Time to Think

Too often, a client will say “I spend my days in back to back meetings, and I do my real job after work.” There are a number of things wrong with this sentence, but let’s focus in on just a few.

First, why are you scheduled in back-to-back meetings? End those meetings 10 minutes before the hour and give yourself time to get to the next one on time as well as clear your head. Work expands to fill the time allotted, and meetings do too. This one step will significantly lessen the stress in your days.

Second, what is your real job? If it isn’t being done in those meetings, why are you there? Meetings become a habit, especially recurring ones, and need to be assessed from time to time for usefulness in terms of topic or in terms of frequency/length. What is commonly meant is that you don’t have time to do your individual work, only the group work that occurs in meetings. Where is the time to do the follow-up from the meetings, as well as any other responsibilities that you may have? This work, the real work as it were, will not book itself. You must prioritize it and place time to accomplish it on to your calendar. The value of releasing yourself from such time pressures cannot be overstated.

Most importantly, where is your time to think? Readers of this column are typically knowledge workers, not assembly line personnel  and even they can often improve their situations with time to think.  The responsibility of being a knowledge worker means utilizing your intelligence and that requires time to think. I coach my clients to provide time for at least three categories of thinking. One is time set aside to consider and to plan (not just execute) a specific project, problem, or topic. Another is time to think strategically about your job and career. What are the important components? How are they being addressed? How much attention are you paying to the bigger picture, to non-urgent items? These items must be attended to if you are to understand your choices and realize your potential both in your current job and in your career. We all make the proverbial ten thousand decisions every day. What is the overarching context in which you are making the decisions? You have a much better chance of hitting the mark if you have clearly understand the reason why you are aiming at it!

Perhaps the most important of all is free thinking time. We are often most stimulated with creativity and innovation when we are not specifically thinking about the task at hand. Time spend walking, enjoying coffee with friends, reading non-technical books or magazines, following the occasional random thread of interest that you have discovered online – all of these can lead you to an “aha!” moment, one that you would not have found attending to a group meeting.

Try it – you’ll be surprised at how much easier your day flows and your productivity gains!

© Karen D. Walker 2013

 (As published in CEO Mentor Me 2013)