no time to think? how to create headspace

by | Feb 10, 2017 | Leadership

Do you find it challenging to create time and space to think? Is your day a whirlwind of emails, meetings, calls and unexpected demands? Do you reach the end of the day not having worked on what matters to you?

I work with many clients who are struggling to cope with too much work and too little time and resource to deliver it. They long for time and space to think and breathe and strategise. Often, they will say that they will have time to think next week, or next month, or when a new recruit is onboarded – but that point seldom arrives.

However, when you feel like the world is pressing in on you and you’re being ambushed from all directions is exactly the time when you need to pause and step back. It’s so easy to become caught up in responding and reacting and being busy. You can find yourself spinning faster and faster until you’re not sure how to stop.

Ironically, when you do get a chance to sit down and think, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start!

A world of too much : the bad news

As Tony Crabbe put it in his fabulous book Busy : How to thrive in a world of too much, “We live in a world of too much : too much to do, too much information and too much insecurity”. We are exposed to multiple sources of information and communication via devices and PCs including an ever-increasing stream of emails which are seemingly demanding your attention.

The bad news is that all this noise around you is never going to change, and in fact is likely to increase. The emails, messages, demands and complaints will always be there.

The problem is not the demands in themselves, but that they present as needing an immediate response, playing to our natural want to get things done, to get on top of things, not to let people down – and, ultimately, not to fail.

It’s not your fault

In Tony Crabbe’s words, “You are not to blame for too much, so you should let go of your guilt for not doing it all. It’s not your fault.” What he means is that our environment has gone beyond the point where we can control it. There are so many demands on our attention that we are never going to be able to meet them all. Besides the fact that they often don’t relate to what’s important to us in our life and work.

As Crabbe puts it, “It’s time to let go of your dependence on inputs. Let them wash by you, and instead focus on your outputs.” In other words, stop being externally-driven and start focusing on what you want and need to achieve.

What does it feel like when you have headspace?

Headspace is a widely-used term for the experience of having time to think clearly, to be free from mental pressures.

When I feel I have headspace, it’s as though the space around me has increased, time slows down, I feel in control, calm and clear. And, importantly, I’m breathing!

When was the last time you had headspace? What did it feel like? What was possible from that place of having time and space to think?

Make headspace happen

Finding headspace doesn’t mean that you have to schedule a day in a beautiful place to think. That’s a fabulous idea, and what’s more important is how often you create time to think clearly, not the amount of time you do it for.

So the next time you have a 30 minute space in your calendar, grab a pen and notebook and find a meeting room or private place, preferably where you can’t be seen and without your devices.

If you can’t see a space in your calendar, then be ruthless and see what meetings you can decline or postpone. One of my clients realised half of her calendar was filled with meetings that bore little or no relation to her key objectives! We so often give away time to other people without giving it to ourselves.

Questions to ponder

Let yourself enjoy the peace and quiet for a few moments. When you’re ready, here’s a few questions you may like to ponder on :

  • What do you want or need to achieve? What are your priorities?
  • What are the activities and people that are most important in you achieving this?
  • What are questions or problems that are bothering you, that are unresolved?
  • What do you need to let go of, decommit to or re-negotiate to allow you to focus on what’s important? This is a big one and will feel painful because you can’t do it without disappointing people.
  • What conversations do you need to have to make this happen? Again, this will take courage, and is essential to working with focus and purpose.

How do you feel having done this exercise? What perspective do you have now that you didn’t have before you took this time out?

Create a habit of headspace

Creating time to think isn’t easy in our world. However, there are alot of resources out there to help you create a habit of headspace, ironically often via your smartphone!

You might like to try the appropriately named Headspace app, an excellent and accessible aid for learning to meditate. Calm is an alternative which is also accessible on your PC. You can use both these on the go, so perfect for your commute (unless you’re driving!).

You may also like to look at mindfulness (MBCT) courses to help you gain calm and clarity. In London, courses by Breathworks come highly recommended or just search for MBCT course and local options will pop up for you.

What are you going to do to create headspace?

Related posts : 
7 strategies for how you can avoid burn-out
5 tips to thrive not just survive

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps new Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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