Time to think? Yes! If you know how…

In my last blog I wrote about how being über connected can sometimes be an über distraction stopping us from creating an environment conductive to idea creation or problem resolution. In response to feedback to the blog, I wanted to put together some practical tips on how we can cut time in to the schedule to break and think:

1. Know it’ll take a little prep: Allocate 20 minutes to work through the steps below, this advanced prep will allow you to be most effective in carving this time and maintaining it.

2. Pick your moment: Review your work and personal calendars to get a sense of where the natural downtime occurs in your schedule. Use any window available to you and block this out as your ‘think’ time. Expect this window to change throughout the year in response to your workflow and personal commitments.

3. Know it’ll most likely not happen once a week: Expect to meet your think time objective once every two or three weeks to help manage your own expectations.

4. Out of Office auto response: Feeling pressured to respond to messages immediately? Once you have identified your window and if you are able to carve an hour or more of time, use your email auto-response to set expectations and reflect your availability.

5.  Use your Smartphone to track the topics you want to analyze: Create a ‘think’ folder and brain dump topics that jump to mind into it. When you arrive at your window, you can come back to them and ruminate.

6. Identify the catalysts: Reflect on times you’ve felt inspired and identify the conditions that allowed you to feel that way. Analyze the location you were in, the activities you were participating in, the people you were with or what you might have been listening to.  Ideally, you’ll replicate some element of those conditions during your think time.

7. Get buy-in from your main stakeholders: If you are carving time at work, use evidence of past successes to explain the benefits to your boss, colleagues and reports. If your workplace is not responsive to this, then identify where you can carve time at home, including kids play-dates, the commute to work, or skipping one TV show every two weeks to make it an attainable goal. Know that you’ll need to negotiate with friends and family to get their support.

Easier said than done right? I agree that it is very hard to carve time. As I shared in my last blog, I try and hold over an hour every Friday afternoon, a guaranteed window in my schedule almost year round, to simply review and think. I get to it once every three or maybe four weeks in very busy periods, but it’s on those occasions that I’ve had my epiphanic moments; I’ve identified the source of an unexpected case of the ‘blahs’ at work (not feeling challenged) and then devised a strategy to respond (developing content for a new client group, which later benefitted my work with my current client group).

I’ve also been surprised by my creativity when trying to adopt the suggested steps above, and I’m sure readers who attempt them will be too. For example, I now actively spend 10 minutes every long subway ride to braindump ideas or issues I want to think about into my smart phone. Then when I hit my ‘think’ window, regardless of how much later it is, I can be instantly transported back to my conundrum and feel inspired to address it. The approach does take practice and effort but if you can form the habit, it’s an effort that will pay off.