Thinking time is critical to your success at work. It’s when you stop focusing on your to-do list and instead reflect on strategy. It’s when you think of out the box solutions for problems—solutions that address root causes instead of being superficial band-aids that provide a short-term solution. It’s when you reflect on your teams verbal and non-verbal behavior, and whether or not there is something that you should follow-up on. It’s when you think of business strategy, new market opportunities, and innovative processes.
Thinking time is critical to building a healthy family. It’s when you think about how strong your relationships are, where you need to focus your time and energy, what family vacations you want to take, and how the volume of activities and commitments are affecting your family. It’s when you think of how your kids and partner are behaving—and if there are signs of anything that needs to be followed up on.
The problem with not having thinking time is that opportunities are missed and issues aren’t seen until they become fires. This is not only sad for all experiencing it, but it wastes so much emotional energy (and in many cases, money as well). In some instances, the results could be disastrous.
Making sure you have time for thinking is essential to your job, career, and family. To show how beneficial it can be, I encourage you to try the following tips for two weeks:
- Buy a special notebook that you use only for thinking and reflection. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to be dedicated. I recommend a smaller one that you can carry around with you at all times. I have a small journal that is about the size of my hand that is always with me.
- As you spot behaviors, as ideas come into your head, or as you hear things that you think require further reflection, write them down in the journal. Doing so frees your mental capacity to focus on other things and saves you the stress of constantly having to remind yourself of it. Because you know that you will have a defined process for addressing it, you can write it down and let it go until you can give it the focused attention it deserved. I often come up with ideas right before I’m about to go to sleep, and instead of tossing and turning all night thinking about whatever it was, I write it down and forget it, enabling me to fall asleep much more easily.
- Block “thinking time” on your calendar! This is a critical step in the process, and if you don’t do it, it will fall through the cracks. Think about the time of day that you think best. Are you a morning person? Schedule the time in the morning. Night owl? Schedule it in the evening. Then think about which day you think best. Is it on a weekend, when you don’t have the stress of going into the office? Or on a weekday, when you’re in hyper-productivity mode? Think about if you need two separate thinking time blocks—one for family, and one for work.
- Think about what the environment is where you “think best”. Do the same thing and get the same results. Have you ever heard that saying before? If you try thinking at your desk and your mind goes blank, maybe it’s because that’s not the best location and set-up for you to think. Are you inspirited by nature? Reflect in a garden. Do you get distracted if your laptop or cell phone are in your reach? Make sure they’re put away. Are you an “active” thinker—meaning you think best when you’re walking or doing something active? Or do you think best when you’re sitting still? Figure out what works best for you, and make sure that you create that space when you’re ready for your thinking time.
- Honor that booked time! This is the second critical step in the process—and often time it’s when the process breaks down. How many times have you tried start a reflection, only to get a call about an urgent issue that you need to firefight? Or perhaps you scheduled the time but failed to tell people that you needed this focused time, thus people walked into your office just as you were about to get deep into an idea. It’s up to you to set the boundaries to honor this time. Tell people what you’re doing and why. Come up with “fires” that might justify rescheduling (i.e. a medical emergency, a production malfunction in the plant, etc.). And then stick to those boundaries.
- Take action on the plans you came up with during your thinking time. The whole purpose of the thinking time is to enable you to take action, intervene, or develop forward-thinking strategies before they become a crisis. It’s not enough to have the thinking time; you need to take action.
- Reflect on the results of the actions you took and the status of the items thought on in previous reflections. You can learn so much about what works, what doesn’t work, what assumptions might have been incorrect, and what you would have done differently if you reflect on the results of actions you took. It’s also another opportunity to ask yourself if an issue is completely resolved or needs another intervention. This is a very important step that you don’t want to leave out.
You, your family, and your teams deserve “thinking time”. As a working professional, you’re expected to contribute your thought, knowledge and experience with your employer and team. As a parent, you’re expected to share the same with your family. So before you get lost in your stack of to-do lists, make sure that you’ve scheduled and honored your thinking time. It will make sure that that the items on your to-do lists are the right ones, and help you make your family and your team the best that it can be.