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11 Tips to Carve Out More Time to Think

11 Tips to Carve Out More Time to Think
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    “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.

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    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:

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    1. Directed. Thinking used under the broad topic of “everything” won’t accomplish much.
    2. Recorded. Unless it’s on paper or in bytes, you might as well forget it. (And you probably will forget it)
    3. Solitary. Conversations can be useful for throwing around ideas, but your thoughts easily get drowned out by the crowd.
    4. 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?

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    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.

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    How to Set Up a Thinking Hour

    Here are a few ways you can go about setting up your thinking hour:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.

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    20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

    If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

    1. Create a daily plan

    Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

    2. Peg a time limit to each task

    Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

    3. Use a calendar

    Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

    Google Calendar is great – I use it. It’s even better if you can sync it to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are.

    Here’s more tips about how to use calendar for better time management: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    4. Use an organizer

    An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

    Check out these Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools and pick the ones that fit your needs.

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    5. Know your deadlines

    When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

    But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

    6. Learn to say “No”

    Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

    Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

    7. Target to be early

    When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

    For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

    Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

    8. Time box your activities

    This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

    You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: #5 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity.

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    9. Have a clock visibly placed before you

    Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

    10. Set reminders 15 minutes before

    Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

    Find out more here about how reminders help you remember everything.

    11. Focus

    Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

    Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

    Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    12. Block out distractions

    What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

    I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

    When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

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    Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

    13. Track your time spent

    Egg Timer is a simple online countdown timer. You key in the amount of time you want it to track (example: “30 minutes”, “1 hour”) and it’ll count down in the background. When the time is up,the timer will beep. Great way to be aware of your time spent.

    But besides Egg Timer, you can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that fits yourself the best.

    14. Don’t fuss about unimportant details

    You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

    Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

    15. Prioritize

    Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

    Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    16. Delegate

    If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

    When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

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    17. Batch similar tasks together

    For related work, batch them together.

    For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

    1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
    2. coaching
    3. workshop development
    4. business development
    5. administrative

    I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

    18. Eliminate your time wasters

    What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

    One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

    While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

    19. Cut off when you need to

    The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

    Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

    20. Leave buffer time in-between

    Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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