Setting aside time to think

Photo of woman creating a frame with her hands to see through When I led a team of program managers at a software company, I’d ask new employees to set aside time every week to step back from their to-do lists. I’d encourage them to reflect on what went well, as well as what they might be forgetting to do, what contingencies they should plan for, and what they might want to do differently. These program managers were responsible for so much detail that it was all too easy to lose sight of the larger picture. By taking time to think about how they were doing their jobs, they created the mental space they needed to be effective.

I hadn’t thought of that advice in years, yet it came flooding back to me as I caught up with a old friend last week. Valerie and I hadn’t seen much of each other since starting our families, and it was great spending time with her again. As we shared stories about our kids and our busy lives, we also discussed how important it is to step back and think about our larger goals as parents. What values do we want our children to learn, and how are we going to teach them?

To answer these questions, we need mental space. By ourselves or with our partners, we need to step back, noodle on things, and have discussions. Just like my team of program managers, we need to reflect on what we’ve already accomplished and think about what we want to change moving forward.

Yet, for busy parents or busy professionals, it’s challenging to set aside time to think and plan. Here are some strategies my friends use, for home or for work:

  • My husband and I have dinner together–with candlelight–almost every night. The meal may not be fancy, but the candlelight seems to get us out of our ordinary mind-set and make space for taking stock, or just staying caught up.
  • I schedule time on my calendar to reflect. Thirty minutes per week is what I need.
  • I go for walks with friends. Just hearing what is on someone else’s mind often gets me out of my own head and helps me look at parenting from a different perspective. If I’m with a mom who has kids older than mine, I get a heads-up on what to look out for as the kids move toward the next developmental stage. Or, I become aware of the importance of something I hadn’t really thought about before.
  • I force myself out of my comfort zone by going on vacation where the lifestyle is different and much slower. I slow down and think for a change instead of spending all my time “doing.”
  • With my children, I use report cards to chart a course, identifying what went well (and should continue as a habit) and discussing how to apply those approaches to classes that didn’t go so well.

If you set aside time to think on a regular basis, please share your strategies or what you’ve learned from doing so in a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

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