How to make time to think

The biggest blocker to making progress is the busy epidemic.

When someone asks, ‘how are you?’ is your standard default response ‘really busy’?

Do you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel going round and round and never having any time to think properly? Do your best laid plans to carve out time get shelved because something urgent and important always comes up? Are you constantly distracted from getting the more difficult tasks that require proper thought done?

You’re not alone.

Would you like time to think properly and be in control of how you spend your working day rather than constantly responding to the urgent and important needs of other people?

The single biggest blocker to people making progress in their working life is the busy epidemic.  We don’t make time to think because we’re too busy fire-fighting everyday tasks and managing an ever increasing ‘to-do’ list with no time to do it because we’re in constant meetings, juggling conflicting priorities and are stressed out at being pulled in all directions.

The levels of stress associated with this sort of constant busyness is bad for us, our health suffers, concentration ebbs, decision making is impacted, we miss opportunities, can lack focus and become inward looking.

Making time to think is the vital first step for thinking differently, becoming more effective at work and making faster progress. Here’s my top 7 practical tips to help you make time to think.

1. It starts with mindset.

Time to think is your fuel for creativity, productivity and progress. Rather than viewing thinking time as the thing you do when you’ve done everything else, make time to think a priority for you. Consider the implications of not making time. Where will you be in 6 months or a year if you don’t prioritise your thinking and planning time? It might be 10 mins at the start of the day to figure out you’re the most important tasks that day or an afternoon a month to think bigger picture. You have to work out what’s achievable for you. Then block out that time in your diary.

2. Ask ‘why?’

Often when we’re busy we can operate on autopilot without stopping to think about why we’re doing a task or activity which can waste time when we could be using our time more productively. Get into the habit of checking in with yourself by asking ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘What is the result I want to achieve?’ ‘Why is this the best way?’ Sometimes what you’re doing is the best way to get the result you want, but in a fast-changing world it might not always be the case, so this is a good habit to adopt.

3. Manage yourself, not time.

We all have exactly the same amount of time in a day: 24 hours, 1440 minutes or 86400 seconds.  How you prioritise and manage our activities within that time is your choice. Do you choose to finish the project, see friends or get some rest? It’s your choice. Managing yourself is about proactively choosing how you spend your time and energy and reflects a sense of responsibility in what you do. Consider what to say ‘no’ to in order to free up time for the activities that help you achieve the working life that you want.

4. Plan your work to suit your natural rhythms.

The ‘traditional’ 9-5 workday is a legacy of the industrial revolution where workers had to turn up to a factory at the same time to make a product on a production line. We all have a natural rhythm, times of day when we’re better placed to think deeply and times when we struggle to concentrate. It’s usually not evenly distributed between 9am and 5pm. Some of us are best early in the morning, others are night owls, and some thrive at 3am. To be more productive, if you can, design your day so that you tackle the difficult tasks when you are most alert and the more straightforward tasks when you’re least alert. Note your working patterns. When do you do your best thinking? When are you in a slump? Start to plan your day to match tasks to your natural rhythm and do the difficult tasks when you are at your best and take a nap (I’m serious) or do the tasks that take less concentration when you’re in your slump.

5. Get rid of distractions.

If you’re attempting to do meaningful work, turn off all distractions. Switch off your email, put your phone out of reach where you can’t check Facebook or WhatsApp (or your dog’s Instagram) and turn off all notifications.

Interruptions stop your flow and your brain’s thought process. Once you’re distracted, the brain has to find where it was, re-assess the situation, and then make the effort to get back to that stopping point. That can take 15 minutes per distraction which adds up to a massive amount of wasted time. Research also shows that people in a flow state (that state when you are concentrating and not distracted) are five times more productive than they otherwise would be.

6. Work in short bursts.

Humans work best in short bursts. The optimum short burst time i.e. the length of time worked vs when a break is needed will vary from person to person. Start by sitting down to focus on a piece of work for 45 minutes. Then give yourself a 15-minute break. Set an alarm to make sure you do it. Go for a walk around. Have a stretch. Breaking up your time prevents boredom and helps you to maintain a high quality of work. Lengthen and shorten your bursts to work out your optimum time.

7. Momentum over perfection

Sometimes we spend hours procrastinating because we want something to be perfect. Give yourself realistic, yet challenging time constraints by breaking down tasks into individual steps. Give each step a realistic time limit. Work to your timetable. This will help you achieve momentum rather than perfection as well as the opportunity to receive feedback which can help your learning and development.

We’re all different so finding the best ways to make time to think will be different for each of us. Give the practical tips above a go and see how you get on.

If you’d like more practical support to make time to differently and become more effective at work join the Lucidity Network. Join regular ‘get it done’ sessions to help you focus in short bursts as well as a monthly momentum over perfection workshops to help you keep moving forward. There’s more information on what you get and to join the Lucidity Network here. Or if you’d like to have a chat before you join you can book a time to talk here.

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