How ironing has helped me to think ….

Ok, I’ll be honest, I don’t like ironing. It’s boring, monotonous and tedious. But the one thing it gives me that I place a huge value on is quality thinking time.

Why is thinking time important? Humans tend to look for patterns in the world around them. We do this to help make sense of, and to order the massive amount of information that we encounter daily. We use what psychologists refer to as “schematic shortcuts” to solve many of our day to day problems. So for example, you see a cup of brown liquid – looks like coffee, in a mug like coffee, and in a place you would expect to see coffee, a desk … therefore, it must be coffee. You’ve created a schema called “coffee” and you are now filtering in the things that fit into that schema and filtering out the things that don’t. In essence you’ve made an assumption about what is in the cup. But did you notice it was cold? And actually it has a faint smell of acetone? And that it’s actually wood stain? We do the same thing in our jobs, we use schemas to deal with the massive amount of information that we receive. It enables us to quickly assess and make decisions about what to do next. Most of the time, the schema work so we continue to use them – they help us to be more efficient.

But what happens when we encounter something completely different? When our “operating model or schema” no longer reflects the real world or is in some way incomplete? What impact will our decisions based on faulty schema have? Can we deal with them effectively? Is there are better way to approach the problem? What things should we look out for? What are our contingencies? How can we build on the success? What should our priorities be? Has there been a change in our environment? Who are the best people to work on this? Are we still moving on the right path? Are there opportunities we are missing? And so on. This is where thinking time is critical. It gives us the space to think more broadly, to question our assumptions, to challenge convention, to try something new, to generate alternate schema that we can test or action.

The most successful executives I work with, make/find time to think. They recognise the value for themselves and guard that time as sacred. But many others that I work with struggle to make time. They often feel “guilt” about doing anything that doesn’t appear to be work or the feel they are just too busy to prioritise it. I will usually ask what the impact of not taking the time might be. The responses are things like “we spend too much time on just running the day to day”, “we don’t plan for the future”, “we’re always fire-fighting”, “we’re executing on plans that may be outdated”, I’m stagnating and bored”, “I know we can do more/better”, “I don’t have time to develop people” …..

The key is to find quality time that works for you and that fits in with your schedule. Try to choose activities that require little mental processing on your part sothat you can get on with thinking about the important stuff.  In my case I:

  1. Schedule lunch and take it
  2. Go for a 30 minute walk
  3. Weed on the allotment
  4. Take a long bath
  5. Iron / do laundry
  6. Use a thinking partner – varies from another coach to my husband!*

So, where do you do your best thinking?? I’d love to hear from you!

*A quick note on thinking partners, they should challenge you and not agree with you on everything, they should help you question your assumptions and sometimes play devil’s advocate. Coaches are trained to do this, but sometimes colleagues and friends can do this too as long as the above holds true.
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About Anna

ZIA Executive works with individuals, teams and organisations to help turn people potential into sustainable business performance. We work closely with our clients to develop the best solutions to meet their needs and the needs of their business in a way that is engaging, practical and outcomes oriented. Zia Executive's expertise lies in four primary areas: * Executive Coaching * Leadership and Management Development * Team and Individual Development * Organization/Cultural Transformation
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