Originally published in the New York Daily News
Without space, we feel cramped. I frequently travel for business and when I sit in my seat with my arms tucked into my allotted area it becomes uncomfortable to the point that my mind won’t relax or think about much else.
My perspective, thoughts, and feelings are hampered because of the restraint. In fact, I am consumed with thoughts about my comfort and how my current situation should be different than it is. There is no space for creative thought, only reaction.
Similarly, most leaders function this way on a daily basis. Their calendars are crammed with too many events and most often they are multi-tasking to make it all work. Is it working? It’s unlikely.
Creativity and your best strategic thinking can only occur when you have space. This may include physical space, but most often it means space between your ears and on your calendar. You need the mental space for your thoughts to roam freely instead of being required to produce a result.
Creativity happens when you learn to sit quietly and let your thoughts arrive without force or direction.
Use these three practices to create space for your best thinking to flow.
1. Perform redundant tasks that don’t require mental presence
Do things you’ve done thousands of times and that will allow your mind to wander elsewhere. Some of us do this while driving; if you’ve ever arrived somewhere and wondered about the trip, you’ve had one of these moments.
Riding a bike, walking on a treadmill, and gazing into a horizon with no other agenda all afford the opportunity for your thoughts to roam while your body is otherwise occupied.
You can enjoy creative space daily in the shower, as you disappear into the sensation of the hot water. Be prepared for ideas and solutions to emerge and don’t forget to keep a notepad nearby (or dictate into your smartphone) to capture your thoughts!
2. Spend time in nature
Mental space happens in nature — while hiking outside or as I walk my dog. Find an outdoor activity you enjoy that requires little effort, and practice it often. The best answers, possibilities, and solutions already reside within us; however, the majority of us don’t have enough quiet space to access them.
As over-committed people, we don’t often design space to dream or think. Henry Ford said “thinking is the hardest work you can do, that’s why so few people do it.”
We intellectually understand the value of the practice, yet few of us practice it consistently. Instead, we effort more and work harder to find the solution which likely awaits in the quiet if we’d only listen.
3. Take a Clarity Break
A “Clarity Break” is a practice developed by Gino Wickman as part of EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. The purpose is to reflect and create space for strategic thinking on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.
You create space away from your home, office and all technology. You only need a pad of paper and a pen. Find a place you enjoy and find inspirational, not distracting. This allows you to think more clearly and stay focused.
Head to a park or coffee shop, sit in front of your blank paper, and let your thoughts pour out on paper. Clarity Breaks are times for the high-level thinking and reflection that often get pushed to the wayside during our busy days as leaders.
To ensure this time is held, schedule it in your calendar; allow it to be moved if necessary, but never deleted.
In order to do less better, find creative solutions and design our futures, we as leaders have to create space in order to have the space to create.
It’s the fastest way to your best solutions; slow down and try it. In this over-committed world, we must learn to free our minds and calendars to accelerate our possibilities.