Give your brain space to work

Life around the beltway seems to move faster than the life in the rest of the United States. Add in managing proposals, and not only is it impossible to cross off each item on your to-do list, taking a minute to clear your head feels inconceivable. In contrast with the frenetic pace of federal proposals, our work products are better if we can delay some tasks to give our brains room to think.

In his blog post “Take Time to Not Think,” Scott Eblin shares that our best problem-solving happens during a mixture of conscious and unconscious thought. This is the type of thinking we have when we’re in the shower or waiting in a long line. Because our brains continue to work through issues “in the background,” we find ourselves chewing on work problems or finding inspiration when we give our minds time to wander.

The busier our personal and professional lives are, the harder it is to imagine finding that time for ourselves, so consider the following list of suggestions taken from Eblin’s blog along with some of our own ideas:

  • Turn off the radio or pod casts during your commute, work around the house, or exercise routine
  • Take a break from your workday to walk around the building
  • Eat lunch on your own, away from your computer and phone
  • Set aside a few minutes to meditate or take an uninterrupted coffee break during the slowest part of your day

Another way to give your brain extra time to process is what Ruth Hill calls “active procrastination.” Her approach is to do the prep work for a task and then set it aside while she works on other more immediate tasks. Delaying the task gives her brain extra time to process the prep work, giving her a clearer perspective about what needs to be done when she comes back to the task.

To illustrate this concept in federal proposals consider the following example. After an RFP is released, you might be conflicted about how to outline the proposal given some unclear RFP instructions. Rather than spinning your wheels, set that task aside until later in the day. In the meantime, work on your kickoff slides, adapt your proposal template, or work on another proposal for a bit. When you come back to the outlining task, your brain will be better prepared for the challenge than it was earlier. If you’re lucky, the government may have even released an RFP revision.

Whether you’re consciously giving your brain the opportunity wander or asking it to continue working out a puzzle in the background, the practice of delaying select tasks can improve your productivity and creativity. Share how you’ve been able to give your brain space to work, or share what plans you have to practice delay this week.

by Julia Quigley

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