The importance of thinking time: tips for working more effectively

When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself

– Plato

Recently, I was preparing a workshop on organisation development using the OD philosophy Appreciative Inquiry, that builds on the strengths and successes of organisations. A key part of the workshop was the importance of co-creating and co-designing solutions to challenges. As I thought about the content and approach, I began to reflect on the importance of thinking and especially getting the time to do it properly.

As I reflected, I remembered my Cultural Transformation Tools training and the story Guy, the trainer, shared with us. Guy had recently started a new project with a major corporate client. He was working with the Head of OD and it was the second of the project planning meetings. The client told Guy that the company’s CEO wanted to meet him. When the meeting was over Guy was taken to the CEO’s office – walking in, he noticed that the CEO was standing near the window looking out over the view. He turned to Guy they had a short conversation discussing how important the project was, why it had his full support and that he always wanted to meet consultants working in his organisation. Guy turned to leave the office…

From Guy’s perspective, it was a positive meeting and he felt very welcome. As he turned to walk away, he stopped and asked one last question. ‘Can I ask you what you were doing when I came in, as you weren’t at your desk working?’ he said. The CEO smiled and replied: ‘I was working – I was thinking. I’m paid to think.’ Telling us the story, Guy ended with this question. ‘How many of us have taken time to think – instead of just reacting – in our careers?

This story has stayed with me for years, as it gave me permission to think, and I’ve used it from time to time when training. As the story surfaced again it made me try and work out how and when I do think, what helps me think, and of the ways in which the Appreciative Inquiry process helps you think better. So how do we help people counter the pressures of modern organisation life and realise the vital importance of just thinking in this ‘chaordic‘* (see below) world we operate and live within.

So, how do I think and when do I do it?

I now work from home with an office in the garden, away from the constant interruptions of office life, and in an environment which makes a difference (greatly helped by the wild garden created by my wife Suzanne). As I think about it, I’ve realised there are some helpful hints as well as environment and space:

• Time to think is allocated with no distractions. 20 minutes of silence is great for this…

• Mind maps are really useful – have a look a Think Buzan, for some mind mapping software

• Go for a walk – in my case with the dog – especially when there’s a block in the thinking process

• It’s important to value meditation. The task of meditation is to enter the very focused thinking of the analytical mind and from there the shift to the intuitive mind or heart takes place automatically‘ (Meditation Society of Australia) – there’s lots of good advice and techniques online if you’re interested in finding out more about meditation.

• Whilst it’s predominately a solo activity, thinking conversations with others are really useful – sit down with someone else to just talk and think through things – don’t rush to find solutions, use the time to explore, think through and reflect

• If the thinking time hasn’t, worked do something else and return to the issues later on. Let your subconscious mull it over while you’re concentrating on something else.

• Move away from your own limitations – take risks and accept that your thinking will be wrong sometimes. That’s OK.

How does appreciative Inquiry help in the thinking process? For me AI provides lots of opportunities to support the thinking process. It emphasises co-creating and co-designing, engaging with both your and your organisation’s positive core. It puts clear steps in place to take you thoroughly through the thinking process. It stops you from jumping to conclusions about things by taking a methodical approach, which means sometimes you come up with answers you weren’t expecting at all… The creation and delivery of powerful questions with an AI protocol (an AI protocol is the question structure and format that is used to elicit peoples’ and organisations’ strengths) can bring some interesting and unexpected answers. You’ll know when you find a great question, because you’ll get a response like: ‘Wow – I’ve got to think about that‘ or ‘let me think about that before I respond…

At AP we develop a protocol to help our thinking on a project, to get the ‘thinking process’ going. (You can learn more about AI by purchasing our AI essentials cards, a practical user-friendly guide to Appreciative Inquiry.)

For me, much management practice hides behind systems and models, with the belief that – as long as we have a model and structure – it will work, especially as our working life is more pressured… The belief that if formulaic solutions are applied properly they will work, and solve problems. Unfortunately, humans inhabit organisations, bringing with them the full gamut of human emotions. At best, we can have frameworks and organic approaches that encourage flexibility and adaptability. I’d suggest that the reality of our world is chaos.

* In my facilitating work I’ve discovered the term ‘chaordic‘ – this is what takes place when chaos and order come together sufficiently to operate effectively and realistically. It often describes my thinking process when it’s at its best – oscillating from chaos to order, looking for linkages, pathways forward, and adaptability, sorting out the mind map structure.

A chaordic organisation is a form of organisation formulated by Dee Hock and others in forming the VISA organization (Hock, 1999). The term ‘chaord’ is formed from the words ‘chaos’ and ‘order’. In the formation of VISA, a means was designed to allow for the simultaneous cooperation and competition of the member banks of the VISA issuing network, which was necessary for the scale and universality needed to make credit cards usable in any geography and to provide low costs of processing each transaction. Dee Hock’s vision of this type of organisation was largely, but not fully, achieved by the VISA organization at the time it was first formed.

Hock’s vision of a chaordic organisation —
Chaord – (kay’ord) 1: any autocatalytic, self-regulating, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organisation, or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos. 2: an entity whose behaviour exhibits patterns and probabilities not governed or explained by the behavior of its parts.

Chaordic – (kay’ordic) 1: anything simultaneously orderly and chaotic. 2: patterned in a way dominated neither by order nor chaos. 3: existing in the phase between order and chaos.


I do know that when I set aside quality time to think often, great work emerges.

Find the time to just think. It’s a core skill of the work we do…

Tim Slack

If you’re interested in finding out more, have a look at the Values Centre website, which explores the ideas and advantages of cultural capital, or try Nancy Kline’s book, Time to think: listening to ignite the human mind.