Recently I asked a colleague when the last time she thought was. The question stymied her. In any given moment, she is thinking about any number of things.
But that wasn’t what I was asking.
I restated my question, the same question I ask you: when was the last time you stopped yourself, turned off the technology, and gave yourself time to really think about something?
With computers on our desks and dining tables, connectivity in our dashboard, and mini machines in our palm at any given time, getting information has become much easier, but has it become better?
Not too long ago, research meant going to a library to search through magazines, card catalogs, and microfiche. Learning about a subject took a week for high-level work and a lifetime for specialized work. The process needed to do the hands-on, in the trenches research of yore had built-in time for thinking. If a title or search term yielded a dead end, you had to refocus and think of different ways of getting the information needed. The extended amount of time gave the space needed to focus on the subject and the work being done on it. This thought process allowed for creativity in connecting content.
Today we can Google any subject and have information served to us in seconds. The shortened time to information we have has brought with it a heightened expectation for fast analysis and synthesis. All too often in our rush to produce results, to prove our effectiveness and efficiency, we throw together first-page search results. Even worse is the new reliance on the analysis of others; an expert in the field can post their thoughts on the very problem you’re experiencing and it is tempting to regurgitate it back to your team. This is not your thinking, this is your agreement with someone you respect. While it may relate to the issue at hand, the analysis and any possible recommendation is not created for your specific issue and organization.
Raise your hand if your calendar rivals this. Don’t worry. You don’t have to. We’ve all been there. I’m not judging.
Where is there room for thinking in your back-to-back meetings? You’re lucky to have a few side minutes after a meeting to go over details quickly with a colleague before running late to the next meeting. When do you have time to digest the contents of any of these meetings? If you are so busy running from place to place without giving real thought to what you just heard and how you can use it, how are you going to have a chance to synthesize it with other contributing as well as conflicting priorities?
In the our overly connected world, it is too easy to respond in the shortest of snippets, sacrificing the art of thinking. This, however, leaves your best feature, your ability to think, to the wayside. Your brain is your strongest muscle, but technology has conflated the ability to get results at the speed of light with successful, creative analysis. The race to the next best thing has robbed your most important muscle of its exercise regimen — thinking.
In order to focus on the things that are most important, you need to give yourself the space in your calendar to think. We want to be creative instead settle for the thoughts of others. Thought leadership requires room. Do not mistake this space as zoning out — it is exercise but it is not meditation. Block out thinking time as you would a meeting. Allow yourself to focus on the subject at hand. During your one-on-one with yourself, collect the data you have, shut off outside distractions, and connect the dots based on what you know. Yes, soundbites and quotes have a place in the thought process, but they should be supporting not leading your considerations.
My colleague texted me the day after I perplexed her with my question. “April! The last time I thought was in April when I was at the dentist getting my teeth cleaned!” Because going to the dentist isn’t loathsome enough. Your thoughts deserve as much time as your teeth. Schedule time for your brain as you would the rest of your body.
- Thinking is an exercise for the brain. Focus is the key.
- Remember this is not meditation. Focus to get the most out of it.
- Make it a priority — Schedule time on your calendar to think