Where do your best ideas come from? In my case, it is in the shower, which is my excuse for taking such long ones.
In the shower, I am alone (most of the time), I can’t hear anything but the water, there’s nothing to look at but white tiles and my mind wanders.
Otherwise, it is while I am walking. One of the very few advantages of working in the wasteland of Pyrmont in Sydney is the 25 minutes or so it takes to walk from the bus at Wynyard, through the city and across the Darling Harbour footbridge to our building, in the shadow of the casino and Google’s headquarters.
Other people can do the walk in 15 minutes but obviously they are not thinking as hard as I am.
The third place I get my ideas from is conversation. Talking to other people about their lives, I’ll often stop to say: “There’s a story in that.”
Notice that my top three places for idea generation are not in front of my computer. At work, I have little time for free thinking.
Psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who invented the term “flow” to describe full engagement in a task) says thinking time away from work is “incubation”.
“Cognitive accounts of what happens during incubation assume that some kind of information processing keeps going on even when we are not aware of it, even while we are asleep,” Csikszentmihalyi writes in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.
We need time away from the work itself to allow our subconscious minds to deliver ideas back to our conscious minds.
A study of 6000 people by the NeuroLeadership Group found only 10 per cent say they do their best thinking at work, according to neuroscience author David Rock.
In a blog for the Harvard Business Review, Rock says his research has isolated three techniques to help people think more deeply.
1. Distract yourself. People who are distracted do better in complex problem solving than others who put in conscious effort.
“That’s because stepping away from a problem and then coming back to it gives you a fresh perspective,” writes Rock.
2. The four-hour work flow. Plan your week and month by listing three priorities you would like to accomplish and then have at least four consecutive, uninterrupted hours a day dedicated to them.
“This last point is key ... if you can schedule four hours with continuous flow and concentration, you could accomplish a lot and improve the quality of your thinking.
3. Understanding the “stage”. Schedule the most attention-rich tasks when you have a fresh and alert mind or group ideas into chunks whenever you have too much information.