Reading time: Fewer than 3 minutes
Do you allow yourself enough thinking time? Surprisingly, many writers don’t….
How much time do you spend thinking?
Not worrying. Not writing. Not organizing. Just thinking.
Smart guy George Bernard Shaw said, “few people think more than two or three times a year.” Then he added a little smugly, “I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.” (Go here, if you’re interested in the genesis of this quote.)
I tend to agree that most people don’t allow nearly enough thinking time, and this oversight can be tragic for writers, particularly academic ones. If you don’t think, how can you know what to write on the page?
As eggs, butter, flour and sugar are the raw ingredients for bakers, reading and thinking are the raw ingredients for writers.
But, interestingly, many people I work with confess they don’t have nearly enough thinking time. Or they tell me that their thinking is unproductive. Recently, however, I heard about an interesting idea known as the Schultz hour… (Hat tip to Michael Santarcangelo.)
It’s named after a practice of the late George Schultz, US Secretary of State, 1982-1989. Although he had an incredibly busy and demanding job, he set aside one hour every week just for thinking. He instructed his secretary to interrupt him only if one of two people called: “My wife or the president,” he said.
Schultz found that this weekly hour of quiet thinking was the only opportunity he had to think about the strategic aspects of his job. So, my challenge to writers is this: If one of the busiest leaders in the Western World was able to find a full hour a week for thinking, why can’t you find at least that much time?
My guess is you probably feel guilty about it and it seems unproductive. But daydreaming — which is what these thinking bursts should really be called — is actually wonderfully productive. According to Daniel Levitin, director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, such thinking is, “responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable.”
If you want to start pursuing you own Schultz Hour (and I’m going to start this week) here is my advice:
- Get away from your desk. Yes, it is certainly more convenient for note-taking to sit at your desk, but our brains are contrarian beasts that don’t like to do what we want them to. Remind yourself that thinking is not work, so much as it’s daydreaming. If you use that word, you’ll find the right setting – perhaps sprawled across your couch, on a bench under a tree or lounging across your bed.
- Do something else while you’re thinking. Thinking tends to work better when our hands or feet are otherwise occupied. Go for a walk. Do some gardening. Wash the dishes (this was Agatha Christie’s favourite trick.) If you’re worried about forgetting something, keep your cellphone nearby so you can dictate yourself some notes.
- That said, stay away from social media. Although you may want to stay close to the dictation function of your cellphone, turn off the ringer so your thinking time is not interrupted by calls. And, at all costs, avoid Facebook, Twitter and email. This is YOUR daydreaming time. Don’t let someone else highjack your agenda.
- Consider starting with a Shultz 15 minutes rather than a full hour. Starting more gradually and then working yourself up to a larger amount of time will help turn the task into a habit and make it seem much less daunting.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Most people need seven to nine hours per night and yet many people don’t get the bare minimum. Understand that if you don’t have enough sleep your creativity (that is, your ability to think) is going to be impinged.
- Don’t feel obliged to think ONLY about your project. Our brains like to wander in all sorts of directions and this wandering is what leads us to new and interesting connections. Just see where your brain is going to take you.
- Track your accomplishment. We measure what matters. I know that wearing a pedometer (which I do), makes me walk further. I know that tracking my writing (which I also do), makes me write more. If you want to increase your thinking, make sure you track it.
I once heard a nutritionist say that the problem with vegetarians is that many of them don’t eat nearly enough vegetables. The irony of that statement is amusing and I think a similar comment can be made about many writers.
The big problem is that many of them don’t think nearly enough. It should be obvious that thinking is a major part of the job for any writer. But this thinking requires time and space. Be sure to give that (necessary) gift to yourself.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week discussed how to figure out what to write about. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
Do you allow yourself enough thinking time? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!