There is a famous quote ascribed to Henry Ford.
"Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it."
I was curious so I went looking for the source. The quote is from an article Ford wrote for the April 1928 issue of The Forum. I would encourage you to read it. Apart from his thoughts on "thinking" it is worth the read to see how closely the issues and debates of his day match our own. You can view page images of the original periodical here. But back to the quote.
Thinking is indeed hard work. In the article Ford draws a distinction between thinking, wondering, just having ideas and intelligence.
Intelligence comprehends the outlines of a thing. Thinking breaks it into its elements, analyzes it, and puts it together again.
The problem, as in Ford's day, is that our overcommitted schedules and multitasking habits drive out any time to just think. Last week I was listening to an interview with Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. She lamented the loss of time to just think because one of her favorite places to be alone and think is in the car. But now her office is only 15 minutes from home. Single, childless adults cannot relate to this, but a kid free car is near and dear to every parent's heart. I can sympathize with Blakely's desire for a longer drive to work. She solved her problem with a fake commute. Every morning she drives around Atlanta for an hour on her way to work and another hour on her way home.
Blakely's story reminded me of my college years. I inherited my grandfather's Dodge Ram 50 pickup truck, and I would drive it from Central Florida to Chattanooga, Tennessee for school. It had an old AM radio that was virtually useless on the interstate. So for eight hour stretches of time I would sit behind the wheel and just think. I can remember getting ready for a trip and deciding what I would think about, what project I would work on, what problem I would try to solve for the next eight hours.
That was back in the early 90's. In that same scenario today, without a radio, I would just put on my headphones and start listening to whichever audiobook or podcast currently had my attention. I would literally consume information for eight hours straight with very little time spent digesting it or working out its application for my life.
I'm not saying that podcasts and audiobooks are bad. I listen to a lot of them, and I get great information. But I admit that my application of their ideas and concepts is pretty shallow. Without the time to seriously think, break apart the ideas and put them back together again my application is mostly just tips, tricks, and hacks that require a minimum amount of effort.
So I started to experiment. I decided to find as much thinking time as I could. I would stop consuming so much information and just try to process more. After about 10 days I calculated that I have at least 25 hours a week just to think. Here's how I did it.
Like Blakely, drive time is by far the biggest chunk of discretionary time I get during the week. On most days I am traveling to and from one or more clients for meetings. I average about 350 miles a week. At an average speed of 35 miles an hour that's about 10 hours of drive time. On some days it's more and on some days it's less but 10 hours is about right. My normal routine during drive time is to just listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Instead I can reclaim this time and get uninterrupted quiet time to just think.
The second biggest chunk comes when I'm just doing things around the house. Washing dishes, mopping floors, doing some kind of outside project on the weekends… It all adds up. Normally I'd have headphones in listening to another podcast. This accounts for about 7 hours every week.
Walking the Dog
I spend about 3 hours every week walking the dog. Instead of listening to podcasts or music that time has been converted to thinking time.
Shower and Shave
I spend about 3 hours a week showering and shaving. Again, my custom is to multitask by listening to podcasts during this time. Simply turning off the phone gives me 15 minutes every morning and 15 minutes every evening to just think.
Two or three times a week I eat lunch alone. Rather than listening to podcasts, watching videos, or reading a book that time can be converted to thinking time. That's another 2 hours I can spend just thinking.
There are plenty of other times I could squeeze, but I like my podcasts and audio books. They give me food for thought, and also help me unwind. Thinking is work, and I'm not always up for it. Incidentally, replacing TV time is not on the list. I just don't watch enough TV to find much more than an hour a week to reclaim.
Tip #1: Deconstruct a Problem
So you've found your own 25 hours. What do you do with them? As Henry Ford said, just letting your mind wander is not the same as thinking. It is best to have an object for your thought, something you can meditate on and roll around, deconstruct and put back together. For me problems work best. Here's a sample.
A client is struggling to make progress on a major project. How can we get them unstuck and get some momentum?
Our outreach to clients is lacking. How do we engage with them more often and provide things they can use?
I'm not keeping pace with my word per day count for my writing goal. What are some different ways I can approach this in my schedule or workflows?
A company I work with is struggling to hire good people. How can we assimilate all we've ever done on hiring so our clients can use it effectively?
We've pulled out the same report three times in a row with this client. How can we portray it in the dashboard so the people who need it don't have to ask for it anymore?
One of my kids struggles to remember school assignments and bits of minutia that have to be signed, turned in, etc. How do you develop a task management system for a 9, 10, 11, 12 year old that is fun to use and not too cumbersome?
If you want to get serious about upping your thinking game keep a list of problems you want to work on. Don't be a slave to the last problem that crossed your mind. Disciplining yourself to spend time thinking is a valuable skill. It's best applied to the problems that are most important to solve.
Tip #2: Meditate
Your thinking time doesn't have to be all problem solving. You can also gain valuable insights by taking a thought, a concept, a quote or a piece of scripture and just meditating on it. You don't have to sit cross legged and chant mantras to meditate. Meditation is first and foremost contemplation and reflection.
You may not be sitting on a pillow, listening to serene music and overlooking a sunset, BUT the act of discovering some truth or application simply by thinking is a very calming and relaxing experience. I can be backed up in traffic, but if I'm meditating on one of the Proverbs, digesting the pieces word by word...I don't care that we're crawling along at 5 MPH.
Keep a list of cards handy that have inspiring verses or quotes or deep thoughts on them. I keep mine in the car since that is where I have the most time. This practice has the ability to change the course of your day and put you in a frame of mind to accomplish much more than you would otherwise.
A huge part of our role in business is to THINK. But you have to make the time first. Take a look at your days and weeks and I'll bet you can find a few extra hours to up your thinking game.
Let me know how you plan to do it.