You are probably thinking to yourself, now there is a ridiculous title, a prime example of an oxymoron. How can something be both a luxury and a necessity at the same time? Indeed, Webster’s defines ‘luxury’ as “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort: sumptuous environment <lived in luxury>; something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary <one of life's luxuries> b: an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease <had the luxury of rejecting a handful of job offers>.  Allow me to challenge you with the notion that time spent ‘thinking’ may seem to be an indulgence, a luxury, but at the same time is absolutely necessary for a productive and happy life, personally and professionally. 

When I was in high school, my approach to taking essay exams was a bit different from my classmates. When the exam booklets were passed out, my classmates would immediately begin scribbling, writing furiously as if their lives depended on how many words they could get down on paper before time was called. I would sit there, amazed at this flurry of activity, wondering how they could be writing, while I still had to figure out what to say. Often, my teachers would stop by and ask if I planned to start writing any time soon. I would sit and think, tossing ideas around this way and that, and typically, about 2/3 through the allotted time for the test, I would put pencil to paper and get my thoughts down.  After a while, my teachers stopped pestering me when they realized that my ‘system’ seemed to work.

I never really gave this much thought until many years later. Setting aside time for reading and thinking was just a natural part of my peculiar operating system.  Everyone has a system that works for them, or so I thought. As a graduate student in psychology and business, I gradually came to realize that while everyone has an operating system, conscious or otherwise, they don’t always work optimally. Hence, the profession of psychology and counseling. We can all use a bit of tweaking or tuning of our operating systems from time to time.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” The greatest minds always spent time contemplating, reading, and thinking. Too often, we immerse ourselves in doing, lost in the details, without taking the time to think about what we should be doing. Too often, reading, thinking, contemplating, become ‘luxuries’ for which we just don’t have time.

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric typically works 100 hours a week, with his time jam-packed with meetings, conferences, and calls. On the other hand, Warren Buffett, arguably one of the most successful investors and businessmen of the past century spends some 80% of his time thinking and reading. The current CEO of LinkedIn schedules two hours of uninterrupted thinking time into his schedule every day; Bill Gates would take an entire week off several times a year just to think. 

Taking time to just think has become a luxury that most of us cannot fit into our schedules. Back in the day, we used to call it contemplating our navels. The brain needs time away from the minutia, away from the nitty gritty of life in order to put things back into proper perspective. Take time to read, let your mind roam in other directions, unburdened by the small things in your personal and professional lives. Great ideas spring from the deep, dark recesses of our brains at the most unexpected times. Isaac Newton was likely contemplating his navel while sitting under that apple tree when he was bonked on the noggin by a falling apple. Whether that old story is true or not, the point is that he was taking time away from work when he came up with the concept of gravity.

Read a novel, go to the beach, take a walk in a park, listen to some good music, take time to just think – get your head away from work on a regular basis and, for goodness sake, DON’T feel guilty about it. You will come back refreshed, enlightened, and very possibly, with some good ideas about where you are and where you are going. Your brain will thank you, your colleagues and clients will thank you, and your family will thank you!

Happy thinking!

Cheers,

Sandra Fein

Sandra Fein is the Founder and CEO of Reinvention by Design and a member of the Wilmington, Delaware Polka Dot Powerhouse chapter. She has a heart and passion for helping and inspiring women who want to start a new chapter in their lives. Whether it’s you or someone you know and care about, sooner or later life throws us a curve ball resulting in circumstances beyond our control. As a mentor, guide, and accountability coach she supports her client’s journey from the land of self-doubt, fear, and hopelessness to the land of possibility, filled with new opportunities and a new future.