With all that’s been going on this month, I’ve done little more than skip from task to task, crossing items off my mental to-do list. When I take my daily walk—time I usually set aside to plan my writing day—I’m often strategizing how to fit it all in. I’m not alone. I hear from many of my clients and colleagues that in the spaces between work, life, and social media, they have little energy to think about writing let alone write.
I’m convinced that writers need distance from the dreck of daily life to ponder big ideas or fictional worlds and write about them. In leadership studies, this is called balcony space—when leaders escape from work demands and look at the big picture, much like they’re on a balcony. When I’ve written about balcony space in the past, I’ve recommended taking time away to vision the future and set goals.
But writers need more than a day away from the office twice a year. We need regular open space to imagine and dream. Here are five ways to free your brain to play:
1. Dump brain clutter. Most of us can’t think about writing because we’re strategizing how to juggle work and home or worrying about any number of real and imagined disasters. We need to clear out the brain clutter.
Try this: Each morning or evening (or both), jot down all of your worries, thoughts, and tasks. Just get it out of your head and onto paper (virtual or tangible). If there are tasks to complete, add them to your schedule so you know when you’ll complete them.
2. Clear physical clutter. I have too much stuff. Maybe you do, too. It’s hard to think big thoughts when we’re dealing with straightening, cleaning, and arranging our junk.
Try this: Take a look at your living and work space: what could you let go of that would open up space and give you more room to think?
3. Automate decisions. Several years ago, I read a book by Dr. Oz that recommended automating one’s meals—eating the same rotation of healthy foods to avoid temptation (No, I’m not going to eat the seven layer pizza for lunch. I’ve packed a beautiful salad.) Anytime we can automate our decisions—what to wear, what to eat, when to write—we free up brain space to think about writing.
Try this: Take a look at your life: what practices could you automate to save thinking time?
4. Time Travel. Last week, I visited my favorite hair salon. Most clients are in their 80s and 90s. One read a paperback book. Another chatted with her hairdresser. No one had a phone out—including me. And for the first time in a long while, I was able to think.
Try this: Choose a few tasks and do them like it’s 1975. Ride in the car without your phone. Take a walk without your MP3 player. Write with a pen and paper.
5. Go wild. Psychologists have found that being in nature resets our ability to pay attention.
Try this: You don’t have to live in the wild to get connected to the wilderness around you. Go outside. Take a walk in the park. Dig in your garden. Watch the birds or the bugs.
Your turn: How do you free up brain space to think?