Increasingly we are expected to always be “on”–responding to emails and texts outside of business hours. When there’s so much to respond to, it’s hard to find time to just think about strategy, the big picture, or new ideas.
Yet busy people do find time to brainstorm new ideas, and you can too. Here are some smart techniques for more brilliant thinking.
DeLene Bane is the human resource manager at Martin Equipment of Illinois. “One thing I have tried to do while at the office is schedule meeting time with my managers,” she says. When people know there’s a scheduled time to talk, it helps cut back on the frequency of people who randomly drop by, she says.
You could also create a culture with thinking hours. For example, you and your colleagues could agree to focus on individual intellectual work from 8 to 10 a.m., and come together after that.
Bane does this sometimes on Fridays. Even though she doesn’t have to leave early for work, “What I do is still wake up early and work in the morning when the house is quiet,” she says. “It is amazing what I can accomplish with two hours of no distraction.”
Joya Dass, TV anchor, speaker, and head of a women’s initiative called Lady Drinks, aims to think for 20 minutes first thing every morning (a habit she says she learned from author Trevor Blake). “New York City is a place where I can go from adrenaline to adrenaline hit. But those 20 minutes I take for myself each day, to write down 10 things I’m grateful for, and be still, are the best part of any day.”
David Laubner, SVP at ThinkingPhones, a company that creates communications apps, likewise says, “I typically dedicate the first 15 to 30 minutes of each workday to nondigital thinking and planning. No meetings, laptops, or smartphones allowed. I pull out a plain old piece of paper and pen, and work through the issues required to make each day successful.”
Going for a walk (or a run) is a great way to ponder big ideas, but you have to be careful about location and speed. A trail run requires you to pay attention to roots and rocks, or you risk spraining your ankles. Choosing a track or paved trail might be a better idea if you want to focus on your thoughts. Or else just slow down. Laubner says, “I periodically put down my phone, close the laptop, and simply get up and walk. The physical separation from my messaging forces me to think and helps recharge my senses to tackle the rest of the day.”
It’s a cliché that people get their best ideas in the shower, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. Theresa Daytner, owner of Daytner Construction Group and mother of six, reports, “I sometimes come out of the bathroom way too excited!” Get up a few minutes earlier and take a longer shower if you find these sessions particularly productive.
Daytner spends a lot of time driving to various events. Radio and audio books are great options, but you don’t always have to fill silence. Daytner finds her driving hours to be a great time to ponder life. “If something really gets me excited, I’ll pull off at the nearest exit and either enter in my Evernote idea file or start scribbling notes for follow-up.” You can also get a lot of thinking time on trains and planes. True, more and more planes offer Internet access, but if you need more strategic thinking time, try pretending it’s still 2005 and they don’t.
To make time to think, Dass says that “I’ve had to master the art of saying ‘no’ to any commitments on Sundays. That’s my day for me to hit the reset button.” During this time, she says she’ll “think about my week. Plan it out. Think about the bigger picture.” Daytner will sometimes just take a mini-retreat from life, “when I can temporarily cut the cords of familiarity.” She’ll spend the time exercising, eating healthy food, and reading inspirational books in positive surroundings. Maybe we can’t do it often, but even the busiest of us could take a few hours away from life if we needed to, perhaps on a weekend, if we ask in advance for help with other obligations from family or friends. Given how amazing it feels to slow down and think, it might be worth a try.