Last week I was confined to my home with my children and husband during the blizzard that pounded the east coast for over a week. I work from my home, which meant there were constant interruptions, requests for activity ideas and more!
Over time and through much self-reflection and personal analysis, I’ve come to realize the importance of having personal space and time alone. As a young adult, I assumed that staying busy with multiple social and networking engagements meant that I was excelling in life. Now I find that when I have a schedule packed with business and social activities I crave my alone time.
Great thinkers such as Jeff Bezos, Leonardo da Vinci and Katherine Graham valued and embraced time alone with great reward. However, in our busy lives, with the added distraction of social media, it is becoming much more difficult to find that quiet time and space to reflect.
In the US, many organizations encourage collaboration and shared workspaces. Open floor plans and eliminating private offices, as Citigroup’s headquarters recently adopted, are becoming the norm.
While there are significant benefits to these open spaces such as greater social interaction to stimulate energy and enthusiasm, many still believe that it is in quiet reflection that optimal operations, creative ideas, and plans are formulated and clarified.
More and more research supports evidence that allowing your brain time to free think and be “quiet” adds great value to your role as a leader and individual contributor. In the recent Harvard Business Review blog, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire advocated that solitary reflection feeds the creative mind.
Think of times when you’ve come up with a plan while jogging; had an “ah-ha” moment in the shower; or identified presentation topics when stuck in traffic. Kaufman and Gregoire offer that these are times when we are “letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions — the brain’s default mode network is activated” and thus presenting creative, original ideas.
As my colleague Barbara Irwin recently wrote, employees should spend more time reflecting, meditating and allowing their minds to think freely. These strategies can all have a big impact on identifying strategies, clarifying problems, solidifying solutions.
As you personally explore the gift of silence and stillness consider the following:
Within your organization
- Identify a quiet place in your organization such as a conference room or office space where employees can go to work and think without interruptions
- Establish ground rules for quiet places and communicate them to employees so that they will understand, respect and value the gift of silence
- Identify social gathering places for employees such as lunch rooms to encourage team building and idea sharing
- Encourage telecommuting and/or flexible works schedules
- Establish a culture, procedures and practices that values individual time for reflection in order to produce the best strategies and creative ideas
- Incorporate wellness programs that include yoga, mediation and breathing techniques
As a leader
- Listen more, talk less
- Encourage team members to use their vacation time to refresh and rejuvenate themselves
- Prior to a presentation, meeting or negotiation, spend time alone in order to crystalize your thoughts and purpose
- When asking your team for creative ideas, ask for them in writing; or send the details of your request ahead of a brainstorming session to allow team members to reflect and strategize
- Practice mindfulness by:
- Scheduling time to sit and think without a purpose or agenda – – see where your mind takes you
- Establishing a routine that incorporates a walk or time alone without a colleague, book, activity or agenda
- Making an effort to put down or turn off your electronic devices to eliminate distractions
- Giving yourself permission to say no once in a while
I realize the impact and value that spending time alone has had on both my personal and professional life and make sure to find time for myself. Most importantly, I don’t feel guilty for giving myself a time out in this hustle and bustle work life we live, and neither should you!