Everything is rushed. We’re spinning, buzzing and frantically checking phone notifications. There’s no space to think. When contemplation equals lazy, where do we find the time? And how does this impact inspiration? We can't stop working, waiting for some damn muse to strike.
In a recent Sunday Dispatches, “You Can’t Eat Excuses”, Paul Jarvis wrote about waiting for inspiration. Short answer? Don’t. Finding time to think comes down to schedules, routines and habits. Countless productivity posts beg us to schedule time for ourselves, which is fine advice for the planners out there. The rest of us will argue that creative minds rebel. But who are we kidding? What does that say about discipline? If projects (even personal ones) are going to see the light of day, there has to be structure. Can we schedule an hour for thinking or will it become a daily nap or even worse, a meeting?
In today’s workplace, where everyone needs to be hyper flexible and supernaturally fast, it’s not clear to us that schedules are encouraged. Thinking time was sacrificed long ago on the twin altars of efficiency and productivity. Analysis, planning and attention to detail show up in every job description, but day to day? Seriously. Undervalued. Most of us work reactively; whatever’s in front of us gets done. But if we want the right work done, we’ve got to start prioritizing both thinking and “incubation” time.
Many famous scientists, Darwin included, worked just a few hours. Their achievements resulted from an ability to focus on what they considered most important, not from their butts being in a chair for 12 hours. Research shows we only have 4-5 hours a day when we’re truly productive; the rest of the time, we’re fooling ourselves. 8 hour work days were designed to enable factories—not people—to run efficiently, 24/7. In a creative economy, the number of hours worked has little to do with output. Can we be more productive while working less? The answer seems to be yes.
As a strategy, establish periods of work, with set breaks. The Pomodoro method, whether you’re trying to code, design or clean your apartment, can be brilliant: short 25 minute sessions with a timer, ruthlessly protected from external distractions. (No phone notifications or email.) Productivity experts believe we can only focus for about 90-120 minutes without needing a break. That translates to four or five 90 minute sessions a day, with 20 minute breaks in between—for thinking, naps, meditation or exercise. YMMV, so find a period of time for work and breaks that allows you to get shit done and makes you happier too.
We can whirl away the day and night, zipping along with those around us. Or we can choose a different path. While having the discipline for finding time to think and getting the right job done may seem strict, there’s something to be said for a schedule.