It is very easy these days to find ourselves overcommitted and overwhelmed as we try to “fit it all in.” There are many demands for our time and attention, pulling us in a thousand different directions, and countless distractions to derail us from what really matters.
It is all too common to find ourselves busy nonstop throughout the day without any space for real thinking. After all, when our lives are so hectic, isn’t it an unrealistic luxury to set dedicated time aside for thinking and reflecting?
That is the default mindset for many, but author Greg McKeown provides an alternative viewpoint in his New York Times best-selling book, Essentialism (a fantastic book about doing less, but better, in all areas of our lives). He says,“The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.”
McKeown cites Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, who schedules up to two hours of uninterrupted time on his calendar every day. Weiner started this practice when back-to-back meetings began consuming his schedule. Initially, blocking out blank space felt like an indulgence, but now he credits it with being his single-most important productivity tool.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos follows a similar model. He has been known to keep two days per week unstructured in order to think, generate new ideas, and take a long-term perspective instead of getting buried in the day-to-day.
Another example is Bill Gates who has habitually taken a week off (twice a year) simply to read and to think. Just in case this only seems possible for Gates at this stage in his career, it turns out that his “Think Week” ritual dates back to the early 1980s and has been maintained during even the most stressful business times at Microsoft and his foundation.
As McKeown says, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can carve time and space to think out of your workday.” Maybe it could be first thing in the morning instead of checking email, or in the afternoon as an alternative to social media.
Whether it is two hours per day, two days per week, or two weeks per year, we need to make it a point to block out time specifically to think.
This space is vital in order to prioritize our life and work, and to focus our energy in the most meaningful areas.
But it will only happen if we deliberately design it into our calendar.