Whether you are a leader, manager, or employee who wants to be a high performer, there is almost nothing more important than creating more time to think. It may seem next to impossible in this fast-paced, constantly-plugged-in world, but it must be a priority if personal and professional growth is important to you. Why? Because if you aren’t making time to think through problems, the future, and your role in what comes next, you will always be reacting. If you are constantly reacting, you aren’t giving yourself time to see the possibilities, think through potential consequences, calm down, and ultimately, make better decisions. I don’t know about you, but I like making good decisions, therefore I make time to think.
Respond vs reacting
First, let’s consider why responding is so much better than reacting. When you find yourself in a situation where you must react, fight or flight mode kicks in. Stress hormones wash through your body and you feel compelled to say or do something that you may later regret. Reacting is a natural urge, it happens automatically and it must be consciously resisted. Instead of reacting, choose to respond. You can do this by taking a breath (literally) and giving yourself time to reflect on what’s happening at the moment. This pause can be a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few days and it will allow you to observe what’s going on inside and out, making it easier to gain control of your emotions and decision-making process.
Stop Wasting So Much Time
Facebook, Twitter, news feeds, television, and other distractions should be reduced to a minimum if you want to create more time to think. These things divert precious time and create background noise that clogs your thinking. Do you actually do anything with the steady stream of content that comes from these sources anyway? When was the last time you had a profound, life-changing realization from a tweet or an Instagram post? Never? Me, neither. So shut it down and fill your newfound time with things like reading thought-provoking writing, writing your personal vision, thinking about how to best achieve your goals, and brainstorming ways to improve your relationships. There are so many meaty things to think about…things that could change your life…if you would just stop and think about them.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” This quote by Warren Buffet pretty much sums it up. The busier you are, the less time you have to think. The less time you have to think, the harder it is to be really successful. Buffet continues, “I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think.” It’s hard to argue with one of the most successful people on the planet. Simplifying will help you focus on what’s most important. Here’s an exercise: write down all the things you feel are priorities in these categories: work, family, personal wellness/fulfillment. List at least 20 items in each category. Then force yourself to pick the top three in each category. Don’t do anything else but these 9 things until you’ve mastered them. Now that’s simplifying! Focus is the key to success.
Another way of simplifying your life is to delegate. Are you really THE person who MUST do all the tasks on your list? Hire someone to clean your house; have groceries delivered to your door; make your kids ride the bus to school; ask a coworker to help you with a task; approach your boss about getting administrative support on a big project. If you are a manager or a leader, make sure you hire people you can delegate to and empower them to take on challenging assignments. Give them projects that you might normally do yourself. When you find yourself performing tasks that are in the weeds, ask yourself, “should I be doing this or managing this?” If the answer is managing it, delegate it.
Being disorganized is a time suck. Plan your day so you don’t waste time looking for items that should be handy, doing things twice, and working on unimportant tasks. Be disciplined; make a daily agenda that lines out your day. This list shouldn’t be too long and should include a block of time used to think as well as the three things you must do to move the ball down the field on your most important priorities. I love this new Self Journal; I just started using it and it’s working well for me. I also you Evernote to track my to-do lists.
Take a Lunch Break
Resist the temptation to work while you scarf down a sandwich; lunchtime is the perfect time to ponder. Step away from your desk and breathe deeply. Jot down new ideas in a notebook; reflect on your day and come up with ways you could be doing things better; consider what you might be missing when tackling a big problem at home or work. Better yet, take a walk and let your mind wander; be curious as to where your thoughts take you. Use this 30 minutes to get away from the grind and think.
Find Your Method
There are lots of different ways to do your best thinking. Mine happens when I am exercising. The trouble is that I forget everything as soon as I stop, therefore I use notetaking and audio recording apps so I can capture ideas as I work out. Pausing during a run to type out a few ideas isn’t ideal but it works for me. I also frequently read and listen to audiobooks and I use the same apps to record ideas sparked from consuming thought-provoking content. Writing is a great outlet whether it be expressing an idea to a colleague via email, journaling, outlining your thoughts on paper, or writing a draft memo to your boss. Other people do their best thinking in the shower while walking the dog, during long flights, or when laying on the beach starting at the ocean…find yours and do it as often as possible. The outcome will be better decisions, more intentional responses, a clearer pathway to a fulfilling life.
Like this? Please read my blog on more thinking and less doing.