Five Ways to Get More Quiet Time
Updated: Sep 21
In a recent article by Justin Talbot Zorn and Leigh Marz, The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time, they remind us that #leaders, in this time of constant-distraction-as-norm, need time for reflection and discernment more than ever—
"Taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive."
We've learned, for example, that silence is, "associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory."
Zorn and Marz note that while simple, this is not easy. "Cultivating silence is not just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets. Real sustained silence" takes time and effort, but it nourishes, it "facilitates clear and creative thinking," and "quiets inner chatter as well as outer."
You can read the article here. As a shortcut, here are a few of my favorite highlights:
Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us that serious thinkers and writers should get off Twitter. He was not critiquing Twitter as much as he was inviting us to get beyond the noise. He says, "generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet."
A great many influential #leaders and #creatives have had disciplined practices for managing information flow and cultivating periods of deep silence. These include JK Rowling, Walter Isaacson, Carl Jung, and California Governor Jerry Brown.
Cultivating silence, “increases your chances of encountering novel ideas and information and discerning weak signals.”
Here are five ways you can cultivate periods of quiet time:
1 – Grab simple five-minute breaks throughout the day. You can hit reset by breaking away for even just five minutes—just enough time to take a few deep breaths, stretch, and/or go for a quick walk.
2 – Spend an afternoon in nature. Go take a two-hour walk in a local park or riverside. "Immersion in nature can be the clearest option for improving creative thinking capacities. Henry David Thoreau went to the woods for a reason."
3 – Go on a media fast. "Turn off your email for several hours or even a full day, or try 'fasting' from news and entertainment."
4 – Go deep and try a meditation retreat: "The journalist Andrew Sullivan described his experience at a silent retreat as 'the ultimate detox... My breathing slowed. My brain settled… It was as if my brain were moving away from the abstract and the distant toward the tangible and the near.'”
5 – Schedule a meeting with yourself. Sometimes I find that it's easier to tell people "I have a meeting" than to say, "Look, I gotta go take some quiet time." Consider, scheduling some quiet times in your day or your week. You don't have to announce that they're quiet times.
Thank you, Zorn and Marks for reminding us, "The world is getting louder. But silence is still accessible—it just takes commitment and creativity to cultivate it."
Need some structure for your quiet time?
Use this simple daily exercise (from Chris Holmberg in First Round Review) to develop a daily practice. And don't let its simplicity fool you, done regularly it returns powerful results—
Spend 15 minutes a day in reflection—true reflection, in a quiet space, with your inbox closed and your phone off.
Use this time to review the events of your day and make plans for the next day. Consider writing down these observations. Refer to your calendar to reflect on the day’s interactions and prepare for tomorrow’s.
Make this a ritual, let it become a grounding influence for you.
At the end of every week, run the same exercise for an hour. This time reflect on the past week. Then consider the challenges and opportunities of the week ahead.
To a busy #leader, taking a whole hour may seem daunting or a waste. And yet that’s exactly the type of leader who can’t afford to not take the time.
If you're not sure where to start with your reflections, use the It-We-I framework as a launching point:
By the It we're referring to your tasks—the external stuff of your work, your goals, your achievements against those goals, the stuff you’re getting done.
The We is about your relationships—the quality of your interactions, the degree to which you and the people around you are in sync, how much you trust each other, how well you are "moving" together.
And the I is about you—the attitudes and energy you bring to the table every day.
Think about your experiences through each of these lenses and ask yourself, "Was I thinking like a leader, like the person I want to be?"
Under pressure, even the best leaders tend to revert to the things we know and feel comfortable with. Use these moments of reflection to help you review and gradually shift your mental models to leading, not just executing.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when reflecting on your day:
The It –
How well did you execute your work—the emails you wanted to write, the strategy document you owed your boss, the stuff you had on your list at the start of the day?
How well did you do the things that were important and not just urgent?
The We –
Did you add value to the lives of the people you interacted with?
Did they walk away with more knowledge, energy, good will, help, or a better understanding?
The I –
How did you manage your own energy and mood?
Self-care measures like working out, eating well, and sleeping enough are just as important as anything you do in the office.
Note that the “I” is the foundation of good leadership. You can’t help others if you deplete yourself.
Many leaders have a tendency to focus on the "It"—getting stuff done, moving the project forward—at the expense of the "We" and the "I." In any human system if the "We" and the "I" are ignored too often, the system gets out of whack and things fall apart.
After you’ve reflected on the day you've just completed, look through the same lenses and use questions of this nature to set your intentions for the next day:
The It –
What tasks do you intend to accomplish during the day? Think realistically and acknowledge the ones that you won’t be able to finish.
Do you have meetings during the day? If so, do you know the purpose of each one? Do you know what you’re trying to accomplish during each of them? Do you have your agenda for reaching those goals?
The We –
Who will you be engaging with tomorrow? What is your level of trust and degree of alignment with these people? What can you do to maintain or improve these relationships?
Do you anticipate having challenging interactions? For example, do you have any meetings with a colleague who you know is frustrated with you or the company? Think about how you want to show up to that conversation. Consider what he or she might say that might trigger you to react badly. Mentally rehearse how you’d like to respond instead. Write it down, internalize it. Make that your intention.
The I –
What biases do you bring with you? How can you see through them?
How can you set yourself up to make good choices throughout the day (i.e. keeping energy high, your body fueled, etc.)? What might cause you to step off track? What is the right course of action? Identify it ahead of time.
Sources for this post include:
Harvard Business Review – The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time