How to Do Your Best Thinking
In a typical workday, it’s difficult to do any thinking. Oh, you can think about your next line of code or what you want for dinner. But deep or long-ranging thinking? Forget it. Even if you have the time, how can you do any sustained thinking amid nonstop interruptions and meetings? Not surprisingly, only 10 percent of people in one survey said they do their best thinking at work.
If the workplace isn’t the most inspiring, then where is? Some people report doing their best thinking when writing, listening to music, taking a walk, or falling asleep. Some do their best thinking while jogging or taking a shower. Some do it while traveling. I can relate to the latter. When I’m on a plane, away from all the usual distractions, I get some of my best ideas.
Even ditching your keyboard and writing by hand can get your brain pumping and stimulate your creative juices. It seems the hand has a unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Images of the brain show that sequential finger movements activate regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.
And get this: There’s some research that suggests that what you wear while thinking can influence the quality of that thinking. Research participants who wore a lab coat while performing a cognitive test made many fewer errors than others who either saw the lab coat on a desk or wore the same kind of coat but were told it belonged to a painter. This effect, called “enclothed cognition,” is fairly new to research, but results thus far suggest wearing something that’s symbolically significant to you can boost your thinking power.
For doing some deep thinking while you’re at work, a Harvard Business School study recommends that you allocate at least four consecutive, uninterrupted hours a day to your top three priorities. Four hours together without interruption? Good luck! Still, because the idea is to have a continuous flow of solid concentration, it may be that three hours will help. Or one hour. Or even twenty minutes. Maybe your team could schedule a no-interruption period in which everyone has the chance to focus on nothing but the work in progress. It’s worth a shot.
You also might consider a more extreme measure: Take a thinking day. This is an interruption-free day that you schedule in advance to get away from the daily demands and focus on the issues that are most important. Time away from people, digital distractions, and everyday craziness for the specific purpose of thinking is an opportunity to refresh and refocus.