Posted by Ryan Lynch, AIF®, Product Manager, fi360, Inc. on August 26, 2015
Waiting in line for your morning coffee. Waiting for a client to arrive at a lunch meeting. Waiting in traffic. Our days are filled with “in between” time. Prior to the personal device revolution, it was the time when you picked up a magazine, struck up a conversation with an adjacent stranger, or even spent some time alone with your thoughts. Nowadays, we use queues to check quotes, tardy clients to send emails, and stop lights to browse social media. We have largely filled in the gaps, and the multi-taskers out there would be high-fiving in the streets if only they looked up from their screens and noticed one another. But is all that screen time really making us better at our jobs?
Creativity requires boredom, and we are not bored anymore, at least not in the way that sparks new ideas (tedious spreadsheets incite a different kind of boredom). Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”, Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, Alexandre Eiffel’s eponymous tower: these brilliant creations required forethought. Though one of Van Gogh's most productive periods was during his stay at an asylum after the infamous "ear incident", we do not need to go to such great lengths to free up our schedules. Tucked away throughout our jam-packed days are precious moments to be leveraged.
Breaking one habit and replacing it with another is a process, and I am not suggesting that you heave your device into the nearest body of water. Start this week by finding those "in between" moments throughout your day. Look for patterns and write them down. Maybe there's a recurring lull just before lunch or a dip in email volume late in the day. Whenever you notice a break, jot it down (extra credit if you note the duration). Just before you hang up your hat for the week, take a moment to add up all your gap time. You may be surprised by how much you have amassed.
Creativity is not a superpower of great artists and architects. We all possess a creative side. Innovation is the life-blood that keeps us on the cutting edge (and off the chopping block). Once you have proven to yourself that gap time exists, it is time to start leveraging it. Open up your Outlook or iCalendar and schedule 5-10 minute "meetings" with yourself throughout the week. Treat them as you would any important meeting (no "snooze" button).
When that reminder pops up, put your phone in the drawer, close your laptop screen, and just sit in silence. Acknowledge the thoughts that cross your mind and then let them pass by. On the first few attempts, the goal is to make it through the "meeting" without giving in to distraction. Though it may be painful at first, the boredom you experience is a critical and unavoidable part of the process.
Once you have honed this discipline, you are ready to begin using your gap time to create. Choose a nagging pain point, a weakness in your investment strategy, or some other area of your practice that falls short. The aim is to engage critical thinking and to let your mind dwell on a problem. When you are ready, grab a notepad and a pencil, and start free-writing. Let your thoughts flow to your hand without edit. Fill up the page. At the end of the meeting, circle any coherent ideas for future consideration and set the pad aside. You can use future sessions to slowly develop these ideas into practical applications, and then evaluate the pros and cons of your shortlist of potential solutions.
We all have more time than we think we do. Your next great idea is waiting for you to spend some quality time with it. As Gertrude Stein once said, "It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing."