Take a Breath?

In conversation with another coach recently, the idea of taking a “think week” came up.  In years past, Bill Gates scheduled a think week twice yearly, taking uninterrupted time away from his usual schedule for idea generation, reflection and future planning.  Businesses hold periodic retreats for the same purpose, assessing where they are and course correcting where needed.

You may not be able to take an entire week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start with a weekend or even a day.  When was the last time you blocked out space to take stock of your life, your work, what’s working, or not, and created a strategy for change? Taking time away from your normal day-to-day can give you the space needed for this kind of objective evaluation.

A key element to a think week, weekend or day is preparation, and the end or beginning of the year is a great time to do it.  Plan in advance for an undisturbed period – let family and friends know in advance you will not be available during this time – and limit any other input not relevant to the task at hand (texts, email, etc.)  You’ll want to lay the groundwork for making the most of this time by thinking in advance of what you want to cover.    As a framework, you might consider:

  • Your Successes.  What did you accomplish this year, personally or professionally, that you feel good about?   What has worked well for you?  Did you reach an important milestone or goal?  Have you increased your knowledge base or learned a valuable new skill? Starting out with what went well is a good place to begin, because you can build on it.  What has been working well that you want to keep going?
  • Your Challenges.  What didn’t work out as planned.  What was difficult?  What happened?  What might you need to do differently in the future?  Are there any important lessons that were learned and how can you use these to improve?
  • Your Commitments.   Most of us have obligations that we have taken on over time – in our communities, church, business organizations and the like.  This is a good time to think about whether you want to continue in these roles or step aside.   If some responsibilities have become cumbersome or are no longer in line with your priorities, it may be time for a change.
  • Your Environment.  Where you live and work can either support you or drain your energy.  A cluttered workspace or office, mail piled up on a kitchen counter or table, clothes or other belongings strewn about – all of these take up mental space that, whether we realize it or not, impact how we feel and function.  Take a look around you.  If there are things you no longer use or need, donate or give them away.  Sometimes simply getting rid of stuff can lead us to more order.  Being more orderly will free you up to concentrate on your most important tasks, and creates space for creativity and new ideas.
  • Your Future.  Now that you have a clear idea of where you are (and I urge you to do this in writing) it’s time to take a look at the year to come, and what your objectives are.  What do you hope to experience in the year to come – both professionally and personally?  What do you want to prioritize What is your vision?  Write it all down and be as specific as possible.  Research shows that writing down goals makes the achievement of those goals much more likely.
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The gift of time to think.

Setting aside time for this kind of effort will pay off.  Peter Drucker once said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”  That’s what we’re talking about here.

I once had a teacher who used to say, “The outer is always a reflection of the inner.”   If it’s true that we are the authors of our lives, and I believe it is, make sure the story you are writing is the one you want to live.

I would love to hear any additional thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment below – I’ll be sure to respond.

Wishing you many good things for the coming year!

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