Pallavi Pinakin explains why it is important to set aside time to think

In today’s ‘always busy’ world, who has the time to sit and ponder? With various different issues vying for your attention, every moment is taken up with some activity or the other. To allocate time for thinking seems almost wasteful, doesn’t it?

Despite not being at the top of most people’s ‘to-do’ lists, the ability for deep thought offers valuable benefits for you as a professional. Dedicated time for reflection enables you to align your goals and actions regularly, clarify priorities, enhance strategy and spark creative solutions.

Bill Gates was known to hole up in a cabin in the woods for ‘think week’ twice a year while Warren Buffett would focus on new thinking every day. Other leaders have their own preferences: some set aside one morning a week, others a full weekend every quarter and so on.

Luckily, there isn’t one right way to derive the benefits of ‘thinking time’… so you can choose whatever works best for you.

A few leading organisations are beginning to recognise the importance of thinking time but this isn’t a global trend as yet. For the most part, it’s still up to individual employees to carve out windows to reflect, plan and introspect in their respective working week.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

AN APPOINTMENT It might sound weird to make an appointment with yourself for ‘thinking’ but actually, this is one of the best ways to ensure that you follow through.

If a day (or even an hour) feels like way too long, start small and schedule 15 minutes a week – and commit to it fully. Guard this time like you would an important client meeting – no cancellations or rescheduling should be allowed.

MENTAL STILLNESS As you begin the process of deep thinking, overcome your desire for movement and activity. Put away all your devices and darken those screens. Close your door or put on headphones to block external noise. Create a space of mental stillness in which you can ask yourself all kinds of exploratory questions, and identify various ways of perceiving key issues and challenging your own preconceived notions.

What do you hope to accomplish at the close of this quarter, by the end of this year and in the next five years? What are your top priorities for the coming week? What are some of the important issues that have been overlooked in the day-to-day rush?

THOUGHT PROCESS  Consider taking notes. Some people find it helpful to document their thought process so they can return to it later. In fact, the very act of writing or recording your voice can help unburden your mind, sort through messy thoughts and achieve greater clarity.

Keeping a journal is highly recommended for those whose mental space feels cluttered and overwhelmed.

DISCOMFORT Get comfortable with discomfort! Reflection is careful thought applied to yourself and your experiences. By analysing your own beliefs and actions, you can learn from them and create meaning. This isn’t always a comfortable process because it means admitting that you don’t know everything and taking a long hard look at yourself.

Not surprisingly, this self-investigation may trigger feelings of annoyance and defensiveness. But that is all right! And if you can push past the minor irritations, you’ll give yourself access to some great insights and learning.

IDLE TIME In your free time between tasks, don’t immediately start checking your phone or answering emails. Allow these transitions to be quiet and relaxed, let your brain wind down and come to its resting state as you enjoy the idle time – and think about nothing much in particular.

Science Director at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University Emma Seppälä says: “Creativity happens when your mind is unfocussed, daydreaming or idle.” This is how some of our best ideas come out in the shower, or while drinking a cup of tea or listening to a song.

INNOVATE To unlock your creative spark, take the time to indulge your curiosity and nurture passions unrelated to work. Follow your thoughts down a fascinating rabbit hole or immerse yourself in a completely unrelated activity – both are valuable aids to innovative problem solving.

Research shows that when you step out of your comfort zone and into a different mental avenue, all sorts of interesting possibilities arise. When Albert Einstein was grappling with a particularly difficult mathematical problem, he would set his calculations aside and start playing the violin. This allowed new solutions to form in his mind.

It’s important to set aside a specific time to satisfy your curiosity. If you simply turn to Google every time a question strikes you during the workday, you’ll end up squandering precious attention. Keep a notepad handy and jot down queries as they come to mind, and return to them later.

Put away all your devices