Creating Time to Think

"How do I find time to think?" is, without a doubt, the most common question I am asked by clients (and audiences) when I speak, train or coach on the topic of productivity.  

The workday is filled with an endless stream of distractions, stealing energy and focus that is needed for the high impact work. Strategic planning. Writing. Problem Solving. Preparation. Coaching direct reports. These are the big tasks clients crave time for--and even make heroic efforts to plan into their day, only to surrender it constantly to the daily urgencies and unexpected requests that are hard to say no to. 

What ends up happening is the proactive work that really makes a difference--where that person can make their unique contribution gets pushed off,  taken home to tackle at night or on the weekends, when they are already exhausted and depleted. That means the work takes longer, isn't as good, and your work-life balance disintegrates. 

I get it. I am currently working on a new book (for Parents!)--and reclaiming 3-4 hours per day to write in my chock-full schedule took tenacity, practice and sustained effort. But the conviction that this is the most important book I've ever written fueled my resolve--and I created the habit.....and now nothing feels better than getting in my writing time everyday. 

It can feel impossible, but I know of no behavior change more powerful or gratifying to a client (or beneficial to the company they work for), than successfully building in the time to do the most important thinking work during the workday. When the brain is clear, rested and ready, the output is high, and that sense of accomplishment fuels productivity throughout the rest of the day.

How do I make (and protect) the time to think?  Four Steps:

1) Define the activity that would make the biggest difference to your sense of control, contribution and accomplishment. What would drive measurable results to the company's success.

2) Block off the time (a minimum of 1 hour),  during your peak brainpower period during the workday. For many people, that is first thing in the morning, but you may also find that 12-2 works well, or late afternoon. 

3)  Notify key players. Let your boss, direct reports, and key clients know if the change will likely effect them, and the instant turnaround time they have become accustomed to. Just announce that for that hour--you won't be checking email-and if it's urgent, to call you.

4) Plan the specific tasks.  At the end of each day, decide specifically, and concretely how you will use that thinking time the next day. It takes trial and error to get good at this, but once you know what you can accomplish in an hour, and plan exactly the right amount of work--you will find your focus extremely sharp.

If you are diligent and kind to yourself as you build this new habit, (tracking both successes and failures along the way) very soon the benefits of protecting the time will be self-reinforcing. A tremendous sense of control, and accomplishment, which will translate to measurable results for your company (and a restoration to a better work-life balance). Before long, you will protect that time with a true sense of nobility and purpose it deserves, knowing that it is exactly how you make your unique contribution to your department, company and customers. 

What could be better?