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How do You Take Time to Think?

This question can be tricky if your answer is I don’t or I’ve heard of people who try something like this. How do you find time to think? Not to solve problems or put out fires, but just to think about things both big and small. I know, I know: you’re so busy every day there’s never any time for quiet reflection. Maybe on your next vacation? This is the worst form of self-deception leaders can engage in. If the leader isn’t stepping away from the day-to-day activities in their part of the business to think, who is? Ignoring the need for thinking allows seemingly healthy, active businesses to fail because of the change they never saw coming…until it was too late. Please don’t fall into that trap–it’s awfully hard to get yourself out. Here are six suggestions to help you find time to think. After you’ve practiced them for a while, you can use them, with assurance in your voice, to answer this question.

1. Make an appointment with yourself. This is the least you can do, so before another week goes by, do it! Schedule a thirty-minute, hold-my-calls, can’t-be-changed meeting with yourself and keep it. During these thirty minutes, think. Don’t write, read magazines, or clean your desk. Think. It would be great if you could do it with your office door open. Don’t let people interrupt. Tell them you’re thinking and you’ll get back to them shortly.

2. Take a walk. A short fifteen- to twenty-minute walk at an almost brisk pace will provide a great thinking environment. Since this is a short burst of thinking, why not try it with a question in mind? Not a day-to-day problem, although this works well for that, too, but a general I need to think about that some day issue. Here are some possible topics that fit this technique.

  • What’s changing in our environment that we haven’t thought about?
  • What new skills will our team need in the next year?
  • What barriers exist to our team’s success this quarter?

3. Do your daily exercise routine without distractions. Distractions are a room full of people talking, your favorite morning or evening news show, or the video of last night’s episode of The West Wing. As you work out, let your mind wander and follow where it goes. Thinking is an amazing process that requires relinquishing control and enjoying the journey to insight. Distractionless exercise is a great opportunity to experience it.

4. Listen to Mozart. As I write this, the Mozart at Midnight CD is playing in the background. Read the book The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell for all the research, but take it from me–Mozart helps you think. You can turn flying time into thinking time if you carry earphones and Mozart with you.

5. Engage in a hobby that you enjoy and that requires repetitive movement with your hands. Here are a few I can think of that work: Woodworking. Knitting. Gardening. Painting. Playing an instrument. Golf could work if you did it alone. Hiking, again if you’re alone and if you swing your arms as you go. Ironing. (Please don’t spread this one around.) Any of those strike your fancy? It’s the repetitive nature of the hand movements that seems to trigger creative thinking. If you don’t currently do any of these or anything else that fits the criteria, try one. Don’t worry–when you find the right thing for you, you’ll know immediately.

6. Take a field trip. Go to a museum, an art gallery, or a library. Visit a mall, sit in a competitor’s parking lot, or fly a kite. Do it by yourself or take a colleague. At the end of your excursion ask yourself, What did I see or experience today that taught me something about my work or my life? Don’t push for the answer, but don’t give up too quickly. There’s always something there; you just need to think till you find it.

All of these ideas require two things: the courage to try them and tell others what you’re doing, and paper and pencil to jot down the great thoughts that will surface. Be careful–this thinking stuff can become contagious. I guarantee it.