Finding time to think

Richard Martin




As 2017 nears its close, the pace for many of us becomes increasingly frenetic. Finalising quarter or year-end business, representing the firm at Christmas events and making detailed plans for next year, as well as any preparations we may be making at home for the festive season, can all contribute to a period of intense pressure.

At times like these, I’m reminded of an old Zen saying which apparently suggests that “you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you're too busy, then you should sit for an hour”. Meditation may not be your thing, but what about thinking for twenty minutes? How much time have you found today for the real, deep thinking about the biggest challenges you face? Or, to put it another way, how much time have you wasted going round in circles because you weren’t able to think straight?

If you want the crazy Christmas carousel to feel a little calmer, it really is worth investing in twenty minutes’ – or even an hour – of proper thinking. Here are three things you could try:

  • Get off the tube or bus a stop or two early and walk to the office without looking at your phone. Instead, think through something that’s been bugging you: how to mend that client relationship? how to handle today’s tricky meeting? Coming up with a plan as you walk gives you specific action to take when you arrive, and stops the problem distracting your other work throughout the day.
  • Look at your diary – surely there’s one meeting you can cut? Or one you could attend just for your agenda item? If you absolutely had to be out the door half an hour earlier tonight, what would you skip? Is it something you could skip anyway and use the time to think instead?
  • If you’re at your desk, put on your headphones and turn off email and IM notifications to give yourself a short spell of undisturbed thinking time. You don’t even have to listen to anything – often headphones are sufficient signal to others not to interrupt – though music without lyrics can be a good way to find deeper focus. If you’re worried you’ll lose track of time, you could set an alarm on your phone.

When work’s piling up, stopping to think may very well feel like the last thing you should do. But in reality, it’s probably the best thing you could do. Those few minutes invested up front will almost certainly bring greater clarity and focus to the rest of your day, and may even mean you can finish a little earlier.

Once you’ve started to see the benefits of thinking time, you may like to think about how to find more of it in 2018. Katie Driver will be leading an event in the Spring, date to be confirmed, about how we can improve the quality of thinking in professional firms. She’ll be talking about strategies for carving out thinking time for ourselves, how we can think more clearly by avoiding common traps and biases, and how we can generate better thinking from our teams.

This blog was written by Katie Driver, a friend of byrne·dean, who inspires us and with whom we hope to work ever closer going forward.  More details of Katie and her work can be found here.  If you are interested in ways to promote better thinking in your organisations then let us know.