T is for Taking Time To Think


How do you buy time to think when faced by a crisis? How do you take time to refocus before tackling the next challenge? How do you set aside time to consider the important things in life?

Different people use different ways to reflect while the world keeps turning. You will have your own approach to making this happen.

Looking back on your life, when have you taken time to think? You may have bought time to explore the possible options for going forwards, reflect on your life priorities or re-energise yourself during a working day.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you took time to think.

Describe the specific things you did then to take time to think. 

Describe the specific benefits that resulted from you taking time to think.

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Taking time to think
when faced by a crisis

Good decision makers often act quickly to stop things haemorrhaging during a crisis. Staying calm, they also buy time to think.

They aim to get a helicopter view, see things in perspective and plot the possible routes for going forwards. They take the following steps.

They clarify what is actually happening, look for patterns and establish the picture of success.

They clarify the potential options for going forwards – together with the pluses and minuses of each option – and settle on their chosen option for achieving success.

They pursue their chosen option and do whatever they can to achieve the picture of success.

Gary Klein has written several books describing how firefighters, medical staff and other crisis managers make decisions in pressure situations. These include Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions and The Power of Intuition.

The power of intuition

Bill Breen wrote an excellent article on Gary’s work for The Fast Company magazine. Speaking with Bill, Gary explains:

I noticed that when the most experienced commanders confronted a fire, the biggest question they had to deal with wasn’t ‘What do I do?’ It was ‘What’s going on?’

“That’s what their experience was buying them – the ability to size up a situation and to recognize the best course of action.”

Gary goes on to outline the steps such people then take in high pressure situations.

They reach into their experience – going through it on ‘hyperdrive’ – to scan previous scenarios and see what lessons might apply to the present situation.

They are, at the same time, fully present: they look for patterns and clues to piece together what is happening.

They choose what they believe would be the best course of action and play scenarios about how this might work in practice.

Describing how Gary talks about expert firefighters, Bill’s article outlines what such people do next.

Once they make a decision, they evaluate it by rapidly running a mental simulation. They imagine how a course of action may unfold and how it may ultimately play out.

The process is akin to building a sequence of snapshots, says Klein, and then observing what occurs.

“If everything works out okay, the commanders stick with their choice. But if they discover unintended consequences that could get them into trouble, they discard that solution and look for another one.

“They might run through several choices, but they never compare one option with another.

“They rapidly evaluate each choice on its own merits, even if they cycle through several possibilities. They don’t need the best solution. They just need the one that works.

“Experienced decision makers see a different world than novices do,” concludes Klein.

“And what they see tells them what they should do. Ultimately, intuition is all about perception. The formal rules of decision making are almost incidental.” 

“Experts come up with a plan and then rapidly assess whether it will work. They move fast because they do less.”

Taking time to think
during the day

Good decision makers take time to reflect during the day. This enables them to relax, rehearse and refocus. They are then more able to deliver results when it matters.

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Daniel Forrester is somebody who encourages people to take time to reflect before making decisions. Writing in his book Consider, he says some decisions do need to made quickly.

On many occasions, however, there is often time to consider the options and improve the chances of success. Here is some background from Daniel’s website.



About The Book


This is the warning Dr. Robert Bea drills into his Civil and Environmental Engineering students at the University of California in Berkeley. 

Bea wants to dramatize what he terms the inevitable “oh shit” moments that present themselves-before an actual engineering calamity like the Deepwater Horizon/BP disaster happens.

There’s an intangible and invisible marketplace within our lives today where the products traded are four fold: attention, distraction, data and meaning. 

The stories and examples within Consider demonstrate that the best decisions, insights, ideas and outcomes result when we take sufficient time to think and reflect.

While technology allows us to act and react more quickly than ever before, we are taking increasingly less time to consider our decisions before we make them.

Reflection supplies an arsenal of ideas and solutions to the right problems.

Forrester shows us that taking time and giving ourselves the mental space for reflection can mean the difference between total success and total failure.

Taking time to think about
the important things in life

When do you reflect on the important things in life? Some people are proactive and set aside special times, such as long weekends or other periods, to explore these questions.

Other people reflect after falling ill, losing their job or encountering a setback. Vulnerability can be a great teacher. It gives the chance to consider what we value in life.

People sometimes explore the following questions at key points in their lives. They then have the opportunity to translate their answers into action.

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Different people have different ways of taking time to think while the world keeps turning. You will have your own approach.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to take this step? You may wish to do so when buying time during a crisis, reflecting during your daily work or exploring what is really important in life.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to take time to think. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to take time to think.

Describe the specific benefits that may result from you taking time to think.

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