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Why Having More Thinking Space Is Your Anti-kryptonite As A Leader

Tuesday 11 October, 2022
We all know that Kryptonite is Superman’s biggest weakness and brings him quickly to his knees starting with a drain on his energy and strength. For directors, leaders and managers; lack of time space and capacity is like kryptonite to your leadership. Creating thinking space is your anti-kryptonite.


When was the last time you had ‘free time’ in your diary? Most of the time we end up with a bit of free space by accident when an appointment is cancelled. And how good does that feel?

Rather than waiting for these times to happen by accident through a cancelled appointment, block out these patches to take advantage of them. A strategy is to colour-code time in your calendar.

Too often our calendars are so full that the space to think, and breathe, comes only in the gaps or our commutes, or even on the weekends.

What we need is adaptive capacity

Broadly, and more scientifically, adaptive capacity can be described as the ability or capacity of a system to modify or change its characteristics or behaviour in response to existing or anticipated external stresses. The term is used often to describe adaptations to climate change.

This is not new thinking. Darwin’s theory of natural selection argues that a species’ adaptive capacity influences the extent to which it is able to adapt and thrive in a changed environment.

For our purposes, it simply points to whether we have the mental, physical, and temporal space to respond positively when things don’t go according to plan, and even to seize opportunities that may exist as a result of new conditions.

How much time should you protect for thinking?

Protecting 15 percent of your time for adaptive capacity is optimal.  Practically, this looks like:

  • In a year 1.8 months (or 7.8 weeks)
  • In a quarter - 1.8 weeks
  • In a 20-day month - 3 days
  • In a 40-hour work week - 6 hours
  • In a seven-day week - 1 day
  • In an 8-hour day - 1.2 hours

Some of these options may be outside your comfort zone and make you feel quite uncomfortable.

For example, blocking out almost eight weeks of the year to ‘think’ may seem extravagant and wasteful, unless you are writing a book or a dissertation, studying, business planning or making a significant change in your life. There’s a reason why many professions encourage sabbaticals.

Taking about two weeks every quarter is accepted practice in education because we know that kids and students need a break from the effort of constant learning. Are adults any different?

Blocking out three days per month may soon start to feel appropriate in the corporate world. We can imagine marking it in our diary and using the time to take stock and do some decent planning.

Blocking out six hours a week, or 1.2 hours a day, is where many people land because it has the least perceived impact on others. We can imagine holding on to that space in our diaries and gaining more control.

John Donahoe, president and CEO of Nike schedules thinking days. 

“From time to time, I like to take a 'thinking day'. These are pre-scheduled, uninterrupted times to step away from the chaos, zero-base my time, and refocus on the issues that are most important”. (excerpt from his post To Beat the Chaos, Take a Thinking Day)

What should you be thinking about?

Whilst taking time out to stop and do nothing allows space for our brains to wind back and access the parts that boost creativity this is really about giving you some uninterrupted time, space and capacity to think. At this time, you would be pondering:

  • Goals and priorities
  • Predictions and preventions
  • People and relationships
  • Future use of your time

If we are to lead more productively, come up with good ideas and make quality decisions, we need to create the space to think. 

Author Credits

Donna McGeorge is a best-selling author and global authority on productivity. Her book series, It’s About Time covers meetings, structuring your day, and doing more with less. Learn more by visiting www.donnamcgeorge.com

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