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Thinking Time - Main

I’m convinced that our organisations would work better if leaders had more thinking time built into their day.


Because I’ve worked in many organisations and have seen the problems that a lack of thinking causes. I also work with coaching clients and deliver training to leaders who are struggling with overwhelm and overwork.

In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the benefits of injecting more thinking time into your day, some practical ways to do it and finally, what to do with that time when you’ve got it!

Leaders Need to Slow Down

Personally, I think many leaders and organisations need to slow down.

But I’d like to clarify something here.

When I use the term “slow down”, some people may think I mean you need to work less, and put your ambitions on hold.

That’s not what I mean. I mean that we should take time to pause during the day, so that we can be more intentional about what we’re doing.

You can still work long hours and have lofty goals. If you’re going to achieve those goals, you need to have a sustainable way of working.

A more sustainable way of working is to pause during your working day, to assess where you’re going, and check you’re on the right path.

Why We Need More Thinking Time

I’m not suggesting that people sit and think all day, like a philosopher might.

I’m also not suggesting that thinking time is all about facts, logic and designing a perfect solution.

There is, of course, a time for action and energy, because that’s how change happens. But not all the time.

Having sufficient thinking time helps us to:

  • Work out where we are at, by examining how we are feeling and assessing our current progress and situation
  • Be more intentional, by choosing the best course of action, starting from where we are, rather than running on autopilot
  • Process our thoughts and emotions, leading to better self-awareness and understanding, so we can better prepare for the future; and
  • Stop doing things, if we see that they aren’t the best use of our time or energy right now.

Thinking time can help us make better decisions, feel more confident in what we’re doing and allow us to acknowledge and process any fears or worries along the way.

Learn More:  3 Ways to Reduce Unhelpful Thinking.

How to Get Yourself Some More Thinking Time

OK, we’d like to have more thinking time. But how do we do it?

Here are a few simple, practical ideas to help you inject some more thinking time into your day.

Have Shorter Meetings

Back to back meetings are a major problem in many workplaces.

Leaders rush from one conversation to another, without any break between them.

One solution is to simply have shorter meetings. One hour becomes 45 minutes. 30 minutes becomes 20 or 15.

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The best bit about this strategy is that it creates a break between meetings when you schedule in hourly blocks. You’ll have built-in breaks to pause, reset and get ready for your next task.

Scared you won’t get enough done in a shorter meeting?

Parkinson’s Law indicates otherwise – that work takes as long as we allocate to it. The constraint of a shorter meeting can have us working more productively to achieve the outcome.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #156: Let’s Dismantle the Cult of Busyness.

Block Time In Your Calendar

This is another effective strategy that has been around for a while now.

Make a calendar bookingMake a booking in your own calendar for 15 minutes or longer to give yourself thinking time. This works especially well when you combine it with booking a meeting room or escaping to a nearby cafe.

Many leaders struggle with this, because they feel it makes them unavailable.

But if you try this simple strategy, you’ll often find that other people start to work around your bookings, leaving you free to pause.

Everything in moderation of course. If you block your entire day out, you’ll likely appear unapproachable and your stakeholders may have some issues with that.

The best strategy is to do this in advance, so you can get in before all the other meeting requests arrive.

Learn More:  Too Busy at Work? Try These 5 Things.

Take a Proactive Approach With Tricky Stakeholders

There are some people in your workplace who challenge thinking time.

They are the ones who interrupt often, check in frequently and disrupt your flow.

With these stakeholders, it can be helpful to be more proactive when engaging with them.

Instead of waiting for their interruptions, we can get on the front foot and tell them what we’re up to. Try to anticipate their concerns early, and communicate our plan for the day or for the week.

Tell them when you’ll check in with them, so they don’t need to bother you.

This can help to set a pattern which makes them feel more comfortable. They don’t need to interrupt, because they know you’ll check in with them consistently, on your own terms.

Learn More:  Stakeholder Management Tips For the Everyday Leader.

So What Do We Do With This Thinking Time?

We’ve looked at a few ways to create thinking time. So what do we do with it?

I’m a big fan of what I call Useful Thinking.

Useful thinking is thinking that results in an outcome, rather than just aimless pondering.

So let’s look at some useful thinking that can be done in these thinking times we’ve created.

1. Structured Reflection

I’m a big fan of structured reflection, which basically means reflecting on past experiences using a set of questions to prompt your thinking.

These can be questions like:

What went well, and what didn’t?

If this happened again, what would I like to achieve for next time?

What will I do differently if I encounter a similar situation?

For me, the key here is to couple the reflection with some sort of tangible outcome. Something you’ll do differently or change to improve your situation, or how you feel about it.

I’m currently working on a journal to help you reflect in this way, and I’ll have more details shortly!

Learn More:  Why Leaders Should Have a Reflective Practice

2. Look For Improvements

Good leaders help their people and teams improve.

Write down a list of your team’s current challenges. They could be inefficient processes, a lack of information, difficult stakeholders or anything else you can think of.

These can set the foundation for improvement initiatives that your team members can run for your team.

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Improvement initiatives provide your team with much-needed variety in their day job, lead to team improvements (obviously) and provide your people with autonomy as they figure out how to deliver them.

You can read more about team improvement using the links below.

Learn More: Risk & Reward: How to Provide Development Opportunities For Your Team.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #112: Why Smart Leaders Seek Continuous Improvement.

Learn More:  Meaningful Work, the #1 Motivator (and How to Provide it in Your Team).

3. Do a Sense Check

You can rapidly do a sense-check with only a little bit of thinking time.

A sense check is simply thinking about your next task and asking:

Is that task going to be the best use of my time?

If not, what else could I be doing?

Simple, but effective. You only need a minute to do this one.

4. Identify Your Top Three

This one is best done in morning thinking time, and once again, it’s simple.

Ask yourself:

If I could only accomplish three things today and feel like the day was a success, what would they be?

The answer becomes your little to-do list.

If you want to go even more hard-core, choose only one or two things!

Many people seem to choose 10 things, then if they only get three or five done, they feel like a failure.

Why not choose fewer items, and then accomplish them all?

You’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment, and you can always do more if you have the time and energy.

5. Be Mindful

Mindfulness is all the rage these days, but you don’t need to be a meditation guru to do it.

Mindfulness can be useful to help us take a quick break from our brain’s natural tendency to worry about the future, or what happened in the past.

It takes literally only a few seconds. Try focusing on the feeling of:

  • Your feet inside your shoes
  • Your body sitting on the chair; or
  • The door handle as you open it.

You’ll notice that while you are focusing on these things, you are not focusing on the future, or the past, even if only for a few seconds.

This can provide you with a nice momentary break, which can refresh you before you take on your next task.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #73: Why We Need More Mindfulness In Leadership.

What Will You Do With Your Thinking Time?

Thinking time doesn’t mean accomplishing less, or wasting time.

In fact, you might find yourself getting more done, and feeling better while you do it.

Thinking time can help us become more intentional, thoughtful leaders.

Instead of reacting, we respond with intention and create a better workplace.

What do you do to gain valuable thinking time, and then what do you do with it? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!

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