A manager who once told me that his goal for me was to find time for 20% open thinking time in my work day. At the time, I thought this was a silly concept considering I had so much to do and not enough time to do it. I was so busy with tasks that needed to get done. Coming from a strong work ethic background, it was actually hard for me to leave an open space in my schedule. I believed that being super busy was being the super employee. Clearly, this gift from my manager would take time and practice to understand and recognize the value.
A recent psychological study by UVA and Harvard found that people would rather be doing something – possibly even hurting themselves – than doing nothing or sitting alone with their thoughts. When faced with 6 to 15 minutes of time to think, many participants chose a mild electric shock rather than open time to think. “What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock…” – Wow! I guess this time to think is a common challenge!
Today’s technology devices allow us to fill every minute to be sure to get the most “productivity” out of our day. Instant, endless messages are sent at every moment of every day. The impact of this constant barrage of activity leaves us unable to quiet down often leading to exhaustion and insomnia. It becomes so uncomfortable to just be still.
I decided that taking time to think was a critical part of my wellness. I started with small steps. On the suggestion of a friend, I tried to pause to take a deep breath before opening the car door…easy right? Definitely No. I was miles down the road before I remembered my resolve… even after many attempts. Clearly this would be a long journey to change for me.
After much time and effort, I am pleased to say that I really enjoy open time to think. I had to try lots of different approaches to find a few that work for me…and I had to turn off the cell phone. Considering the research referenced, it’s no surprise that the focus on wellness continues to grow.
Personally, I am amazed at how the time to think can energize creativity. Creativity doesn’t just take the form of some amazing idea. For me, creativity fills the space with options to do things differently. Many creative ideas have been tossed aside but some have made a real difference in finding a better way to accomplish a task, partner with a co-worker, or solve a problem.
So what have I learned about the value of taking time to think? I’m happier and more creative. I have more patience for great conversations and future possibilities. I don’t really know when I lost my skills for enjoying thinking time, but I’m even more appreciative now that I have it back. My wish for you is some wonderful and enjoyable time to think…with no electric shocks.