't need to be read until Monday.'

If you don't make it clear that it isn't urgent then your poor employee will probably assume it needed to be done yesterday.

Nobody does their best work if they feel panicked and, in the long run, you'll also benefit. There is a lot to be said for slowing down sometimes. If you're forever rushing you might miss the joy of the journey.

Are you someone who thinks fast? What are your tips? Let us know in the comment section. 

The founder and editor-in-chief of  The Collective, a monthly business and lifestyle magazine, Lisa Messenger has become a leading authority on the business world, specialising in entrepreneurship and disruption. She has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books and three times been a finalist in the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year awards.

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