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“Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” – John Wooden

The experience of writing a book can be painful at times. You sit in front of the computer with a blank screen waiting for something to happen. This appearance of nothing is actually your job at the time. Sitting still waiting for an idea to pop up is the goal.

Sometimes a breakthrough happens. Ideas start to link up from a book you read or a movie you saw. Before you know it, hours have gone by, and you have chapters written.

Often times the screen remains blank. No connections are made. You wade through the pool of ideas yet nothing links. Your fingers remain motionless.

Similar to an island tribe of Oceania. On their journeys to far off lands, they envisioned the island moving towards them. They remained still while the island was the one moving. Like sitting in front of your computer waiting for the ideas to arrive to you, they took a steady, calm approach to discovery.

Control of arriving on the island or linking new ideas is not yours. You are the antenna for the idea, but you do not control what the idea is or how it reveals itself.

This idea is lost on the person Wooden mentions. Someone who is busy for the sake of movement, no apparent direction but full speed ahead. “Speed only matters when the direction is known,” said Joel Barker, author and futurist.

How many times have you experienced someone attempting to multitask only to find themselves farther behind? This person answers a phone call while typing up an email and explaining the next steps of a project. When he or she accomplishes each task, forgetfulness takes over, and they spend more time trying to figure out what just happened.

The same can be said about brainstorming. The idea of everyone in the room riffing off of each other’s ideas is glorified. In these settings, no one hears each other and ideas get lost in the white noise of back and forth chatter.

A quiet setting may be best for idea creation. Everyone needs to get inside their heads and tune in. Be receptive to what thoughts are bounced around between your ears. “Listen to the broccoli, it will tell you how to eat it,” said Mel Brooks, comedian and director.

In this fast-paced world where answers create more questions, how does one create blocks of time for quiet thinking? Let’s explore:

  1. Invest in Time.

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“The rich invest in time, the poor in money.” – Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett might know a thing or two about the rich. A man currently worth $87.8 billion, rich by most estimations, says time is the more valuable investment.

Money can always be made. Whether you save more or earn more, money is a renewable resource.

Time, however, cannot be created yet many destroy it. Some people spend half of the day in bed while others watch a nonstop loop of moving pictures on their televisions.

By allowing yourself more time, you can let the ideas come to you. Sit in front of your computer and stare at the blank screen until your fingers begin typing. Look at the budget over and over again for ways to cut costs. Examine new revenue streams.

The pie of money is not finite. The pie of time is. Money can be earned back. Time is lost. Invest wisely.

  1. Learn to Say No.

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“The real problem of leisure time is how to keep others from using yours.” – Arthur Lacey

How often do you find yourself in a situation that you immediately regret? As soon as the word ‘yes’ left your lips, you knew you made a mistake. Examples are going out to lunch, entering into conversations that have no end, and creating meetings to feel productive.

The difference between a half hour lunch and an hour lunch adds up over the course of a week. If you are so busy, can you afford to spend that extra 2.5 hours per week eating? Probably not. Passing people in the hallways can turn into 20 minutes discussions about dogs or the weather. A simple ‘hi’ is enough to stay social while keeping goals in mind.

Meetings, if planned poorly (which is too often), waste time. Conversations go in circles. People talk over each other. You leave the meeting with more questions than answers. Bulk emails are sent to clarify and then the next hour is answering the responses to those emails. In total, this one-hour meeting took three hours of your day.

How do you avoid these? Say no.

  1. Just Do It.

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A boiled down version of all the techniques and tips is simply make more time. If you truly want more time, you will find ways of doing it. Waking up earlier, cutting out television, or scheduling these thinking sessions are all ways to create more time.

The application becomes the difference. Knowing how is great, but at a certain point, you must apply this knowledge otherwise what good is it? Do not blur the lines between reasons and excuses. Making time to think and create can be difficult. Sitting and exploring your inner thoughts does not seem like a good time. You would rather be engaging with your team or talking to stakeholders about the next moves when you really need to be thinking. Thinking in a quiet room where only your thoughts can be heard.

Takeaways

Inaction is an action. I do not mean sitting at your desk staring off into space. The inaction I am referring to is quiet time sitting in front of the plan, schedule, budget, and so on thinking of ways to save time, money, and resources.

Open up the access your antennas require to receive information and feedback. The answers always exist. Keeping busy so the boss thinks you are working does not do anyone any good. Your idleness should be synonymous with idea creation.

Perform activities that move the project forward. I cannot count the number of times I have witnessed a laborer or operator just going through the motions to appear busy. This activity is wasting fuel, putting wear and tear on the equipment, and possibly causing damage if an underground utility is hit. There are no benefits to mindless, aimless activity.

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Contributing Author

Over the past 10 years, Chris Cook has spent his career in the construction industry. He has a Bachelor's of Science in Industrial Technology Management with an emphasis in Building Construction Management and Master's of Science in Project Management. He is an accredited PMP.

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