“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost everyday, to just sit and think.” Warren Buffet
There is something that we all need - think time. It’s not easy to find it or do it. Many of us have back-to-back meetings and activities - even our kids and grandkids. We hear about how important it is to plan, be productive, and maximize the time we have. As a result, when we have a free moment, we have this sense that we should do something. Our devices often call out to us to check our email or texts or social media. But our brains need something else. We need a certain amount of time to wander - to think. Our brains need time away from focusing on tasks and details. “They need the space to dream, create visions, and be inspired. When our minds wander, we create the space to accept the ideas we think about.”* writes leadership coach, Kathy Lockwood.
Einstein is famous for his thought experiments. His thinking led to innovations that we are still living into today. I suspect that his thinking was a dedicated time to ask and consider what if, why not, or what next. It takes time to think.
Think time is different than being distracted, fantasizing or replaying events or conversations in your mind. It’s not simply daydreaming although it may include that. It’s not searching the internet or scrolling social media. It’s not just thinking random thoughts. Think time is an intentional time set aside to focus on thinking.
Most people need to train themselves to be thinkers. A study done by Microsoft concluded that the average adult picks up their phone 1500 times a week and only has an attention span of 8.25 seconds to focus on a single task.** That’s a pretty short think time. However, it’s also a good place to start.
One way that teachers encourage their student to become thinkers is a technique called “wait time”. ** It is also something any good speaker, counselor, parent, or friend uses. You may have noticed you are less likely to say something you later wish would have remained unsaid by simply waiting a few seconds to gather your thoughts before responding.
The concept of wait time was first introduced by Mary Rowe in the 1980s. Rowe discovered that waiting 3 seconds after asking a question (longer for older students) made all the difference. Without the wait time, certain students never even bothered to consider the question - someone else would answer it. Increasing the wait time after asking a question, gave everyone time to think, conveyed that everyone’s thoughts were important, and encouraged more thoughtful answers. It also helped students become more confident thinkers.
We can all benefit from wait time and thinking time. Throughout the course of our day we have opportunities to read, learn, and acquire information but it is when we take the time to consider it and reflect on it that things come together and begin to make sense. It is through focused thinking time that we begin to make connections, process information, gain new understanding, and create ideas.
Your best thinking is a mix of focused thinking and mind wandering. This helps you both consider and reflect. It leads to problem solving as well as creative innovation but it all takes time. Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown, encourages us to let our thinking go into “deep waters”. He says this is the state of distraction free concentration when your brain is functioning at its best.
Here are some ways you can go deeper and build think time into your day:
1. Schedule thinking. Put it on your calendar. Make thinking time part of your day.
2. Practice thinking by letting your mind wander. Some thinkers, have noticed that many great innovators spent a lot of time looking out the window. Studies have found that 72% of us get creative ideas in the shower. Frederick Neitzche observed, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Find a place and a time that helps you think.
3. Use a timer. Set a timer for 20-25 minutes and focus your thinking on one thing for the designated period of time. Some like to set aside an hour or two for focused think time. Find what works for you. It can help to do this repeatedly. Try doing it in the same place and in the same way. Think with the same notepad, water bottle or coffee cup next to you. Little things can help establish a habit and cue your brain that it is time to practice thinking.
4. Engage with someone about your thinking. A good teacher not only uses “wait time” but “turn and tell” time where students are asked to share their thinking with someone else. Share your thinking with a trusted colleague or friend. This can help confirm, enhance, or challenge your thinking.
5. Establish a thinking practice of reflection. (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly…whatever is helpful to you) Ponder your purpose, your daily practices, your goals, your progress. Reflect on how things are going. Reflect on ideas or challenges. Consider what if, why not, or what next.
Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is.”
When are you thinking?
* Kathy Lockwood, “Thinking Time Is Critical — It’s Not Slacking Off” forbes.com
** “The Human Attention Span [Infographic]”, wyzowl.com
*** To learn more about Mary Rowe and wait time: https://www.thoughtco.com/importance-of-wait-time-8405