How do you find the space to think in a noisy world?
We are bombarded all day long by messages telling us what to do, and what to think. Someone else is always trying to put their thoughts into our heads.
Whether it’s friends, family, media, or the boss, all of them want our eyes, our time, and our compliance. In such a noisy world it’s hard to find the space we need to think for ourselves.
But if we don’t, then we’re just going along for the ride. And when the ride finally stops, we are sure to be in for disappointment.
Where did the time go? How did I get here? Was it worth it?
To be successful (however we choose to define that term) we have to think for ourselves, generate thoughts of our own, and decide the direction that’s best for us. Doing that requires finding some space to think. Here are eight ways to make that happen.
A Substitute for Thinking
Part of the problem we face is that we are complicit in the scheme to populate our minds with someone else’s thoughts.
Often, this happens simply because it is easier. It’s been a long day, and thinking is hard. So we turn on the TV or radio, gossip at the water cooler, or check social media to see what others are saying.
That guy on Facebook seems to know what he’s talking about. The news anchor appeared serious. Everyone else is doing it this way. And maybe I don’t actually measure up because of the car I drive, the clothes I wear, or the places I shop.
It’s easy to just accept the thoughts directed at us. But there’s danger there. If we’re not careful, we can end up floating aimlessly like a cork, bobbing without purpose on the waters of someone else’s whim.
Or worse, we could find ourselves marching determindly along, certain of our direction simply because it’s the way everyone else is heading. It’s like that ant highway that circles back onto itself. The ants marched with admirable discipline, circling for days until they expired, having achieved nothing.
It might be good to march with the other ants for a little while, but if we’re not thinking, if we always let other people’s thoughts crowd out our own, we might miss the exit ramp.
To make room for our own thoughts, it helps to evict everyone else who is trying to rent space in our heads once in a while. Whether you are trying to solve world hunger, resolve an issue at the office, or setting goals for the next 90 days, here are some ideas to help you make space to think.
Carving Out Some Space
1. Block it out. If something is important, then a key to making it happen is to dedicate a specific block of time to do it. As Gary Keller suggests in “The One Thing,” plan blocks of time on the calendar for the priority things. Protect them. Then, like an interview or appointment, make sure you show up!
2. Turn off the radio. Other people talking or singing in your ears means you may not be able to hear your own voice. Instrumental music may help you focus, or drown out distractions, but lyrics and talk can interrupt the thoughts you are trying to germinate.
3. Put the phone down…in another room. And turn off anything that might call out to you. If you’re like me, the phone is rarely out of arm’s reach, yet its mere presence begs me to grab it to check for social media engagement, blog post comments, or news updates. Eliminate the temptation and give your phone a time-out for a little while.
4. Turn off the monitors. The hardest place to do independent thinking may actually be your own desk. With information coming in on one or more computer screens, it’s hard to stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time. Use the computer if it helps you, but turn off, minimize and mute everything you possibly can so you can concentrate.
5. Delegate. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that as leaders, part of our job is to think, anticipate, and strategize. That takes time, energy, and focus. If we allow ourselves to get sucked into busy-ness, we end up falling down on a critical part of our job. Delegate as much as you can as soon as you can so that people develop, more work gets done, and you can free up time to put your brain to work.
6. Go for a walk. Or a run. Get outside – a fresh hit of oxygen can reinvigorate your mind, the sun can refresh you, and it’s harder for others to interrupt you (especially if you are fast!). As a bonus, the act of going somewhere different can spur new thoughts and ideas. I run almost daily, and it’s rare that I don’t come back with a few new ideas racing through my head.
7. Make yourself scarce. Maybe you just need to disappear once in a while, go where it’s harder for people to find you to interrupt your thought train. A vacant conference room, empty class room, a quiet café, or even the local library can become a temporary mental retreat where you can find the space to get your thoughts organized.
8. Leverage time. If your schedule is already impossibly full, look for creative ways to use the time you do have. Use the morning commute to organize for the coming day, or the evening drive to line up priorities for tomorrow. Linger longer in the shower, talk things through with your dog while out walking, or brainstorm ideas while waiting for your flight.
Space to Think – The Takeaway
Everything out there is vying for our attention. Everyone is more than willing to invite themselves into our heads and tell us what to do. Some of it may be good advice worth following; some of it may not.
To tell the difference between the two, we have to think for ourselves, and to do that that we need to make space to allow it to happen.
It may help to remember that we are the landlords of our own minds. We shouldn’t be afraid to take charge of what’s going on up there from time to time, change the locks, set curfews, or call the exterminator.
Own the real estate in your head.
Once you have carved out some space to think, use these 25 Ways to Sharpen Your Thinking Skills.
You might be pleasantly surprised at what you come up with.