How do you create the space to step back and actually think about what really needs to be done when the input is coming in far faster than the output is going out?
Here are three simple ways to create the space to think:
- Leverage Time. One of the leaders I’ve interviewed for my new book is Adm. Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, who led recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There aren’t many jobs that get more high stakes and high profile than that. When I asked Allen about the routines that enabled him to perform at his best, he told me that on the days when he was in his office as commandant, he rode his bike 15 miles to work every day. That 45-minute ride was not just his exercise for the day but also his time to do mental planning and reflection on projects, public appearances and tough problems. In a packed, busy schedule he leveraged the time he had available to give himself space to think.
- Schedule Time. Another leader I’ve spoken with is Brian Halligan, CEO of the rapidly growing Web marketing firm Hubspot. Halligan’s workdays are packed with back-to-back meetings from morning to night. To give himself space to think, he works from home every Wednesday. He finds that the midweek break gives his introverted batteries a chance to charge and that most of his big ideas come then. Not every job lends itself to scheduling a work-at-home day on the same day of every week, but many do. Yours may be one. If you can’t do it every week, how about every other week or once a month? How about a half day every couple of months?
- Shift Time. Many of the leaders I’ve spoken with recognize it’s all too easy to fill up all of your brain space with issues that aren’t your priorities. Allen calls them the things that “rent space in your head.” There are lots of ways to avoid this. The first is to be aware when it’s happening so you can make proactive decisions about how to spend your time. Monica Oswald, vice president of a financial services company, regularly grabs a conference room and leaves her smartphone behind when she wants to really focus on the things that are most important. Many of the leaders I’ve spoken with schedule a couple of windows each day to respond to email and then ignore it the rest of the day.
What do you do to create space to think?