The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Balancing Clear Thinking Time, Creative Time and Cruise Control Time    

There are many ways to manage your energy when doing fine work. One approach is to get the right balance between three kinds of time. These are clear thinking time, creative time and cruise control time. Let’s explore these ways of working.

Clear Thinking Time

When do you create clear thinking time? How do you get oxygen into your brain? How do you then use your imagination? Different people follow this path in different ways.

They may aim:

To get enough sleep … To compose themselves at the start of the day … To look ahead to the decisions and actions they need to take during the day … To organise their time in blocks so they can give full attention to what they are doing

To have breaks so they can re-gather their energy … To build in time to reflect … To go for a walk, run or have another kind of break … To sometimes just let their mind wander and explore ideas … To then refocus and rehearse their next thing they are going to do.

To buy time when making key decisions … To do their due diligence when making such decisions … To clarify the real results they want to achieve … To explore the possible choices and consequences … To make their decision and translate this into a clear action plan.

Good leaders, for example, try to stay calm and buy time when making decisions. Kevin Cashman highlighted this approach in his book The Pause Principle.

Below is an excerpt from Kevin’s website and a video of him talking about this approach. You can discover more via the following link.

http://cashmanleadership.com/the-pause-principle-book/

We live and lead in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. But paradoxically, Kevin Cashman contends that leaders today must not merely act more quickly but pause more deeply.

Rather than merely doing more, we must learn to pause and to do things differently in order to grow, achieve and innovate. All of these practices lead to purposeful change, and contribution, an essential part of a leader’s everyday life. 

Different people use different models for making decisions during their clear thinking time. One approach is to use the 3C model for creative problem solving. This involves them focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results by exploring the following questions.

Clarity

What is actually happening in the situation? What are the things I can and can’t control? What are my goals in the situation? What are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success?

Creativity

What are the possible choices for going forwards? What are the consequence – the pluses and minuses – of each option? On a scale 0-10, what is the attractiveness of each option? Are there any other potential options? 

Concrete Results 

What is the option – or combination of options – that I want to follow? How can I translate this into a clear action plan? How can I build on the pluses and minimise the minuses of pursuing this option?

Looking at your own life, how can you create times for clear thinking? How can you make good use of these times? What will be the benefits?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe how you can create opportunities for clear thinking times in your life and work.

Creative Time 

When do you feel most creative? Are there any particular times of the day, for example, that are your prime times? These are the times of the day when you have most energy. How can you protect and make good use of these times?

Energy is life. Sometimes we have lots of energy, sometimes we feel drained. Sometimes we need to rest and recover in order to become revitalised. Are you at your best in the morning, the afternoon, the evening or a combination of these times?

Rollo May, the psychologist, believed people could become more effective by identifying and making good use of such times. It is important to catch the wave, otherwise it is gone forever. Writing in the first edition of The Ageless Spirit, he explained his own schedule for a day.

I stay in my studio each day for four hours, but the last hour and a half isn’t worth very much. 

It was hard for me to accept, but what can I do? All I can do is make the most of the creative time I’ve got. 

So for two and a half hours I’m moving marvellously; the rest of the time I’m simply fiddling around. 

But I find joy in fiddling too. I have to accept the fact that I’m not a God. I have to accept my destiny. 

I have to accept the fact that I can only do creative work for a few hours a day, but that does not diminish one iota the joy I get from those two hours.

How can you make the best use of your creative times? People who are introverts, for example, face particular challenges in open plan offices. They often do their best work when they can cut out distractions and concentrate on the job in hand.

How to make this happen? One person I worked with did the exercise called My Perfect Professional Day. Starting by focusing on their prime times, they then sketched out how things would look on such a day.

They set aside times of the day for focusing on their creative work, helping certain customers and doing the necessary chores. They explained their approach in the following way.

I began by identifying my peaks and troughs during the day. My best time is between 8.00 and 11.30 in the morning.

I dip around that time, but then pick up again from 14.00 onwards. Previously I used to berate myself for having low energy during the downtimes. But then I learned to follow these natural rhythms.

I am now protective of those prime times, but I did face a dilemma. My desk is located in an open plan office and it is difficult to concentrate with so many interruptions.

So now I get into the office at 7.30 am and leave a note about my whereabouts in case of emergency. Then I spend the couple of hours by myself doing creative work in a relatively secluded part of the building where I can concentrate.

Sometimes I am interrupted by urgent requests, but frequently it is my most productive part of the day.

Around 9.30 I go for a breath of fresh air and then spend the rest of the morning with my colleagues. I try to meet them in the informal coffee area rather than in a meeting room. That is unless we are going to have a more formal meeting.

The afternoon is mainly devoted to visiting customers, where I tend to move into a trusted advisor role. It is stimulating to look at the challenges they face and how our company can help them to succeed.

After finishing with the customers I set aside time to catch up with emails and make sure that everything is in place for the following day. I then go home and spend the evening with my family.

Different people use different methods for making use of their creative times. Some organise their diary so they can work without interruption. Some who enjoy meeting customers set up visits for these times when they have most energy.

You will, of course, have your own approach to capitalising on these times. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe the specific things you can do to safeguard and make good use of your creative times.

Cruise Control Time 

When do you feel in cruise control? When do you do things almost automatically but are able to do the required work?

Cruise control can be useful, because sometimes you have to conserve your energy. At the same time, it is vital to respect the task in hand and deliver the required professional standards.

Peak performers often follow a daily rhythm that has elements of cruise control. They follow certain rituals that enable them to click into action and follow good habits.

Some professions involve following a daily rhythm but also paying full attention at critical moments. Nurses and doctors need to show compassion towards patients, for example, even when following a daily routine.

Looking at your own life, what are the times of the day that you go into cruise control? What are the kinds of jobs that you do during this time? You may do routine work, administration or other necessary chores.

Are there certain rituals you follow to get yourself into the mood to do such work? You may lock yourself away, go through lists and get a kick from crossing off each item. If appropriate, you may drink coffee, play music or do other things to encourage yourself when doing the tasks.

Imagine that you get interrupted. How do you switch into being fully concentrated? If appropriate, how do you buy time to do some clear thinking? How do you then do everything possible to reach your chosen goals?

Great workers try to balance their clear thinking times, creative times and cruise control times. Making this happen can enable them to make good decisions. They then aim to do good work and achieve their picture of success.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on these themes. This invites you to describe the specific things you can do to make good use of your cruise control times.

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