Taking a step back is something we talk about doing, yet rarely find time to. We ponder things in between other thoughts, usually while moving from place to place or standing in the shower. Do these stolen moments offer the most benefit though? What are we missing when we’re lost in thought? Is there a more effective way to think about things?
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki says
Or you may say, “This is bad, so I should not do this.” Actually, when you say, “I should not do this,” you are doing not-doing in that moment. So there is no choice for you. When you separate the idea of time and space, you feel as if you have some choice, but actually, you have to do something, or you have to do notdoing. Not-to-do something is doing something
I boil this down to the idea that if I am going to think about something, then let that be the thing that I am doing. Doing something tends to require some kind of output, be it notes, a decision, deferring a decision to a later date, or some other measurable. Passing thoughts in the shower which are soon forgotten have yielded no tangible output. When you are taken out of what you’re currently doing by some thought, if that thought feels important then note down to return to it later, then come back to it.
This is an approach for productivity I have found massively useful. I use EverNote, and create a new note containing a table with two columns. One column is for the current focus of my attention, the other is for thoughts that arise outside the scope of my current focus. I use Egg Timer’s Pomodoro timer to manage my focused efforts, with 25 minutes devoted to items in the left column, then 5 minutes devoted to items in the right column. I do some brainstorming at the start, usually filling the left column with 90% of what I need to do. If anything arises in the mind that cannot fit into the left column, I stick them in the right hand column. If the items cannot be done within the 5 minutes, they get a new note and I tackle that thought process too using pomodoros.
This is taking a step back from my usual mental process of flitting from one thing to another, and instead using targeted attention to get more done in a shorter space of time. Give it a try. Let me know how you get on in the comments.