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Talking up down time

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How much time do you spend staring out the window? Not enough, according to the lads and ladies at The Economist.

The 1950s futurist fantasies of a three-day workweek clearly have not come to pass, with ever increasing work burdens seemingly borne on fewer and fewer shoulders. Email, of course, is the primary timeburglar, but the need to be seen to be busy is not far behind, along with superfluous meetings and constant interruption.

While there is a profusion of business advice about how to manage your time better (code for how to fill every waking minute with activity), there is precious little written in favour of stillness, quiet and uninterrupted thought.

Given the ceaseless procession of demands on our time, the only way for many of us to get a little thinking time to ourselves is to book it in. And that’s what business behemoths like Bill Gates and Jack Welch do. Given that people value the wisdom of these two so highly, it’s surprising that more people don’t heed Bill and Jack’s admonitions to unplug yourself from email, phone and meetings for a while in order to get some clear air to think more deeply.

Part of the problem is that thinking doesn’t make any noise, and neither may it produce much in the way of paperwork. This concerns managers seeking to measure every activity in terms of KPIs (key performance indicators, to the uninitiated), and indeed those seeking to bill every minute’s activity to a client.

Part of the solution may be to actively schedule this time as though it were a meeting or other such planned event. Of course, the creative process is one that doesn’t respond well to the dictates of the calendar. Ideas come when they’re ready, not when you schedule them to come; they’re not buses. But it’s a useful compromise to at least book in some time to give the creative, reflective process a chance to breathe.

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photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc