T as in thinking

I wrote a post about the "TARGET" method I use to prepare to presentations. I would like to dig a bit deeper in it by explicating every step separately. So today is for "Thinking". You probably think this is the easiest of all, but I see it otherwise. It's the most important and most difficult one.

Try this small exercise before you continue reading the post: close your eyes for two minutes, and think about your daily tasks at work. Nothing else, for two minutes. When you open your eyes, summarize them and write three short sentences that describe what you do, so anyone who reads them understands it.

Done? If you feel like it, let me know about your experience. But let me guess: it wasn't as easy as you might think, was it? Our mind tricks us all the time, and thinking clearly gets more and more difficult with all the noise and distractions around us. With our smartphones, tablets and computers always at hand we consume a lot more than our brain can deal with, and clear, slow-paced, let alone creative thinking are something that are disappearing quickly from our lives. We have to develop strict self discipline if we don't want to be distracted and hypnotized all the time. Our mind is racing constantly, everything gets faster day by day, and we – more than ever – have to slow down.

This is true for the majority of us these days. Not only when we have to create a presentation. This points way beyond our slides: this is essential for keeping our sanity. So if you care about yourself, try these techniques, and you won't just be able to collect your thoughts together more effortlessly, but you'll become calmer in general. Introverts tend to live in their minds, more than other people, and their thoughts can be overwhelming. So this helps them too. I know, I've tried them myself.

  • Go to bed early, wake up early. No matter if you consider yourself a "night owl", just try it for a few weeks, and you'll see the benefits. (Now I'm preaching water, but I have my excuses for drinking wine, and as soon as I'm able to go back to "normal", I'll be in the early morning club again).
  • Create before you consume. Disable push notifications, or even better if you switch off your phone for the night and don't turn it on again until you've reached the office. The feeling is liberating, and your mind will thank you. If you have to write, think, create, (move!), this period after waking up is the best time to do it. You'll realize that your efficiency is multiplied without the well-known evening drowsiness and without all the mixed feelings and thoughts you collect throughout your days.
  • Meditate. Yes, I know it's kind of vague. But it works, so try this first, if you've never meditated before: after waking up, sit up tall, close your eyes, and breathe for five minutes. Of course I know you're breathing all the time. But be aware of your breaths. Watch them carefully. In, out. In, out. Focus on the rhythm, and don't worry about anything else. I suggest morning, because if you are a beginner, you won't be able to turn off your thoughts in the evening, and you'll more likely to fall asleep then, even if you're sitting. Believe me. Meditation is not sleeping. It's silence, that makes place in your mind: place for important things. It's de-cluttering in your mind, and eventually, in your body. And it's not a myth. Nobody's watching or judging, try it, and see it for yourself.
  • Use notes. When you try to remember everything, you'll forget something for sure. (Don't tell me it's just me). If you have a great thought about your project, but you're in the middle of something else, take a short note, so you can explore the idea later (next morning, with a clear and well-rested mind).
  • Be present. I know I said it before. But I will tell this to you again and again. Because this is a so simple and effective, yet so easy-to-forget way to get better in every sense of the word. If you take one problem at a time, if you focus on what's going on now, you'll be able to solve the problem instead of procrastinating it because of the million fractions of other thoughts in your mind. Plan ahead wisely, but don't be a prisoner of your future, and don't think too much about yesterdays. Be here and now.

They say it takes three weeks to develop a new habit, or break an old one. I don't really believe in exact numbers in this case, but there's something I've experienced many times: if you are consistent and persistent, it pays off. Maybe just after a few months. Maybe after three weeks. The key is consistency and perseverance. If you develop a good habit of clearing your mind on a regular basis, you will always have the space for fresh thoughts, which makes your life easier, as well as your preparation time (before a presentation) shorter and more effective.