Have you ever been on a long airline flight where you had plenty of quiet time and it ended up being very productive because you got to do some quality thinking about some key issues you have been putting off or unable to work thru to completion? I hear people commenting on this all the time, and I know I certainly experience it.
This topic reminds me of a story about Thomas Edison, the very prolific inventor commonly referred to as the father of the light bulb. He had a home in Fort Myers, Florida on the Gulf coast and he would regularly go out to the end of his dock and fish for snook. On the other hand, his secret was to not put bait on the hook. It was protocol in Florida to not bother people who were fishing, and so this provided Edison an ideal opportunity to have uninterrupted think time. His family reports that he would sit out there for hours. Edison often claimed that humans only use about 10% of their mental capacities, and that people would go far to avoid the real labor of thinking.
Today e-mail, texting, smartphones, and tools like Twitter can make the world seem like a minute to minute real time experience. The communications overload gets coupled with the propensity for people to have excessive, lengthy meetings, usually of minimal value.
So…what are the tips that can assist a leader in such an environment? Here are a few that I have come to find very useful:
1.) Schedule think time – One thing that impressed me during the years I worked for Bill Gates was the fact that he would literally schedule time during the day for quiet time, plus go offsite by himself for a full week each six month, which he called his “Think Weeks.”
2.) Never attend a meeting for more than 60 minutes – Announce when you join the meeting when you have to leave, and stick to it. The agenda usually gets a lot more efficient!
3.) Ignore e-mail/messages except during one or two scheduled times during the day – Another trait of Bill Gates was that he only processed his e-mail/messages during a scheduled 45-60 minute period in the morning, and then one in the late afternoon. His secretary would flag him down if something urgent came up.
Don’t be one of Edison’s “ten percenters!” We all need to aggressively manage our schedules, and make sure we have plenty of quiet think time.