It’s no secret that the corporate world values productivity. How often have you received the message that your worth is measured by “what have you done for me lately?” In businesses that provide intangible services, this often translates to working more and more hours—as if more hours equals being more productive. The trap in this productivity mindset is that most executives are valued for their strategic, critical or creative thinking skills, and constant activity impedes those very processes.
To stay at the top of your game, build in some time to ruminate. But you might want to close the door when you do this because to others it may not look like you’re working! Thinking is often non-linear and organic. You need to process, absorb and ponder the information you’ve learned as well as the immediate and long-term implications of incorporating new ideas into existing work streams. Some executives build this time in at the beginning of a new workday—for others ending their day actively reviewing their thoughts works better.
This quiet time is necessary even for those people who process information externally. You know the type: they’re the people in meetings who take you step-by-step through their entire thought process. But that’s their learning style—not their actual thinking process.
When pushed to make a decision that you believe needs more consideration, stall for time. This isn’t procrastination, this is about giving due diligence to important issues facing your business or industry. Just because others want an immediate answer doesn’t mean it’s necessary to give them one. Use your judgment—that’s what you are being paid to do.
We’ve found that executives who schedule this breathing space in their daily routines are actually more productive. At first, they expected to have a lot of “a-ha moments” during this focused thinking time. Interestingly, what actually happened for the executives we tracked was that they had more frequent and more powerful thinking breakthroughs when they were doing a mindless task (working out, taking a shower, walking the dog, etc), within a few days of actively pondering an issue. They started to see a pattern/ratio of focused time processing a problem consciously and the resulting breakthrough that came from their subconscious mind.
Because everyone thinks and processes information in different ways, be aware of what you need personally to bring your best thinking to an issue. This knowledge will stand you in good stead as you polish your thinking skills.