Recently the Harvard Business Review reported that in a 55 hour work week, the average CEO has 6 hours to think. The survey by HBS and the London School of Economics did not mention thinking time reported by other corporate officers. I would guess it's less, not more.
Did researchers consider commuting time, elevator time, waiting-in-line time, or shaving/hair dryer time in their calculations? I don't know. But the point is clear. We do not set aside enough time to reflect, rejuvenate or refresh.
Most people I know blame 24/7 communication and the ever-increasing demands on their time for this dearth of thinking space. Overachievers have been rewarded all their lives for fitting more into their already packed calendars. And then there are the cultural pressures, especially for Americans and leaders of U.S. based companies. Not only do U.S. companies offer fewer vacation days than our counterparts in other regions of the world; we actually and sadly brag about the vacation we don't take. Can you imagine that happening in Europe?
This issue isn't really about vacation, though. It's about how our brains are in a constant state of semi-crisis. It’s about the gray matter fatigue you experience when you are unable to escape from the urgent but less important, without having a beer or going to a movie.
Thinking time is not the same as escape time. Escape is good, and does refresh. However, unless we create space for thought, we don't have access to the God-given brilliance in us. How do we know what we might accomplish unless we take time to find out?
Look, I'm not naive enough to think that I am going to change your mind about this with a blog post. Then again, maybe I am. I write about what I need to learn and I keep thinking (yes THINKING) that if I write it, I will practice it and it will become a habit. To the degree that I have success at this, it has been through trial and error. I have learned that when I do carve out thinking time, it is because I am aware that I want to do it. I am motivated by the results I see when I do take time to think.
Some of my methods may not work for you, but I offer them as a way of encouraging you to figure it out for yourself.
#1: Turn off the car radio and use driving time to think. My husband absolutely thinks this is nuts but the quality of my thinking is impaired when I am singing along to Keith Urban. Less effective during rush hour when people seem to think their middle finger is a communication tool meant for you. But it works.
#2: Turn off the TV in your hotel room in the morning. Create a cone of silence in room 455 ...kind of a thinking cocoon. Yes, the sound of squeaky shower pipes next door may occasionally jolt you back to reality but overall, you will find it to be a peaceful respite.
#3: Practice walking meditation. Even if you have never been able to sit still for a minute and fifteen seconds, it's easy to get up and walk, capturing ten, fifteen or twenty minutes of combined physical and mental stimulation. When I worked in Boston television, the station was located across the street from a park with a walking path along the Charles River. Even if I had a six o'clock deadline, sometimes I snuck out and when I returned, the words flowed onto the page.
#4: Close your eyes in semi-private public places. Again some of this is travel related, but instead of switching on your smart phone or iPad to check email when you've already cleared it fifteen minutes ago, find a quiet moment in the airline club lounge away from the bar and TV. Shut your eyes. Shut out extraneous stimulation. See what happens.
#5: Closed door time. I have an open door policy but I also close my door, and the message to my assistant and all is that I am interruptible IF. Whatever IF means to you. I often use this time to write, although my best writing/thinking time happens at home between 5 and 6:30 a.m. On days when I don't work out. THINK about it.