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A few years ago, my husband Rich taught a cartooning class for children in our community. He came home after one of his classes and told me about his student Shelby. Shelby was a quiet, bright child around nine years old. Shelby didn’t speak much in class, but loved to draw and was one of the more gifted artists in the class. Being an artist himself, Rich didn’t impose a lot of rules on the children, simply that talking was allowed only if they were drawing.

During this particular class, Rich noticed that Shelby had put her head down on her desk. Wondering if she was taking a nap or thought it was break time, he approached her to find out. Without lifting her head, her response was to point at a piece of paper on her desk on which she had written: Thinking.

Thinking! This wise young child already understood the relationship of pausing and thinking to creativity. Here she was in a class, taking time to pause and think. She didn’t just jump into the drawing assignment as the other children did. Not only that, but she was smart enough to realize that putting her head down on her desk wouldn’t be considered acceptable behavior, and she anticipated having to explain herself. It worked. Rich let her think.

While it may not bode well for your career to be seen with your head down on your desk, as a leader, it’s critical that you find ways to pause and think. Here are some socially acceptable ideas on how you can use Shelby’s example and find more time for thinking on the job and tapping your creativity:

  • Carve some time out of your day. Pick a time when you are least likely to be interrupted. This could be first thing in the morning, during lunchtime or at the end of the day. Block it on your calendar so you won’t be booked during this time.

  • Find a place to sit quietly. Close the door to your office if you have one. Go somewhere else in the building. Take a walk.

  • Identify the situation or challenge you would like clarity on. To make the most of your thinking time, consider using the Reflective Action Cycle, an approach described in Leadership Agility, a book by Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs.

The Reflective Action Cycle ( Joiner and Josephs p. 210)

  • Assess your situation and results you are getting, and determine what needs attention

  • Diagnose what’s causing the problem or preventing the opportunity from being realized

  • Set intentions for the results you want and how you can achieve them

  • Take action on the steps you’ve decided to take

  • Assess the situation and results, and begin the cycle again

You may use this approach as a daily practice to strengthen your results, self-leadership and creativity. By taking time to think and set clear intentions, you are more likely to take the steps needed to achieve the results you want.

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