Thinking time

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Management

I looked at the hour blocked on my calendar with relief. “Thinking time,” the calendar event said.

I left my phone and laptop in my office, and headed across Pioneer Square to my favorite coffee shop for a quiet, uninterrupted hour of, well, time to think.

“When do you take the time to slow down and just think?” I asked an executive coaching client. She’s brilliant, scattered, running a million miles an hour.

She looked at me like I was nuts, like I was teasing her. “I don’t know how I can possibly do that,” she told me. “I’m already working 60-hour weeks.”

“All the more reason to block an inviolate hour every week to step back and think about the bigger picture,” I told her.

“This is probably the most important thing you can do for your company, and your career,” I said. “Use all of that experience and talent of yours to just sit down and think every once in a while.”

Here are the steps we took to block time in her blocked calendar.

When are you smartest? Some people are on fire first thing in the morning; others are just getting revved up by late evening. You want to harness the time when you are most productive for the big-picture, strategic, hard thinking.

What day works in your schedule? You could choose to start the week with thinking time, early on a Monday morning before the action starts. Or you could wrap up the week with it, blocking an hour late on Friday afternoon. Or you could take a time out in the middle, pulling out of the weeds late on a quiet Wednesday evening.

Block your calendar with a recurring event. What do you need to do to protect your time? My client said that colleagues will book events on her calendar willy-nilly (a different coaching topic). Set a recurring event — and respect it like you would respect a meeting with your CEO or your child’s doctor’s appointment.

Lock in accountability. Thinking time can be easy to blow off when things are blowing up. Set up an agreement with a peer or friend (or your coach) to check in about how you are prioritizing this over time.

“What should I think about during thinking time?” my client asked. “I take my notebook and just sit there?”

“Our brains are incredible,” I reassured her. “Your brain will come up with the most interesting connections and ideas if you give it a little space. Turn off the distractions, turn off email and texts and the crazy national news for an hour, and open a clean, blank page in your notebook.

“See what happens,” I told her.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.