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Working Better: How to Carve Out Time to Think

Finding time to focus is hard. Here's how to carve out strategic thinking time in a busy schedule.

Every three months, GOOD releases our quarterly magazine, which examines a given theme through our unique lens. Recent editions have covered topics like the impending global water crisis, the future of transportation, and the amazing rebuilding of New Orleans. This quarter's issue is about work, and we'll be rolling out a variety of stories all month.

A few decades ago, career paths were more linear. A good company boy or girl could work at the same place for decades, climbing up the corporate ladder one promotion at a time. These days, not so much. In an economy in which people change jobs frequently and a time when many of us are creatively self-employed, you really have to think through your next moves. Of course, finding quiet time to focus is easier said than done when your boss is constantly interrupting you, your coworkers are addicted to meetings, and you have no self-restraint when it comes to Twitter. Here’s how to carve out strategic thinking time in a busy schedule.

Log your time for a week. Soon you’ll start to notice slow times—maybe 8 to 9 a.m., before others drift in, or between 1 and 2 p.m., when half the office is at lunch. These are good opportunities to shut the door (metaphorically speaking—or literally if you’re lucky enough to have your own office) and be unavailable.

Treat thinking sessions like doctor’s appointments. When you first start, aim for two one-hour sessions of uninterrupted thinking. Mark this time on your calendar, and consider it the way you would any other appointment or commitment you wouldn’t break without a good reason.

Plan for your sessions. Before these sessions, think through which questions you’d like to ponder. Gather any research material you’ll need, so you don’t have to go online to hunt for a document (which can lead to checking your email, and your Facebook, and your Twitter account while you’re there).

Recognize that creating strategic-thinking time is a habit. And like a habit, it may not feel natural when you start out. The first few times, your mind might wander, or you may not get much out of the experience. But over time you will. Remember: People who plan succeed.

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