Time to think: 8 strategies to give yourself an edge

Talented women often tell me they don’t have time to think. They are too busy responding to the needs of people around them–at home, at work, and in their communities.

I get it.

In the past couple of years, trying to keep up with everything that was happening was more than what we could handle.

But, being in constant reactive mode is tiring. Chronic exhaustion leads to more mistakes. And, this can leave you feeling unnecessarily defeated.

Moreover, when you don’t manage your time energy, you relinquish that control to others around you.

Thankfully, you don’t need to make up for lost time. Each day, we’re given 24 hours to work with. Every day is a new chance to start.

Moreover, you don’t need a ton of time to think. You just need to make a few easy tweaks.

How to use bits of time to think (2 strategies)

Having worked with my coaching clients, I never recommend overhauls–mainly because they rarely work. What is far more effective is small baby steps. So, here are some baby steps on how to spend any thinking time you can spare efficiently: quarterly, weekly, and daily:


Once every three months, take some time to reflect on four areas of your life:

  • Pursuits: Your career, volunteer work, professional or creative projects
  • People: Family, friends, and people that matter to you
  • Personal: Your health and well-being
  • Posessions: Your home, stuff, including things in your digital cloud.

(If these seem familiar, you might have read the article I wrote for WIRED. I find these categories nicely describe non-overlapping areas of most people’s lives.)

For each, consider what are your priorities? What would you like to move forward? What truly needs your attention? Don’t spend too much time on this, just consider what is most salient or important to you.

Then, think about 1-3 priorities to focus on in the near term. You can change your mind about what they are, but it’s good to select just a few.

For example, right now, my three main priorities are 1) writing more (Pursuit), 2) developing some upcoming workshops (also a Pursuit), and 3) taking care of my mother long-distance (People). This doesn’t mean I’m neglecting my health or my home. I have my annual mammogram and doctor’s visit this month (Personal) and will have to figure out my taxes (Possessions). But, the three I selected are my main priorities.

Weekly and Daily

Now that you have your priorities, you can then figure out how to focus on turning them into action. Take a little time each week to figure out what tasks you might want to tackle. Then each day, spend a moment to figure out when and how to fit them in.

It’s important here to remember that tasks are singular action items. For example, when I consider my priority to write more, “pitch article to X magazine” is a project or collection of smaller to-dos. If I tried to put that into action, it is likely I won’t get to it no matter how many times I write it down.

In contrast, a more effective “next action step” (as David Allen would recommend) would be “draft a paragraph describing your idea” or “figure out who the right editor is at X magazine.”

How be more effective with your time to think (6 tips)

Here are some additional tips to make sure your thinking tine is maximized:

  • Don’t assume you need a lot of time. Assuming that you need a lot of time to think will become a stumbling block, especially when you’re tired or feeling busy. Instead, try to do this in smaller chunks. For example, give yourself 10 minutes, set a time, and think about what your priorities are under just one category, like “Personal.” Next time you have 10 minutes, try to think about what your priorities are under another cateogry, say “People.”
  • When you think and plan, consider using pen and paper at least some of the time. Even my most tech-savvy clients find that incorporating the kinesthetic action of writing into their planning helps them to be more creative and clears their minds more effectively. But, if using your phone is more convenient, don’t worry about using pen and paper. What’s more important is to…
  • Be consistent. There is no right way to do this. So, rather than try to figure out what is optimal do what works for you. What helps, however, is to make sure you know where you are keeping those notations or thoughts. It matters more that you know where to go to retrieve the information you’ve recorded. It also helpls to tie actions to places or times more consistently. For example, if you always find yourself waiting in the car before pick up at. your child’s school, make it a point to do your thinking time there. Or, when you brus your teeth at night, you can have a short thinking session then.
  • Remember “Less but better,” the slogan Greg McKeown uses in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Since you know what your priorities are, try to remove things from your life that are not priorities–or postpone them. As often as you can, take things off of your to-do list, decline events that are unimportant to you, and find ways to say no. Or, if you need help postponing, try someday-maybe-later lists–a “parking lot” for tasks and projects that you don’t feel you can do now but may attempt later. Doing so can bring you calm as getting these out of your head and down on paper or electronically means your brain won’t need to keep reminding you of them.
  • Create buffer zones. Greg McKeown mentions in his book, how people often underestimate how long it takes to accomplish specific tasks. Therefore, making sure you overestimate how long things take you by padding your schedule helps reduce stress from feeling rushed or squeezed. For example, new parents learn that when they add children to the mix, even the simplest tasks can take longer. Likewise, during the early part of the school year, it’s best to overestimate how long the transition to a new grade and classroom will last for your child and how much emotional energy it will require.
  • Recognize the things you accomplish. Alongsie your to-do list, create a got-done list. Our brains naturally gravitate to the negative and what is missing in a given situation. We’re naturally wired to feel worried, stressed, and overwhelmed. To counteract this tendency and achieve a sense of calm, we must retrain our brains to notice the positive and what is there—the stuff we take for granted. Moreover, research has shown that when you celebrate even small wins, it reminds you that you are someone who can get things done. That’s motivating than constantly thinking that you’re never making a dent in all that you have to do.

Your turn

How will you create time to think? What might you try to make it more effective?

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