Why Some Activities Need The Luxury Of Space and Time. And How To Give It.

Why Some Activities Need The Luxury Of Space and Time. And How To Give It.

Meaningful work lies beyond the shackles of to-do lists.

We are relentlessly pursuing productivity. Getting more done in the shortest span possible.

It is not wrong to go after accomplishments. The sense of finishing something well is undeniably gratifying.

But it is a tunnel with an elusive light at the end. Our to-do lists never die, and they haunt us persistently every waking moment. Sometimes even as we sleep or meditate.

In a life driven by the pursuit of productivity, profound work suffers the most or simply does not get done.

Creating the vision for your business, setting life goals, and strategic planning to execute your ideas – all need to thrive and grow in a nurturing environment. It does not fit a timetable or confine itself to space.

So how do you do that? Most of us cannot escape to hillside retreats or seaside cottages to ruminate over our thoughts.

What alternatives will allow us to nudge our ideas along and lead them toward fruition gently?

1. Take a step back

You must step back from immediate or practical tasks that sap your attention to get the time and space you need. Not that they should be neglected, but postponing them is also an option.

The sooner you get to this first step and resolve to step away, the better it is for your mindset. Your brain and body are primed to start the process of intentional ideation.

2. Plan the time for meaningful work

Tim Ferriss is a hyper planner. Every New Year’s Eve, he will have his life planned on the calendar until November of next year. This includes vacations, retreats, and time for hundreds of other things he does. The idea is to make time to do meaningful work.

You may not choose to plan that much in advance, but clearing a day or three off your calendar is not impossible. If others are involved, better to put it on a calendar.

3. Set an agenda

Sure, this is not a fixed-time meeting where you want to tick off one item after another. But you want to be as structured about your ideation as possible.

That will accomplish several things:

  1. Your mind will not start from a blank page. It will know where to begin.
  2. If you are not getting anywhere, you can move on to the next item.
  3. If you don’t finish the agenda items in one sitting, you know where you left off and what’s coming up next.
  4. You don’t waste time revisiting threads of thought that don’t help anymore.

The best use of your away time is to make the process as frictionless as possible.

Structuring it ensures that:

  • you miss nothing
  • you explore all branches of your idea
  • and you know where to start from next time.

4. Record your thoughts

Capture your ideas systematically.

I use a whiteboard while ideating and take pictures on my phone before I clean it off. I can go through several iterations without too much fuss.

Once I have a final picture, I transfer the outcome to an online mind map.

This way you go over everything twice. Much better for recall and retention.

Also, the series of pictures make a great study of your thought process as you go from version to version.

Another way is to use pen and paper. Go crazy with pens, highlighters and such. I am a stationery buff and keep buying new pens because I love to write by hand a lot. Writing disconnects you from everything else but the topic you are writing about.

Make sure you build in time later to digitize.

If you want to skip colourful pens (aww, really?), you can dig into the Zettelkasten system and or note-taking applications. See this article for notetaking tool suggestions.

5. Process the ideas

Capturing ideas and thoughts is not enough. You need to reflect on them and process them towards making the overarching goal or work meaningful

This part is critical, don’t skip it. And do it while you are still in the thinking space, not when you get back home or to your usual environment.

Revisit the notes you have taken in a different frame of mind. You will end up seeing something new in them or spotting a connection that wasn’t obvious.

We think and build in layers, so it is not all going to happen at once. Expect that it may not even happen over a day or a week. Your agenda and notes will save you.

6. If you are stuck, move on and then return.

During an intense thinking activity, it is easy and quite possible to get stuck. That often happens to me when I am thinking of my stories. They are emotionally deep and often I can’t seem to make progress. I step back, I move to the next item or I just step back from the exercise altogether.

I can always return to it.

Pat yourself on the back that you have come this far. You are in the process of working towards a larger, more fulfilling goal.

You don’t want to shortchange it by hurrying the process, do you?

7. Change the environment

To foster original thinking, you need to dig deep into your unique experiences, your authentic questions, and your particular curiosities.

I tell stories from my adventures. Sitting in a place where I can reminisce about them before I put down the words really helps. Usually, that place is not my desk.

Changing the environment you are in can trigger deep thinking. The familiar stimuli and distractions are missing. You shift to an open frame of mind that encourages lateral thinking. It unlocks a power that you can draw from.

There are many ways to change your settings without breaking the bank. I often go to the local WeWork and book a solo seater for a day. You can try working from a coffee shop if you don’t usually do it.

I also love to go to my sister’s house for a day when I am stuck. She has house help who saves me from distractions. And there’s the husky who sleeps all day. Perfect for some sensory engagement and cuddles, if I ever need it.

My friend goes on leisurely hikes when he wants to think things through. It keeps his feet moving and his head turning.

Go where you can listen to your thoughts.

8. To get something new, try something new.

The point of a thinking retreat is to let your thoughts float around and make interesting connections.

If you cannot change your environment, try doing something you’ve never done.

Build a Lego house, doodle, go out and collect colourful stones. Taking breaks and taking active breaks like these are two different things.

In the latter, you are engaging your senses and keeping your hands occupied. The beautiful thing about letting your attention move to a new task is that your unconscious mind will keep working simultaneously.

When you come back into focus mode, your brain will be ready to fire in all directions. It’ll make a lot of interesting new connections and patterns.

9. Make it last

Whatever the outcome of your time away, you will have a renewed appreciation for your creative potential. You have seen it work first hand.

This is going to elevate your life and its priorities. Lean into those practices you were so immersed in. Make them a part of you daily life.

All of us make our own habits and routines. If we nurture the meaningful work practice, our interactions with the world, with ourselves, will be so much richer and fulfilling.

The more intentional the process, the greater the rewards.

These endeavours need patience. At times it will feel like your thoughts are moving at more than the speed of light. At other times, your work will require gentle cultivation.

By carving out sacred pockets of time for profound thought and reflection, you gift yourself the opportunity to break new ground, and reach new depths of creativity.

Keep it simple, create you own structure. It will change your life.

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