You’re facing a blank page. You’re stuck debating a tough choice. You’re trying to navigate a never-ending to-do list. What now?
There are always going to be times when you’re feeling stuck. While it may seem counterintuitive, one of the most valuable things you can do to get moving again in these situations is to stop and think.
Understanding how you think is important, but just as important is taking time out of the daily whirlwind to really think. Uninterrupted thinking is the most essential ingredient for a more creative, productive and satisfying life. Sometimes that time is best spent daydreaming but other times you’ll want to plan for some active thinking.
There are a number of different questions you can ask yourself to prompt powerful thinking. The ones you choose will depend on what’s relevant, what you’re feeling stuck about and what works for you.
Here are a few “think abouts” to get you started on the right track.
1. Think about your “inputs.”
Many people go to work, take one look at their inbox, and immediately begin stressing.
That’s because our emails are often teeming with undefined “stuff” that’s much easier to avoid than to process. The result is usually dealing with only the most recent and most urgent items. This approach means your day is governed by reaction rather than choice, leaving you in a state of constant crisis.
Of course, email is only one source of “stuff.” You’ve also got voicemails, text messages, chat alerts, people dropping in, and all the other interruptions and distractions of daily life. These are all “inputs” that are shouting out for your attention – even if they don’t all require the same amount or depth of thinking.
Think about how you can deal with all of these inputs. For each one that comes in, ask can I:
Do something about this? We tend to forget that not everything requires action. Only some of your inputs call for follow-up; the rest can be filed away for future reference.
Do it right now? If the required action will only take a few minutes consider doing it immediately. Knock your to-dos down as quickly as possible, because the longer you wait, the more things will pile up.
Write a reminder to do it later? When you don’t need to take immediate action, you can “park” a reminder about it. Just be sure to include a deadline so it doesn’t keep getting pushed further down.
2. Think about your dos and don’ts
Review your calendar every so often and reflect on your activities. Are there any tasks you can stop doing? If so, add them to your not-to-do list.
Then move onto your to-do list. Set priorities by scanning the list and choosing your MIT (Most Important Thing) for the day. When possible, complete this task first thing in the morning.
It’s also useful to sort tasks based on the amount of mental effort they require. Tackle your most taxing activities during the times of day when your energy peaks. This approach maximises your productivity considerably.
3. Think about decisions you need to make.
It’s common to feel stuck when you’re facing a big decision or a potentially life-changing choice. Keep in mind, the bigger a decision, the more thinking it requires. Brainstorm a list of possible options, and ask four questions about each one:
What will I get in return for the amount of time, money and other resources that I invest in this option?
How will I implement this decision?
Who will be affected by this decision?
If I choose this option, will I be happy with it in the future?
Another good option if you’re still feeling stuck: Stimulate your thinking by using the method Suzy Welch explains in her book, 10-10-10: 10 Minutes, 10 Months, 10 Years, a Life Transforming Idea.
“When faced with a decision,” she writes, “determine the consequences and outcomes of your various options in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years.”
4. Think about what you learned today.
Shut the door to your office and turn off all your electronic devices. Sit down and ask yourself:
How successful was I at getting things done today?
Did I run into problems as I interacted with other people?
Did I hit a wall in coming up with a result that would work for my clients/coworkers/me?
What will I do differently tomorrow?
It gives you the space to reflect and the tools to keep moving forward.
5. When you’re really pressed for time…
If you only take time for one question each day, consider the following, adapted from Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
What one thing could I do on a regular basis that would make a tremendous positive difference in my life?
That one will give you plenty to think about.