Thinking Time – Finding Space in a Busy World

Thinking time is a rare commodity in our hectic lives. If you reflect on your last week, how often could you step back and truly think about things? This was a key strategic issue raised at our recent Thinking Leadership course. Delegates recognised they are not making time to talk to staff and encourage their thinking. This meant there is little chance of significantly moving forward. After the course, one participant reported that he had started actively listening to one of his team, who he had previously felt was always negative and grumpy. By understanding the employee’s needs, the manager was able to resolve some of the issues. The employee felt valued and listened to and his attitude has since changed dramatically.

It is possible to achieve more than we think we are capable of. Nancy Kline, in her book Time to Think, highlights the importance of creating a thinking environment. One benefit is it can ignite the human mind to greater achievement. As a leader, do you create a thinking environment? Are you and your people given the space and time to think?

The possibilities of the brain are infinite and are truly the last frontier for man to discover. Tony Buzan at our 2012 Mind Your Head Conference explained how we begin life with high creativity. Research has shown that, on average, a toddler has 95% of its creative ability and this declines to 50% as teenagers and down to 10% by adulthood. What happens to that fantastic ability?  Is limited thinking time a factor?

Why Thinking Time is Important

Our thinking impacts on the quality of everything we do. We need the full potential of our team’s intelligence. This is influenced by the attention we give each other. Imagine what an improvement in memory, learning and creativity could do for your business. Imagine if your employees were able to have an insight once a day, instead of once a year. What would that do for the engagement, energy and competitiveness of the business?

thinking time
What slips by us?

We all have busy schedules, but we are missing so much with our noses pressed too close to the grindstone. Opportunities, relationships, creativity, wellbeing, growth, learning; and peace of mind can slip past us. We can end up dealing with the urgent rather than the important; fire-fighting rather than pro-actively preventing. As Stephen Covey talks about in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we need time to step back and sharpen the saw.

Our phenomenal brain is working 24 hours a day helping us to cope with life. It needs space to clear the pathways, make the necessary connections and be creative. It is very easy to take what the brain does for granted. You would not run a high performance car at full throttle for weeks at a time without any maintenance. Everyone has a natural skill to think, if we are given encouragement and the time to do so. W.Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis suggests the formula:

Performance = Potential – Interference. Is interference simply not giving someone the time to think?

How We Spend the Thinking Time We Have

If time is our most limited resource, the question is how to make the most effective use of it. We need to help our brain perform better in the time we have.  David Rock explains this in detail in his books Your Brain at Work and Quiet Leadership. Here are 10 ideas.

  1. Working with a brain that is fit and healthy. Too often it is tired, dehydrated, short of the right food, poorly oxygenated, stressed or untrained.
  2. Focusing your thinking at the right level. How often are you visionary, planning and pro-active problem solving; or are you dealing with emotionally charged drama?
  3. Looking for solutions rather than analysing to death the evidence that there is a problem.
  4. Being clear and succinct in defining what you want or need: rather than waffling around the issue. Are expectations and goals clearly understood by everyone?
  5. Thinking in a safe environment. The brain works better without any anxiety. If you want people to think big thoughts, they have to feel safe. Focusing on the negative aspects and creating a blame culture creates a threat. This reduces the brain’s thinking capacity.
  6. Supporting people to think calmly and effectively. Rushing people to come up with a solution creates stress and threat. Are people mocked for daydreaming or coming up with new ideas?
  7. Listening with real intent. Giving people your full attention and encouraging them to think for themselves are important components of a thinking environment.
  8. Removing limiting beliefs is like removing a log jam in a stream. Asking good incisive questions can release blocked thinking. From this, a flow of great ideas can occur.
  9. Asking not telling. By allowing someone to think it through to find their own answer respects their intelligence. To tell them, denies or negates that. We need people to be doing the thinking. An easy trap to fall into when we are under pressure is to solve people’s problems for them. We tell them the answer when they ask us a question. Even when we know they know the answer. Why wouldn’t we? It is so much quicker!!
  10. Working with an untrained mind. No Olympic athlete reaches their high standards without training and coaching. If you need gold medal quality thinking and decision-making, then people need to be in the right environment, mentally fit and trained to deliver that.

Finding that Thinking Time

Every business is different, so there is no one-fits-all solution. Here are some questions for you to consider. You will need thinking time to reflect and answer these. Trust that it is time well spent.

How are you holding back their thinking?
  • When could you create thinking time, if it was your number one priority?
  • What belief might be hindering you in finding the necessary time to think?
  • What barriers or time robbers take your time?
  • How much of your time is spent on crisis management?
  • How much of your time is present in the now (not regretting the past or worrying about the future)?
  • How much time/day is wasted being ‘busy’ rather than doing what is important?
  • How many minutes/day do you give yourself space to quieten your mind?
  • How well do you define the issue you need to think about?
  • How effectively are meetings run to maintain focus and encourage reflection?
  • What time is spent looking for other options rather than the first idea that pops up?
  • How well do you evaluate your creativity, judgement and decision-making, so you can improve on it next time?


If you wish to improve your mental wellbeing, please sign up to our newsletter and download our free mental health booklet.

Alternatively, if you need to increase your thinking time and capacity to make better decisions, then why not sign up for our next Thinking Leadership course or take the Judgement Index?

For further information about this article, please contact me.

Give yourself and your team thinking time and you will be amazed at what can transpire. The brain is a phenomenal tool if given the space to work to its full potential.

Also published on Medium.

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