“The person who reads to much and uses his brain too little will fall into lazy habits of thinking” - Albert Einstein
How much time do you get a week to just think? Not while listening to music, driving your car or during group brainstorms. Not while playing video games, doing chores or taking a shower. Just you and your brain.
I’d wager that few people ever average more than twenty unbroken minutes of thinking each week. Thinking without simultaneously multi-tasking between seven different things might as well be the eighth deadly sin for most people. It’s important to do things but it’s better to do something important.
Thinking Versus Daydreaming: What’s the Difference?
When you look at most people who spend all their day “thinking”, it’s easy to wonder how they get anything done. Useful thinking isn’t the same as wandering around, playing a personal movie inside your head. Constructive thinking is more difficult than daydreaming, which is probably why so few people bother to do it.
In order to be useful, thinking needs to be:
- Directed. Thinking used under the broad topic of “everything” won’t accomplish much.
- Recorded. Unless it’s on paper or in bytes, you might as well forget it. (And you probably will forget it)
- Solitary. Conversations can be useful for throwing around ideas, but your thoughts easily get drowned out by the crowd.
- Isolated. You can’t multi-task your thoughts.
Creating a Thinking Hour
One hour, once per week is all I suggest. The only conditions are that you can’t have any noise or other distractions, you need to record any ideas and you stay with it for an hour straight. Fifteen minute chunks with the television blaring and no recording device aren’t worth it.
Why create a thinking hour?
Everything from quality of life to work, relationships to health are all based on the quality of the ideas you have. Before you can take any action, you first need to think that action. Until you think it, that action doesn’t exist. It only makes sense that the results you experience eventually boil down to the thoughts you have.
Creating a thinking hour gives you the ability to get outside the trees and see the entire forest. As the old saying goes, “when you’ve got a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Similarly, when you’re spending all week hammering away, you might not even think to pick up a screwdriver.
I’ve used regular thinking hours for a few years and it can be amazing how easy problems can be solved if you just spend the time to look at them. Better yet, you can solve problems that haven’t yet become problems; scratch before you feel the itch.
How to Set Up a Thinking Hour
Here are a few ways you can go about setting up your thinking hour:
- Write. Get a pad of paper and a pencil and just write out your thoughts. Writing helps both with directing your thoughts and recording them on paper. Sometimes the simplest solution works the best.
- Type. If you can type faster than you can write, typing out your thoughts in a word processor might work better. This gives you an added speed factor without wasting any trees.
- Talk. Turn on the recording device for your computer and just start talking. Talking to yourself turns up the volume on your thoughts and helps you stay focused on one direction of thought.
- Objectives. Before you start a thinking session, mark out what you want to think about. By setting objectives and goals for your thinking hour, you avoid the otherwise unavoidable boredom and confusion by trying to think about everything.
- Walk. Navigating a busy street might not be the best time to get stuck inside your head. But if you can find an isolated path, a walk can give you a mix of scenery. Just remember to bring a pad of paper and pencil to write down any ideas that strike you along the way.
- Mindstorm. Write down the numbers 1 to 20 on a piece of paper and don’t stop until you’ve filled the entire list with ideas. You can use this along with other methods during your thought hour.
- Meditate. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax. Meditation can also be a great way to spend your thought hour, although it suffers from being unable to bring in a recording device.
- Explore the Problem. If you jump too quickly to a solution, you might get attached to it before realizing there are better alternatives. If your thinking session involves tackling a problem, explore it fully before deciding how to solve it.
- Park It. One suggestion offered by Brian Tracy for how you might incorporate a thinking hour is to park your vehicle somewhere quiet after work, turn off the lights and think. This can be a better solution if you have a noisy home or office.
- If I Did Know… “I don’t know” can be a roadblock. You can get past it by writing down what you would do if you did know. A poor idea can keep the thoughts moving forward until a better one is found.
- Be Practical. Your thinking hour can be wasted if you create ideas you never use. A big part of thinking ideas is breaking them into easy steps. If you don’t instantly know what’s next, you aren’t finished.