Five Ways to Create Space to Think

Most people say they do their best thinking in the shower, driving or exercising, but there’s a better way.

A lot of thinking is really just reacting. On any given day, there’s so much coming at us that we just react or reflexively respond to the input. That’s not all bad. A lot of stuff gets done that way. But whose stuff is getting done – yours or someone else’s?

To get your own most important stuff done, you have to create space to think. How, when and where do you do it? I’ve been asking my clients a version of that question for years—where or when do you get your best ideas? The number one answer is in the shower. The next two are exercising and driving to work. Those are fine but the problem with all of them is it’s kind of hard to write anything down while you’re doing them. The other problem is that none of them really last that long. What if what you’re trying to do requires more think time than a shower or your commute? How do you create the space to think in a way that allows you to capture and build on your ideas?

I’ve just had a very solid week of creating space to think about something I really want to do. For a couple of years now (yes, I know that’s a sad length of time), I’ve wanted to start a podcast. I’ve made a lot of declarations to myself and others about that but, until this past week, had not created space in my life to really think through how I want it to be and what I need to do to get it up and running. The press of everyday business and life kept crowding it out. I changed that last week.

I’m pretty convinced that the five things I did to create space to think about my podcast will also help you to create space to think. Here’s what I did:

Commit to a topic. There are way too many things you could think about in any given moment, hour or day. Pick an important topic and commit to thinking about it. For me, this past week the topic was starting a podcast.

Block some time. Set aside an hour or two to think about it. (By the way, thinking can include reading about it if you need to do some research. That’s what I did.) My sense is that blocking out more than two hours of think time at any one sitting is probably a waste of time for most people. It’s hard to maintain your focus on any given topic for more than an hour or two. If you need more than two hours of think time on the topic, schedule more time on other days.

Go somewhere else. Getting out of your normal work space can help a lot in creating space to think. My experience is a new physical space creates more mental space because I don’t have the typical visual cues that can pull my attention in a thousand different directions. A new space can also spark new thoughts. For me this past week, it was a busy coffee shop that I hadn’t been to before.

Immerse yourself. I’ve always found professional conferences that go deep on a particular topic create a great space for me to think. It’s not that every session is a total winner, but usually I get enough useful nuggets that my thinking is still stimulated during the less useful sessions. I was lucky this past week that the sixth annual Los Angeles Podcast Festival was going on all weekend about 30 minutes from where I live. It was the full immersion podcast experience. I learned a lot and thought a lot about what I learned. You don’t always have to get in a car or board a plane to get to a conference. In 2017, there are a lot you can attend from your couch via the internet.

Take notes. You may ask what this one has to do with creating space to think. It’s simple. If you write down the thoughts that come into your head, you don’t have to worry about remembering them later. That creates space for more thoughts. My favorite note taking vehicle is Evernote. It’s extremely searchable and my notes are available on my phone, my tablet and my Mac. It’s a highly convenient way to document additional thoughts when they pop into my head, like right after a shower or a yoga class.

Those are some real-life tested ideas on how to create space to think. (For a few more, check out this post from 2014.) And, if you’re interested in a podcast on how to lead and live at your best, stay tuned to this blog. More info is coming. If you have ideas about people I should interview or tips and topics you’d like to hear about, let me know.