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Creating Thinking Time

During a recent visit, Barak Obama and David Cameron—Leader of England’s Conservative Party—discussed the importance of not getting bogged down in details. “The most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking,” said Obama.

After all, we all need planning time, time for reflection, decision-making time, problem-solving time, and time for “simply being.”

The big question is: “How can we begin creating thinking time?” Many of us find ourselves caught up in work, deadlines, crises, and the needs or demands of others. “Me time” can be hard to find or create.

For many of us, thinking time means writing time. Writing and journaling clarify our thinking, reveal hidden patterns and messages, and often bring the vague unknowns into conscious thought. As British novelist E. M. Forster asked, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

Whether it’s a legal pad, a journal, sketch book, lab book, or log, the writing process is one of the best ways to promote clear thinking and decision making.

So how do we go about creating thinking time? The answers are as diverse as our personalities, proclivities, and environments.

A simple change of view can do wonders, whether it involves a walk during a break, lunch alfresco instead of “aldesko” at work, or pulling out a journal for a short writing break. Better yet is a longer period of time to let our ideas, needs, wants, plans, and hearts’ desires pour out at their leisure. A long walk or drive can let our minds unhook to be come relaxed and receptive.

Haven’t we all noticed that some of our best ideas or insights occur after exercise, using our hands in our favorite craft, gardening, or even while we’re not even aware of thinking. Long commutes, favorite music, and being in nature can stimulate some of our best thinking.

Creating thinking time is so important that we nearly always need to plan for it. This might mean making “artist’s dates” with yourself, scheduling “down time” and recreation, and making time for meditation. Simply setting aside a place and time for quiet and reflection can make all the difference. Some of us might want to take a break from the constant demands of our cell phones.

The most productive creators and inventors have taken frequent breaks and naps. The brain can only work efficiently for a certain period (around 40 minutes) before it needs a rest or change of pace.

Many of us like to sort things out by writing, by jotting notes, doodling, or pouring out our thoughts and feelings onto paper. Writing things down empowers us and makes the vague immensities more doable and less threatening. If you keep a journal or notebook, you can look back and see what progress you’ve made and learn from your own growth that may not be obvious to you at the time.

Creating thinking time and writing time and time for being are some of the most important things we as humans can do.

So how about you? How do you solve this near-universal dilemma of balancing work and creating thinking time and writing time? I’d love to hear your comments, your solutions, and creative ideas.


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