If you’re a leader, you set the direction and vision for your organization or department, but there’s still a lot that’s not completely under your control: the behavior of other people, the state of the economy, the unfolding of world events, the overall pace of change. Sure, you can anticipate and react to these things, but you can’t totally control them.
What’s surprising, though, is how few leaders take the time to notice the one thing they can always control, even when the world is out of control: their thinking.
You may not be able to control the latest news cycle, but you can control:
That’s a lot. In fact, it’s enough to make a huge difference in your leadership effectiveness, your creative problem-solving abilities, and how productively you manage yourself and your thought processes, especially in the midst of the daily whirlwind that is work.
But to do this, you may have to change your perspective on what it means to take time out for deep thinking. Thinking time is not a luxury. It’s not wasted time. You’re not “doing nothing” when you’re deep in thought. You’re actually doing good, hard work. And you’re learning. As philosopher and teacher John Dewey wrote, “We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.”
To understand how important deep thinking is, consider what happens when you don’t make time for thinking. Besides a lack of learning, the costs can include:
Uninterrupted thinking takes effort. But it also allows our most creative ideas and useful plans to emerge. Making regular time to reflect on events rather than merely reacting to them is one of the hallmarks of an agile thinker and an effective leader.
Another perception you may need to adjust is the belief that you simply don’t have the time to think. After all, your schedule probably feels like yet one more thing you can’t control. But making time for thinking doesn’t mean going off somewhere for hours on end to wrestle with big philosophical questions. It doesn’t necessarily even mean carving hours out of a busy day.
Try some of these techniques and see what works for you:
Most leaders have to deal with constant stimulus and interruptions when they’re at work. These make up the “noise” in your day. While you can’t always silence the noise, you can learn to find the productive rhythms within it. It starts with having regular thinking time.
If you’re feeling stressed or barrelling through the day without taking that moment to think, it’s a reaction to what’s happening in the world outside your head. In any given moment, those events can seem so personal, so compelling, so urgent, so final. But look at it another way and you’ll find that it’s all input. It’s the beginning of a new chain of events that you can set in motion. The output—your response—is up to you.