Do you think hard, or just work hard? 4 habits to radically improve your life

Priscilla Du Preez @priscilladupreez Unsplash

You work very hard at your job, and devote enormous amounts of your time there. You may well put in over 50, 60 or sometimes 70 hours per week. But, how much of that time do you devote to thinking?

As a society, we’re normalized to the habit of putting in long hours, of taking whatever time necessary to complete a project or a meet a deadline. We equate long hours with the way to get ahead. Work Harder=Get Ahead. But have we built in the habit of taking the necessary time to think? Could it also be that Think Harder=Get Ahead?

Researchers who study habit forming behaviors say that about 45% of our daily activities are made up of a series of habits. Are you being intentional and prioritizing thinking as one of these habits? Are you being productive with our time or are we just busy?Are you thinking hard or just working hard?

What does it mean to “take time to think” or to“think hard”?

In a recent New York Times article, Cal Newport discussed his thoughts around the concept he calls Deep Work. This entails eliminating distractions such as email notifications, IM and social media and especially our phones and focusing on the work that really makes a difference in our lives and in our careers.

What questions do you ask yourself when you’re taking the time to think?

Thinking is an integral part of doing the Deep Work that Newport talks about. It’s just as valuable, if not more so, than the very work you do. Questions to ask yourself when taking the time to think could vary, but could start with: Think about what you’re doing and why, what do you want to do in the future, what are your goals, where do you want your life to go, what are your values? Are you on track to reach these goals or do you need to recalibrate? Are the habits and disciplines that you’re currently engaged in taking you where you want to go? How are your actions impacting the world around you? Reflect on prior events and adjust if necessary if you’re not getting the desired results. Reflect on what has been working and continue to do that.

Deep Work and thinking cannot be done while multi-tasking. We need this time to focus and think about something other than the immediate task at hand or the next email or text message to respond to.

Here are some tips to help create better habits around thinking:

  1. Plan time to think and reflect each day: Block out a time on your calendar just to think and treat it like any other appointment you have (if you leave thinking to “when you have time” it’ll never happen).
  2. Embrace boredom: It’s ok not to be cognitively stimulated each and every second of the day. If you don’t get used to being bored then your brain becomes conditioned to this constant stimulus and your ability to think and concentrate about something important becomes severely diminished.
  3. Schedule time to check your phone: Put your phone away, on silent and out of sight, and only check it at predetermined times during the day. Only check it on breaks or on lunch, not each time you have a free second. This goes for social media as well: close the tabs on your browser so you don’t even see them and aren’t tempted to check them.
  4. Make thinking fun and relaxing: Think deeply about a topic while you do something good for you, or relaxing. Go for a run or walk, take a drive, grab a beverage and sit on your deck, or just take time to sit at your desk with the door closed. Even 15-30 minutes of time to sit and think can make a big difference.

You spend a great deal of time at work striving to be a productive top performer, and I’m sure you may scoff at the idea of sitting around thinking and “doing nothing.” But again, are you being productive, or just busy? Thinking allows you to work smarter, not just harder.

Even spending 5% of a 40-hour work week devoted to thinking is just two hours per week.

How much could these two hours positively impact your life? How much could it improve your work performance, your productivity? How much could it increase your happiness and reduce your stress? How much could it bring you closer to your goals and improve the quality of your life?

None of this can happen without taking the time to think.

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