Thinking Twice About Time to Think

Thinking Twice About Time to Think
October 19, 2015 Tara Mills

In the busy world of PR we are accustomed to moving at the speed of light – replying to emails, crafting stories, talking on the phone – all simultaneously. We are basically professional multitaskers, in fact – we should have that in our signature.

As creatives – a huge (underestimated) part of our role is to bring new ideas to the table for our clients. Finding ‘white space’ that adds real value to their business. However, the fear of multitasking is that you perform all activities less effectively than if you were to focus.

Research shows that the human mind isn’t meant to multitask. Apparently when frequent multitaskers focus on one singly activity – they use their brains less effectively. (Maybe that’s why I failed this test!?).

But if you’re like me, someone who lives by their to-do list, madly checking things off with fear that if you don’t the paper will burst into flames at any moment (or the list will just get longer) – how do you make the time to stop? To focus? To think bigger?

It’s so easy to get bogged down on the small stuff. It’s important to put your head down, but it’s equally critical to look up: to reflect on how things are going, to consider alternative strategies, to create, innovate, to be a problem solver.

The answer is apparently to carve out time to think. A few things I’m trying to put into practice…

  1. Two-task limit – This suggests a two-task limit on what the human brain can handle. Rather than switching tasks from minute to minute, dedicate a 20-minute chunk of time to a single task, then switch to the next one.
  1. Slow down – One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received – is that in the quiet periods, take the time to do work that little bit slower. Sometimes we feel the need to bash things out as quick as we can – but try a change in pace, in the rare opportunity that your calendar allows it.
  1. Find solitude – take yourself out for coffee at a local café or find 10 minutes to eat your lunch in peace, and bring a long a pen and paper to jot down your thoughts. Conversations and brainstorms can be useful for throwing around ideas, but your thoughts easily get drowned out by the crowd.
  1. Directed Thinking – Thinking used under the broad topic of “everything” won’t accomplish much.
  1. Turn off the email alert – it took me 5 years at Ogilvy to actually listen to this rule. But now that I have, suddenly work gets done distraction free without jumping between multiple emails!
  1. Stop sweating the small stuff – try not to get bogged down in the minute details AKA stop being a perfectionist. Sometimes good enough is near enough.
  1. Don’t be chained to your mobile – people will wonder why you’re not playing with your phone on public transport, but let the haters hate. Refreshing your emails on the tram every 10 minutes (guilty) won’t make you more productive.