The Reality of Idea Time (spoiler: it’s not in the office)

Last October I was first exposed to the concept of Idea Time by Todd Henry who was the keynote speaker at the Spredfast Summit. He expanded upon his Ted Talk about creativity (highly recommended) and one of the key takeaways for me was the concept that for those of us whose days are overrun with meetings of various sort, that the only way to really consistently tap your creatively you have to make time, on your calendar, for idea time.

“You need to create space for your creative process to thrive rather than expect it to operate in the cracks of your frenetic schedule.” — Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice

Immediately I scheduled a weekly hour for me to explore my inner creativity. Initially this took the form of reading articles/magazine that had long accumulated. After I completed the backlog, I began to use this time to more deeply explore areas of interest. At first this worked. I began to take some mindful time in the office to just think. Inevitably though, the demands for my time necessitated me to book over idea time every so often (i.e. I didn’t keep it a priority). This exception became a norm until finally a weekly meeting, not in my control but where my attendance was required, overtook this set time.

I then began to dive into my weekly calendar trying to find a new block of time that wasn’t already booked by a 1:1, a team meeting, a standing meeting, etc. It was hard. When I made this realization, I was quick to commit to rediscovering this time in my weekly routine.

Around the same time, I rediscovered podcasts and started to religiously listen to them to and from work. I found that this time (albeit only 15 minutes in the morning and 15–20 minutes in the evening) was my only time of complete solitude where I could take a breath and explore more deeply interests. I also found myself at the beginning of my day doing some of the most critical thinking about the challenges I knew I would encounter when i set foot in the office. Similarly, when I left work each day, I would listen to the podcasts but my mind would revisit the day I had just completed at the office and more critically analyze the problems I encountered that day.

This time before and after each work day has become my idea time. The podcasts serve as a catalyst to critical thinking (effectively getting my brain going in the morning and winding my brain down in the evening). While this time is not scheduled per se in my calendar, it is inevitable, regular and necessary — it also can’t be scheduled over. I would still like to find this time during the work week but in the meantime, I’m still getting my idea time fix.

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