Taking Time to Think

Taking Time to Think

Are you too busy? Building off more than 15 years of observations in conservation related workshops and trainings on different topics in multiple states we’ve highlighted some causes and effects about being “too busy” to get critical work accomplished in a new article in Frontiers of Conservation Science (Taking time to think). The belief that reflecting, planning, and evaluating wildlife management work is a luxury should be sobering, if not intolerable to a profession entrusted with public trust resource administration. The negative effects of being too busy as a fish and wildlife professional were brought into focus in a series of workshops to identify habits and practices of consistently high-performing wildlife professionals. The work of conservation professionals is accomplished through management within a framework of decision making that requires them to be reflective and analytical about what to believe (reasoning) and what to do (judgment) in a particular management situation and then evaluating and learning from their experiences. Such purposeful reflection and critical analysis are essential to successful decision making. This entire process requires taking time to think.

A recent study (Siemer et al. 2022, Wildlife Society Bulletin) emphasized the importance of prioritizing time for reflective practice, yet most people in our study felt they were too busy. This led us to postulate the tyranny of being too busy is a substantial impediment to being a more effective wildlife practitioner. This scenario was described by many of our study participants along the lines of, “My responsibilities make it impossible to find time to be as thoughtful as I would like or to engage in professional development that could make me more effective and consistently successful.” This is in no way unique to the wildlife professional—it’s common in other professions that care for the well-being of another entity (e.g., doctor/patient, teacher/student, parent/child).

The Frontiers article focuses on describing the tyranny of being too busy—primarily its symptoms, causes and effects—and presents ways to address the problem offered by wildlife professionals and the organizational behavior literature. We focused on three questions: 1) what is preventing wildlife professionals from setting a higher priority on taking time to reflect critically about their work? 2) what are the consequences of the current condition? and 3) what can be done to combat the problem? We drew on qualitative input received from 38 participants in workshops focused on identifying habits and practices of consistently high-performing wildlife professionals as well as pre-workshop interviews with 10 wildlife professionals across the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) regions. Workshops, funded by an AFWA Multi-State Conservation Grant and administered by the Wildlife Management Institute, were held in New York, Michigan, Florida, and Montana in early 2020.

We asked workshop participants how being too busy influences the effectiveness of individual wildlife professionals, work groups, or wildlife agencies. We identified several causes 1) the fallacy of equating activity with productivity, 2) a normalized culture of being “too busy”, 3) action bias, and 4) the rigidity of the conservation institution. Feedback from workshop participants and our own observations resulted in many effects at multiple levels.

Individual level

  • Limited job effectiveness
  • Missed learning opportunities
  • Reinforced reactive of proactive behaviors
  • Impeded prioritization
  • Diminished job satisfaction and wellbeing

Team level

  • Reduced collaboration
  • Diminished team productivity
  • Diminished team efficiency
  • Low group morale

Agency level

  • Adaptive challenges sidelined
  • Diminished credibility
  • Damaged stakeholder relationships

Despite a whole genre of literature devoted to being more productive and effective, our observations indicate that being too busy, with no time to think, is becoming the status quo for the wildlife profession. Two ideas consistently rise to the top of the list of actions for reducing unproductive use of time (and being too busy): 1) plan and prioritize tasks vis-à-vis goals and 2) eliminate time-wasting behaviors. But developing habits and practices that enhance the effectiveness of professional reasoning and judgment takes time. Necessary changes at multiple levels (individual, work group, and agency) will not occur without purposeful intent. Leadership is required to align agency expectations in support of a new norm where wildlife professionals take the time to critically analyze, reflect on, and continually improve conservation decisions and actions.

December 15, 2022