We’re too busy to think straight. Puja Bhola Rios shows us how to make the time
Puja Bhola Rios gets it, you’re busy. We’re all busy. There are meetings in person and online. There are deadlines to meet and people to please. Life is crazy. But, she says, if you don’t make time to stop and think about all those meetings and deadlines and about the bigger picture, “You’re really just going to operate like a hamster on a wheel that keeps going and going on a road to nowhere.”
The author of Get It Together: A Winning Formula for Success from the Boss You Need and the chief revenue officer for video review and collaboration platform Frame.io shared with BOSS her strategies for critical thinking that makes sense of the chaos and enables real growth.
“Everyone’s busy, right? But it’s your life. It’s your career. It’s your job. If you don’t make the time, you’re actually never going to be able to process everything that’s going on around you, and you’re actually never going to be able to do things like assess, ‘What is the market saying? What is my competition saying? What new features are coming up?’”
If you spend a great deal of your time — as many of us do — in a “state of chaos,” carving out the time for yourself to think critically can be a chore of its own. Rios advises starting small, taking what she calls microsteps. Start with the coming week. Where are the peaks, where you’re rushing from one task to another, and you really won’t have to think? Where are the valleys where you might have some down time?
“Start with one week. Let’s see how you do it,” she said. “Some things are going to go really well, and some things are going to absolutely fail. And that’s OK, because you’re going to regroup again.”
The next week, evaluate how things went the previous week and how you can plan better for the week ahead. After 90 days of consistent planning and preparation, you’ll have a good handle on the chaos.
“I have this view that all things can be changed in 90 days,” she said. “Whether that is looking at a company’s revenue and figuring out how to make it either a grow faster or grow, period. So my view is 90 days, 90 days of consistency and you will see such a change in the way you attack your business life and your personal life.”
Building the Habit
To give herself time for critical thinking, Rios wakes up early and spends an hour thinking through her day. What’s on the agenda? What seem to be the most important goals for the day? At the end of the day, she thinks about two or three big problems that came up.
“I like to sit in silence,” she said, “and think through, ‘How is it that I’m going to come up with a solution and solve them?’”
She builds breaks into her day, times with no calls or meetings scheduled, including a 1-hour break at midday. That doesn’t always mean she’s doing nothing during that time. She might take a walk, feed the dog, or water the garden. But she’s giving herself time and space to process all those meetings and deadlines and think about how it all builds toward fulfilling big picture goals.
Set aside 30 to 45 minutes at the beginning or end of the day, she advises, to either set intentions for the day or reflect on the day and assess how everything fits together in terms of mission.
Once you’re there, you can set aside more time every quarter to devise and evaluate your broader strategic plan.
“My famous 90 days have passed and you really have to take a look back and say, ‘How am I really looking? Am I achieving the strategy? Has something changed? Have market conditions changed? How has my employee base altered like drastically did overall company directive change? Does this strategy still work?’”
Rios takes two days at the end of every quarter to look back and look ahead. If the strategy is working, she sets concrete goals for the next quarter to keep on track, and if it’s not, she uses that time to retool.
But you can’t start planning out your goals for the next year if you don’t start with that first week.
How much time a given person can carve out for critical thinking may vary. Rios and her husband try to limit their social calendars as much as possible on Sundays to plan out their weeks. They share schedules for the coming week and communicate about meal planning, when they might need to give each other slack, when someone might need to work late, etc. Crucially, they evaluate what on that calendar can be pushed or simply canceled. Things come up, as they always do, but at least they have a plan, and it’s centered on making time for critical thinking.
With busy work and family schedules, not everyone can realistically build in a full day of prep. But you can find a couple of hours. And everyone can certainly turn down the noise in their lives. The way to do that is often staring us in the face.
“How many notifications do you get on your phone during a day? How many little red bubbles are on your screen? Translate what your phone looks to your life. We’re going to start eliminating them one at a time.”
If your phone or computer is constantly buzzing or lighting up with notifications, how can you concentrate? How can you even think?
“Even if you think about just baseline, you have the CNN app, you have the Etrade app, you have Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn,” Rios said. Unless it’s about family, work, or school, it doesn’t matter, she said. Turn off the notifications. When you have time, you can check what’s going on in the news or what’s happening in the market. “But that doesn’t need to be every 3 seconds of every day.”
If it’s an emergency, Rios said, everyone knows how to reach her. Otherwise, the notifications are off and she’s focused on what’s in front of her.
“We don’t need to be this instantly responsive society. Whatever the person is asking you or telling you is important, but it’s not important for you right now.”
When the time comes to solve that problem, taking a pause to really consider it can remove the emotion from your decision and show you the whole scope of the issue. Write down your thoughts or action plan. “I think your ability to see things a lot clearly happen when you take pen to paper,” Rios said.
You’ll find you’re more in control of the chaos of your life and happier with the direction you’re headed in. Just think about it.