Don’t wait until you have to think to think.
In other words, don’t procrastinate on your problem solving.
Procrastinating on problem solving sounds weird, but we do it all the time.
We always wait until the shit hits the fan to find the off switch to the fan when we could have found it long before that.
If you use your downtime to process and refine thoughts and ideas, when you’re under the gun, you already know what to do and you can simply execute on your idea.
Here are a couple of examples in my life:
I am notoriously bad at navigating driving directions.
This is because I never pay attention to where I’m going if I’m with someone else.
Lately, I’ve been making an effort to improve this by studying Google Maps before I leave to go somewhere I’m not familiar with.
I never did this before and would always screw up directions.
Now, I study roads, routes, and landmarks before we leave. I’ve found putting in just a few minutes of proactive map study has made my navigation significantly better.
When I’m on the road, I can think faster and process my surroundings better because I’ve already seen it before.
This year, I’m trying to grow my Instagram account by posting more frequently.
My goal is to post 1–2 times per day, which is not as easy as it sounds if you try to think about stuff to post on the fly each day.
So, instead of waiting until it’s time to post to think of a good image, description and hashtags, I get my next few images ready and saved on my phone. Then, I write out the descriptions and hashtags in advance for my next five or six posts in my iPhone notepad so that when it comes time to post, I just copy and paste.
There’s no thinking required because I’ve already done the thinking ahead of time.
Here’s one final example that can apply to almost anyone.
When you want to make better food choices dining out, study the restaurant menu before you go.
If you don’t, you’ll just act on impulse and get whatever looks good on the menu.
But by thinking through your order ahead of time and giving the decision the time and attention it deserves, you are much more likely to make a good choice.
Even if you’re not trying to lose weight or eat healthy, you can still enhance your eating experience by going on Yelp and doing a little research.
Look at reviews of menu items to see which are the most popular, then order something with good social proof.
We do this when we shop on Amazon all the time. Why not apply it to other things?
So, when are you supposed to do all this proactive thinking?
Well, despite how busy you may think you are, the truth is you have plenty of mindless time you can put to good use.
I think through and plan out future scenarios all the time:
- When I wake up at night and can’t sleep
- When I’m on the toilet
- When I’m waiting in line
- When I’m zoned out watching a boring movie or TV show
Our brains work on pattern recognition.
So by spending more of what would be “mindless” time visualizing these patterns ahead of time, you are effectively training your brain to become better at recognizing useful patterns that you can apply to almost any situation in your life.
Here’s the beauty of it:
By spending a larger percentage of your dead time problem solving, you’re not just short cutting your thought processing when you encounter the problem.
You’re also training your brain to get better at problem solving through repetition because you’re constantly doing it even when you don’t have to.
This is such a useful life hack, I’m surprised more people don’t do it.
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First published on Quora.