Posted by & filed under Productivity.

Where is your ‘thinking space’? The place where you order your thoughts; think things through; where the creative juices flow?

If you don’t have such a space, I recommend that you find one. Whatever it is that you do, it’s important to take the time to pause and reflect. This process can result in improved focus, increased productivity and greater creativity. Finding the space in which you do this best is therefore worth doing.

As well as becoming an early riser I have also learned to be more mindful. My interpretation of what this means is skewed, influenced by the interpretation of others, including: Patrick Rhone and Merlin Mann. However, what I have taken on board so far has really helped me to be a more focussed and creative person.

Being mindful (for me) is about removing distractions, whatever they may be, and taking the time to be at one with your thoughts; allowing ideas to percolate.

What has this got do with finding your ‘thinking space’? As I began to understand what it meant to be mindful, I began to realise that there were certain times and places in which I was able to better focus on the myriad of thoughts swirling around my mind. The first time and place where I realised this was in the shower. Free of distractions, completing a relatively mindless activity, I can sift through my tasks for the day; think through a lesson I’m going to deliver; even write (in my head) an entire blog post. The latter, resulting in a rather rushed drying of one’s body in order to get to my laptop and write it down.

Having found one space to be at one with my thoughts, I then started to actively look for others. As such I don’t have one ‘thinking space’ but rather a number of times and places where I choose to be mindful. These include:

  • Making a cup of tea: As demonstrated by Dave Caolo, the time it takes to brew and enjoy a good cup of tea is perfect for sitting and reflecting.
  • Doing the dishes: An activity I previously did not enjoy, I now actually value the thinking time that it offers.
  • Waiting in line: Rather than playing with my mobile phone I now observe my surroundings, taking in the place, the people…
  • Taking a walk: As many will attest to, taking a walk remains one of the best ways to clear your mind, clarifying things.

As with becoming an early riser, it took time for me to develop habits. Resisting the urge to check Twitter, Email, Google Reader while standing in lines or during a train journey was particularly hard. However, it has certainly been worth it, improving my focus, productivity and creativity.

Do you already have a ‘thinking space’? If so, please share it by commenting below.

23 Responses to “Thinking Space”

  1. Jon Nicholls

    Like you James, I really enjoy washing the dishes and staring out of the window. I also ponder in the shower and enjoy my 15 minute walk to work. I think I might give the early rising thing a try but I do enjoy the moments late at night when everyone else has gone to bed and I have downstairs to myself. This, of course, tends to mitigate against rising early the next day.

    Reply
    • James Michie

      I mull over my day and update my todo list most evenings. However, I know that I’m not as productive in the evening so try to avoid work at this time. I do read, it seems to be my best time to get this done. 

      The two most common tasks that I do when I get up in the morning is writing (blog posts/MA paper) or marking work. I get through almost double the marking in the morning when I first get up compared with doing it in the evening. It’s things like that, that helped me push through those difficult mornings where I really didn’t want to get up.

      Reply
  2. S Lawler

    My thinking space is also when washing the dishes or taking a shower. I’m an early riser and in the office before anyone else and that gives me more time to think and go through mail’s tweets blogs etc. We all need that bit of space to gather out thoughts.

    Reply
    • James Michie

      We certainly do. With the extra hour I have gained from rising early and the fact that I never teach period one (we have a staggered day and only key stage three are in school first thing) gives me ample time to work through the important jobs of the day. Makes the rest of my day far more focussed as I’m only focussed on the learning that’s happening in my classroom. 
      Ultimately, I think it’s about knowing when you are most productive (prioritising the important work within those times) and knowing when to sit and reflect on things. If you can find that balance, you can be a highly productive person.

      Reply
  3. Doug Belshaw

    I considered writing an e-Book on washing-up as a metaphor for productive living. My wife talked me out of it. ;-)

    James makes an important point about knowing when you are most productive. There’s a great heatmap PDF you can get from the Productive Flourishing blog that helps you with this: http://www.productiveflourishing.com/how-heatmapping-your-productivity-can-make-you-more-productive/

    At the moment I’m reading Thoreau’s ‘Walden’. A great reminder of the importance of solitude and, as James and Jon (in the comments) point out, downtime. It’s not about productivity for productivity’s sake, after all – otherwise we’re mere machines.

    Reply
    • James Michie

      Thanks for the link Doug… an interesting approach to figuring out. I figured out my productivity hot spots by keeping a diary for a couple of weeks, I made brief notes about when I felt productive/not productive. I started to see patterns emerge and then went from there, adapting aspects of my day and work flow to match up with my productivity hot spots. It’s not perfect but I think I’ve got a routine going that works for pretty well for me, given my day job.

      Are you reading the Kindle version of ‘Walden’? Did you buy it from Amazon, or is it a self-added doc?

      Reply
    • James Michie

      Thanks for the link Doug… an interesting approach to figuring out. I figured out my productivity hot spots by keeping a diary for a couple of weeks, I made brief notes about when I felt productive/not productive. I started to see patterns emerge and then went from there, adapting aspects of my day and work flow to match up with my productivity hot spots. It’s not perfect but I think I’ve got a routine going that works for pretty well for me, given my day job.

      Are you reading the Kindle version of ‘Walden’? Did you buy it from Amazon, or is it a self-added doc?

      Reply
    • James Michie

      Thanks for the link Doug… an interesting approach to figuring out. I figured out my productivity hot spots by keeping a diary for a couple of weeks, I made brief notes about when I felt productive/not productive. I started to see patterns emerge and then went from there, adapting aspects of my day and work flow to match up with my productivity hot spots. It’s not perfect but I think I’ve got a routine going that works for pretty well for me, given my day job.

      Are you reading the Kindle version of ‘Walden’? Did you buy it from Amazon, or is it a self-added doc?

      Reply
  4. Clare

    This has come at an opportune moment… that pre-new-school-year-period when I vow to be more organised, productive and strike a good work/life balance. I’d never considered mapping my productivity hotspots… or even really thought about thinking space.

    Cheers for making me think about thinking!

    Reply
  5. Clare

    This has come at an opportune moment… that pre-new-school-year-period when I vow to be more organised, productive and strike a good work/life balance. I’d never considered mapping my productivity hotspots… or even really thought about thinking space.

    Cheers for making me think about thinking!

    Reply
  6. Oliver Quinlan

    I find my thinking space is out on my bicycle, rising around the countryside. I think it is precisely because icannot be productive or distracted in this context that it is when I think the clearest and my best ideas come. Probably something to do with the exercise getting my brain going too. I used to find I felt really inspired with ideas at this time, but forgot many of them by the time I was home. Try to stop every now and then and jot them down on Evernote on my
    Phone now to make sure they are not lost!

    Reply
    • James Michie

      And sometimes it is the context that you are in that generates the ideas. I find, particularly when taking walks that it is my surroundings that are actually creating new ideas or ways of looking at things. Nature has much to teach us and has helped me work through many problems.

      Reply
  7. James Michie

    And sometimes it is the context that you are in that generates the ideas. I find, particularly when taking walks that it is my surroundings that are actually creating new ideas or ways of looking at things. Nature has much to teach us and has helped me work through many problems.

    Reply
    • James Michie

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your post. The part about your journey to and from work was particularly enlightening as it highlights the value of using specific times of the day for specific sorts of thinking. 

      Once you begin to understand the points of the day where you are most productive and the parts where you can do your best thinking, it is important to add some organisation to that time. Like you, in the morning I am contemplating what lays ahead, organising tasks and ideas. In the evening I reflect on my day, considering what happened and what I learned.

      “Clear your mind of the rubbish that does not need to be there”. <– This is exactly the reason why finding your 'thinking space' is important. As we are bombarded by noise throughout our days, it takes a mindful moment whether that is a moment of quiet meditation or a mindless activity to un-clutter. Cutting out the noise results in clarity of mind which is integral to effective thinking.

      Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Great post James. My thinking space is in the morning during my daily walks. I take them in my neighborhood, usually before the sun comes up when there aren’t any cars on the road. I have a 20 minute route that I usually take in solitude (except for the occasional rooster crow!). I have long considered it a form of mental relaxation and highly recommend it to all.

    Reply
    • James Michie

      Sounds delightful. It is something I have long considered doing and think that I should. Not only would it give me thinking time that is so valuable but some additional (much needed) exercise. I’m definitely going to consider adding this to my routine from September.

      Reply
  9. Julian

    I’m currently writing my MSc dissertation on open educational resources and have found that some of my most inspiring ideas have come walking my dog late at night!

    Reply

Leave a Reply