What do a blank piece of paper and a ringing alarm have in common?

Both provide endless possibilities

As a top leader, manager or one of the troops, your mindset can prove the difference between success or failure. When we were younger, our parents, teachers and maybe an inspirational boss told us to get our heads on straight and approach whatever we must accomplish with enthusiasm by concentrating and giving it our best shot.

Both a blank piece of paper — or more likely today a cursor on a screen — and the intrusive sounds of the morning alarm clock signal fresh beginnings and new opportunities.

The trick to seizing the day is training yourself and teaching your team to always explore alternatives when attacking the tasks at hand. In most cases, we all either take the path of least resistance or simply repeat what we’ve done in the past just to be able to check it off our to-do list. That’s usually fine and might even get the job done, but doing the same thing the same way, time after time, can limit the possibilities for a breakthrough — be it a more effective and efficient way to handle a simple repetitive matter or the discovery of the next great thingamajig.

Before initiating a project or process, encourage your team to take a timeout, just as medical professionals do before a surgery, to question what needs to be done and whether it still makes sense or can be improved. Determine how long it takes to do something the traditional way and then contemplate methods to combine multiple tasks into one, eliminate needless steps, or, better yet, start from a different direction that could lead to that magical aha moment with the discovery of a more effective solution. To make this exercise pay off, rid your mind of what else has to be done and solely live in the moment, focusing on this specific undertaking.

Employing this pause/reboot technique daily, even if for just a few brief minutes, can open new doors. Many times, when the effort is taken to re-examine something, it suddenly becomes clear that the task wasn’t necessary for any number of reasons. Frequently, the best improvements are those that are the most obvious, to which no one previously had given a second thought because the reports or project had always been that way.

This applies to that blank paper or screen, too. Think about what you’re about to write, and then stop to let your mind wander unencumbered. This could trigger a better approach, stressing another point that gets the reader to a yes.

Cultivate a mindset that challenges “what is” and focuses on “what could be” by circumventing the obvious and exploring alternatives, even if for no other reason than getting the creative juices flowing. Doing this is not daydreaming, but rather a discipline that becomes almost an involuntary step, much the same as muscle memory that improves the process of thinking before doing.

Just like physical exercise, thinking can be painful, until it becomes a regular part of your day.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide. Today, as founder/CEO of Max-Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses.