Time to Think

by Randy Hain | August 7, 2010 10:00 am

[1]As busy professionals with compounding responsibilities, isn’t it becoming more and more difficult to find time just to … think?  Commiserating with colleagues and friends, we share how our work days are filled with an almost obsessed focus on getting as much work done as possible, countless meetings and squeezing every bit of air out of our schedules.  In our other (and most important) roles as fathers/mothers and husbands/wives, we’re faced with another harried stretch of time each evening filled with family dinner, kid’s activities and the myriad other things that families require.  Weekends are more of the same.  

 Clever vernacular such as “perpetual hurry syndrome” and “time poverty,” are beginning to circulate when describing this phenomenon, but I simply choose to call it alarming. We make decisions all day long, but how much of it is reactive and responding to what others throw your way?  Taking time to think strategically, be creative or even pause to ponder an issue before responding is a growing challenge.  The fact that many of us view time to think as a luxury is a sad indictment of the culture in which we live. 

We are addicted to background “noise” and connecting with others through computer and PDA screens.  I’m not opposed to technology, but recognize how I’ve allowed it to exacerbate my challenge with finding quiet time to think. What used to be a leisurely drive to work a decade ago is now crammed with phone calls.  Waiting for appointments to arrive, stops at red lights and elevator rides are now opportunities to respond with my “Crackberry” to the barrage of emails I receive daily.  In an effort to become more efficient, I am sacrificing thinking time. 

Research for this article uncovered these insights into our penchant for technology and predisposition for interruption:

With or without portable devices, 15 percent of Americans describe themselves as “addicted to email,” and many are even planning their vacations with email access in mind. About four in 10 email users say it is “very” or “somewhat” important to them to think about email accessibility when they are planning a vacation, and 83 percent admit to checking mail once a day while on vacation.

Baroness Susan Greenfeld, well-known British author and Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said in a World Business article titled, “How Technology is Changing the Manager’s Brain:” “We’re already seeing the impact of the IT revolution on the workplace.  Working on the screen is having a massive impact on the way we think and process information. The screen culture is not conducive to taking time to think—everything is instantly available. The result is iconic thinking, quick fixes and short attention spans.”

Have we relinquished much of our ability to think strategically and creatively to the onslaught of increasingly sophisticated technology?  Has the technological age, which was supposed to herald a time of increased leisure, in fact enslaved us?  We are almost always reacting to television, the Internet, e-mails and phone calls.  This forced diet of (other people’s) information may be a necessary evil, but consider the real possibility that we have swung so far in that direction, we aren’t generating and sharing enough of our own original thought.  In her book, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, author Dr. Margaret Wheatley writes, “The single most revolutionary act you can do these days is to find time to think.”

Time to think, time to pray, time with family, time with friends—these are the components of the fuller and richer lives we all want to lead.  Work will always demand as much of our time as we allow.  But is technology the real culprit?  Probably not.  We have the freedom to choose how we spend our time and should take this responsibility onto ourselves.  Remember that technology was intended to serve us, and not the other way around.

So how do we create these respites of time we so desperately need?  It’s the little things; the small steps that will help us find our “thinking time.” I’ve shared some ideas here:

A good friend recently gave me a beautiful leather writing journal.  This thoughtful gift has prompted much of the thinking for this article and initiated a significant change in my daily routine.  I enjoy writing and used to email myself ideas or leave myself messages at work—adding to the volumes I already receive.  Now, I take the journal with me everywhere and find I’m reaching for it instead of my technology enablers.  Actually writing by hand provides me a few precious moments between appointments or in the early hours of the day to gather my thoughts on a number of topics, and the process has been rejuvenating.

Dan King, Chief Administrative Officer for Allconnect in Atlanta, offers this advice for creating thinking time: “I’ve discovered that three things are needed for me to think creatively – a topic, time and place.  During the course of my workweek, I keep a pad to jot down topics that require deeper thinking, business-related or personal.  A couple of these topics go with me to my ‘think space,’ which happens to be a quiet café near my home, once or twice a week.  This practice has made me a more valued contributor at work and what I hope is a better husband and dad.” 

As many of us 40-somethings have a tendency to do, I am taking stock of what’s important and am determined to find the time I need for God, family, work and me.  Dr. Ron Young, CEO of TROVE, a national leadership development and coaching firm, recently provided me with this insight: “There are many different types of thinking.  In today’s competitive, adrenaline-addicted world, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that we do not have time to think.  Living on autopilot or “living on fast forward” is the quickest way to rushing into inefficiency, errors and hollow living.  Research tells us that we can save between four and eight hours for every hour we invest in planning.”

He continues: “We need to make time for big-picture thinking to look beyond ourselves and gain eternal perspective.  Without time to think we are unlikely to question popular thinking, to be creative or strategic.  Getting outside of ourselves and the rush of our day-to-day lives allows us to reflect, think unselfishly and remember why we are here.  Making time to think allow us to connect with deeper needs of meaning and belonging.  It allows us to recall that we are human beings, not task-driven robots.”  

In conclusion, we give the important areas of our lives our best effort when we’re calm, rested and thoughtful.  We own the responsibility to make the necessary changes to give ourselves what we need. Author Dr. Margaret Wheatley also said, “Don’t expect anybody to give you the time to think.  You will have to claim it for yourself.  If we want our world to be different, our first act needs to be reclaiming time to think.  Nothing will change for the better until we do that.”  What part of your schedule will you reclaim today to get some thinking time?  You read this article and I hope it made you think—that is a good start!

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