When’s the last time you took time out to think?

‘I don’t have time to think’.

There are a lot of myths about being busy. I’m sure you’ve heard this one; ‘If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person’. The idea here being that someone who’s busy and used to working under pressure will ‘find a way’ to make what you want happen in the shortest timescale. Is that what you want though?

How many people do you know confuse being busy with being productive?

The Research is there

Stanford did a great research study in 2009 on multitasking (see link below). The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked? The answer, they discovered (and this is by no means what they expected) is that they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding; the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

On an average day we find ourselves constantly marinating in digital content. Small snippets of data and information, tweets, messages, posts, videos, emails and articles all of which are there by design to distract us from whatever it is we think we are supposed to be doing. We are so used to this behaviour now and our technology is so capable at allowing us to switch quickly from one distracting source to another (it’s even called multitasking!) that this seems completely normal to us. But, as the research shows, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a millennial or a baby-boomer, your brain just can’t cope with it productively.

This might look like it’s about to turn into a very complicated subject but, actually, it’s quite straightforward. Although there are many ways to look at this, what works for me (and hopefully will for you too) is to consider it like this; we are fundamentally sequential thinkers that need time to process ideas.

The Busyness Mirage

We’ve allowed ourselves to become conditioned into working in ways that seem normal but that includes a constant requirement to switch ourselves in and out of tasks and other thought processes. These distractions re-prioritise our thinking and sometimes derail us altogether. And, because it feels normal, we feel busy ‘all the time’ but this constant level of distraction and defocus ultimately prevents us from being productive.

Einstein had a great quote (although some dispute whether it was actually him who came up with it) about how we allow ourselves to become conditioned by repetition and I think it’s more apt today than perhaps it was when it was written;

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

It’s really easy to get into a work routine where we accept the ‘noise’ around us and allow ourselves to be dragged and manipulated by circumstantial, but non-important events.

The outcome of all of this quite often leads to two things in particular in my experience; every decision, irrespective of its importance, gets the same amount of time spent on it, and, quite often (and as a direct result of this) decision-making is poor.

The problem with multitasking is that it tends to tar all productivity with the same brush, and that’s just not true. It is definitely the case that some tasks are more important than others and therefore also true that the same can be said for decisions.

Making Time

So, when you have important decisions that need to be made and tasks that will therefore depend upon them, you need to give yourself time to make sure that you’re doing the right things, in the right order, to ensure (hopefully) the right outcomes. If you don’t have a clear view on priority and importance, then you’re never going to give yourself the right opportunity to make the right decision.

I said earlier that we like to think sequentially and that we like to have time to process ideas. In practice, what this means is that allowing yourself the time and space (in solitude and away from distractions if necessary) to concentrate and contemplate just one thing at a time is a really important thing to be able to do. What occurs afterwards is that your brain will continue to process this conundrum while you go back to the noise of daily life. Then, when you come back and pick it up later, that processing that went on in the background will really help you determine whether or not the conclusions you came to hold water. And, it will genuinely help you to make the right decision.

In an ideal world, the bigger a decision, the longer you should take to contemplate it, however life’s not like that. We’re always under pressure to make decisions quickly and, ironically, quick decision-making is seen as badge of honour. I don’t see it that way.

It’s precisely because running a business is so hard that you should prioritise the importance around decisions, get away from distractions and give yourself as much time as you can to consider and process the possible options, and then push the button. No more ready, fire, aim.

Re-condition yourself to carve out time to think each day and respect that solitude. If you do, trust me, you will make better decisions more often.


Here’s the link to the Stanford research mentioned above;


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