Most people arrive at their desks and the only thing scheduled in their calendars are meetings; that is, places to put their bodies. If you are slightly more evolved in the management of your time and productivity, then along with meetings, you also have scheduled actions like writing, going places, research and making phone calls. But what most of us never schedule is time to think, create, ponder, imagine or dream. Of course, you do think, ponder and dream. But instead of designating specific times in which to do it, you fit it in around the edges, or you do it as part of another task like writing a report, researching an article or presentation or while doing something non-intellectual like going for a run or a hike.
According to Noreena Hertz, author of Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World, the most successful people (many of whom she interviewed for her book) set aside time specifically to think. Thinking, rather than researching, reading, scanning the Internet or writing is when your brain is allowed to roam free. The difference between that and simply thinking about what to write for the next slide in your presentation is that your brain may want to wander away from the presentation, and when you are at work on something, your job is to contain the wandering brain and refocus on the task at hand. That’s a great practice to accomplish an imminent task or goal, but not to foster new thoughts or ideas.
But when the task at hand is to think, you give your brain free rein to roam. Ideally your time to think should be in a relaxed state. If you are a runner or swimmer you may have found, as I have, that your best ideas happen while on a run or swim. For others it happens in the shower or while lying in bed to sleep or before rising in the morning. When your dopamine centers within the brain are in a state of contentment, your creativity flows. For most of us, creativity is what we most need. New ideas. Better ideas. Novel thoughts. Those ideas fuel our success and innovation, they provide the fodder for our friendships or our product or service development, and make the strategic difference in how we face challenges we have or those we expect to have.
So how can you use this information in your own life or business? Well, start by scheduling 30 minutes a day to think. Put it in your calendar. Try an experiment to find what relaxing activity will make your brain secrete dopamine and relax you. You may take the time to go for a walk or lie on the floor and stretch or just recline in your chair, close your eyes and let your mind wander. Don’t judge where it goes, just surrender. One important caveat is that this is not the time to surf the web, hang out of Facebook or otherwise distract yourself. Give your brain a chance to invent and grow its own material, without the stimulus of other peoples’ thoughts or content. Given how flooded we are with stimulus, it may take a few minutes or a few attempts before you learn how to do this without the aid of a shower or a jog to give your brain a kick-start. But soon, you will start to be able to switch off your normal, all-day racing to the next task, and switch on the free flow of ideation your brain was made to do. Let me know how it goes.