Paul has SO much going through his head all of the time; it never shuts off.
He does a good job of sharpening the mind, but he continues to put content in and doesn’t know what to do with it. He desperately needs to do something.
Paul and I were talking on a plane with a rare empty seat between us.
At first, it just started out in the normal “what do you do for work/how often do you travel” questions, then it worked its way into the question I ask every chance I get, which is, “What is one of your biggest challenges on the road?”
After the conversation took a break, I pulled out my Think Space journal and began to write. This intrigued Paul, and he began asking questions.
To Paul’s credit, it sparked something in him; he saw the need and the value in processing thoughts. He responded, “That’s exactly what I need to do.” The process below was flushed out from our conversation.
Here’s a paradox for you: the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. The noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.1
No matter how busy you think you are, you can carve time and space to think. Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, schedules up to two hours of blank space on his calendar every day.
He divides them into thirty-minute increments where he schedules nothing. It is a simple practice he developed when back-to-back meetings left him with little time to process what was going on around him.
At first, it felt like an indulgence and a waste of time. But eventually, he found it to be his single-most valuable productivity tool. He sees it as the primary way he can ensure he is in charge of his own day, instead of being at the mercy of it.
Do you realize how little the average person actually takes time to think? I don’t mean for a moment but for an extended period of time.
We rarely say, “Let me think about that.” We need to get to the point where we reflect instead of react in the moment.”
Most people don’t think because of one or more of the following excuses:
- It requires time – Time is elusive for us, especially on the road, but there are pockets of time for the things that are important to us, especially if we schedule them.
- It’s hard – Really thinking through something, especially at the beginning, can be a challenge, but once you create the space for your thoughts to flow, you’ll be amazed what comes out.
- It requires focus – It’s much easier to simply react then to spend time focusing. As Greg McKeown says, “In order to have focus, we need to escape to focus.” By the way, it’s worth the price.
Creating Think Space is a new concept for most people, and the road is one of the toughest places to think! Or is it?
THINK SPACE IS DEDICATED TIME TO DEVELOP AND PROCESS KEY IDEAS AND CONCEPTS.
Another way of looking at Think Space is as an “idea formulator.” This isn’t just for creative people who brainstorm. It’s time to think through what is important to you. We seem to schedule almost everything else but not time to formulate our thoughts.
If we work non-stop, we’re overwhelmed with information because we don’t give ourselves time to process any of the information.
With business travel, we’re responsible for our normal job AND a ton of new information that requires us to think through how best to make good on our responsibilities from the road.
FOUR WAYS TO IMPLEMENT THINK SPACE WITHOUT THINKING
1. WHAT TO DO BEFORE THINK SPACE
• Simply Breathe before You Think
I don’t know about you, but my mind often runs faster and harder than I do, and it’s all over the place. It’s like an untamed black stallion. Before I have a shot of processing anything, I need to calm that thing down! I used to inwardly mock those who meditated until I did some simple breathing exercises that began to calm my mind down.
Now, I take 60 seconds to breathe in for four seconds, hold for five seconds, and let out for six seconds. This simple breathing exercise gets me in the thinking space I need much sooner than later.
The key is not overcomplicating this and turning it into a “meditation thing,” because that’s not the overall goal here. Preparing your mind to think is the goal.
• Find and Schedule the Time
What gets scheduled gets done. Since it’s a new habit, it MUST be scheduled to have a chance of taking root in your routine. Look at your existing travel schedule and determine natural windows.
Flight Time – It’s amazing when you finish a minute of breathing, open up your cool journal then look out a window to get a real 30,000 foot perspective of life, how different you feel going into Think Space.
Depending upon how long my flight is, if it’s over two hours, I’ll dedicate 15 minutes for Think Space. It’s amazing how, with no plan and just a blank page on my computer or iPad or a journal and pen, my mind will unload in a matter of moments. Even if it’s a short 1-hour flight, I still take 5-10 minutes for Think Space.
Hotel Time – I also do the same thing at a hotel. I’ll go to the lobby for X minutes and a journal/pen to process my thoughts. It is ALWAYS worth the time.
Margin Time – Another ideal time for me is when an unexpected margin occurs. Most people open up social media during this time.
I used to be that guy, so no blame here. Now, I pull out my journal and pen (I have a small awesome pocket-size journal I picked up at a trade show. Imagine that!) and unload my thoughts or solve a problem. If I end up waiting unexpectedly, I have an Evernote specific note for Think Space that has ideas I can pull up that I need to work through.
The key is finding a few dedicated minutes to literally “be alone with your thoughts.” Start with just 5-10 minutes. See what that time can do for you after implementing the concepts, and then you can adjust. If you truly do what is suggested, you will be looking at ways in your schedule to increase this coveted time. The key is finding and scheduling the time first and foremost.
• Prepare for the Time in Advance
I’ve wasted more time when Think Space is available because I was simply unprepared in two key areas:
Concepts to think through – I now have the time and couldn’t really think of what I wanted to spend this time on, and I need a dedicated period of time to process.
Means of recording it – If and when an idea would come, I had nowhere to record it and had to leave it to my memory. Guess where THAT idea ended up!
These are solvable issues when you prepare in advance. When I know I’m going somewhere that I’m going to have to wait, I always plan ahead and bring a journal and/or clipboard, blank paper, and a few fine-tipped colored pens. (So… I’m a creative type who likes old school pen and paper but specifically different colors and blank white paper). I then label my Think Space topic at the top of the page.
• Create the Right Environment When Possible
You know what distracts you, so do what you need to do to make the most of this time. This is absolutely key. You want to keep your mind in the thinking zone, so definitely remove email, text, and phone alerts.
You also know when the environment is advantageous for thinking. Do you need quiet? Music? Headphones to either knock out the sound or for a certain type of music?
When I’m home and have to control my environment, I sit in my office at a mechanical drawing board with paper and colored pens, look out a window, and get lost in thought. It’s my perfect environment.
Other times at the airport (which often gives me the gift of unexpected windows of extra time with delays), I try to find the most secluded and conducive location to think. I put on my Bose noise-canceling headphones, pull out my think space journal and/or clipboard with white paper and colored pens, and maximize whatever additional time is given to me to think.
Think Space will change your attitude on waiting if you learn to make the most of the time. But the key is being prepared for it.
• Be Ready to Actually Think and Write
This will be the ACTUAL TIME to develop these thoughts that are dying to come out. Harry A. Overstreet once said, “The immature mind hops from one thing to another; the mature mind seeks to follow through.”
This is the time to really work through whatever you chose to think through with a mature mind. If you do the above, you will be prepared, but discipline is sold separately, yet it will yield incredible results.
2. WHAT TO THINK ABOUT DURING THINK SPACE
So, you’re all prepared and it’s actually go-time to process the thoughts. If you don’t have a clue already on how you could spend the time, here are some ideas:
- Preparation – What do you need to develop or review for any upcoming meetings/presentations, etc.?
- Follow-up – Who do you need to follow up with as a result of your business travel?
- Deliverables – What did you promise that you need to take action on to be a person of your word?
- Goals – What do you want to accomplish in the next 90 days? What are your yearly goals? Do you want to write a book? Run a 10K?
- Big Decisions – Do you move? Do you take the job offer? Should you change careers?
- Your Future (looking forward) – What changes do you want to make in your life?
- Evaluation (looking backward) – Did you accomplish your goals? How did your presentation go? Workouts?
Think about what to think about. As odd as that sounds, use Think Space as a roadmap to formulate the thoughts you want to develop. You will be surprised at the results if you take the time. Then, write your ideas to think about for a future Think Space session.
3. WHAT TO DO AFTER THINK SPACE
If you’ve completed a Think Space session, that’s great and very impressive. But is there anything else you should possibly do?
• Find a centralized place to keep your notes from your Think Space session.
There is nothing worse than finally having a great idea but losing it. You may have even written it down, but now you cannot find it.
Talk about maddening! Learn to keep all your Think Space results in a centralized location for easy access.
For me, since I like to handwrite my ideas, I either write in my notorious trade show small journal special or I take a picture of the blank pages written with colored markers then upload them to Evernote. This way, I have access to them on all my devices (MacBook, iMac, iPad, iPhone, etc.).
• Take action!
Many of my ideas from Think Space have actionable items, so I need to either schedule or follow up with the next step. Don’t lose the momentum by failing to take action. Let your next action item be the last thing you do during your Think Space time.
1. Think Space is a dedicated time to develop and process key ideas and concepts.
2. Processing your thoughts has two requirements: time and thinking.
3. Know how best to move into Think Space, what to do during Think Space, and how best to conclude a Think Space session.