The in-demand professional assistant may find each week is a bit of a blur. 

One day it’s January. The next it’s April. Time flies by before you know it. Some people may find that a good thing. Others may feel like life is a little out of their control, racing by but without the comfort of a pit stop. 

Whether you are your own boss or serve several bosses, it’s important to set aside time to think. Time to review, evaluate and work out stuff for your business. Or time to think about your career path, promotion hopes and life dreams. 

Carving out time to think can do wonders for personal and professional development. 

That may seem like ‘easier said than done’. Here are 7 ways to help you create more thinking space. 

1. Start the Day Earlier 

You may already have an early start to the day, because of the children, commuting or you’re very much a morning person. 

But if you find it hard to find time in your current schedule, you could try to eke out more time in your week through an earlier start. 

We’re not talking about rushing into a hardcore, early hours start – such as in Robin Sharma’s ‘The 5am Club’ – unless that floats your boat. 

It could be just giving yourself 20-30 minutes extra each morning. Or take a couple of mornings and start an hour earlier on those days. Either way, you’ll create at least two hours each week for thinking time. 

Work out what works best for you. 

2. Journal 

Some of your extra morning time you might want to give over to journalling.  

This is a daily or regular practice that many people swear by. There is certainly something about writing down on paper what’s on your mind. 

You can use journalling to reflect, review, acknowledge achievements and plan. It can be as little as five minutes a day to half an hour or longer. You choose. It doesn’t take much to get into the habit. 

As you write or when you look back through your notes, you may discover patterns or find insights that allow you to make changes in your life and work. Changes that may also create more space for you to think – or do more of the things you want to be doing. 

3. Block out Thinking Space in Your Calendar 

The simplest way to create thinking space is to block out time for it in your calendar. 

In the same way you might choose to keep weekends for rest and relaxation, you can select times in the week when you want thinking space. 

Treat it like a meeting. Set 30, 60 or 90 minutes or more. Put in your diary or calendar and set the time as ‘busy’, so it’s set in your mind and the eyes of others. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes doing nothing but thinking can get you to where you want to get to faster. Overcome an obstacle. Remove a block. Sense a solution. 

If you’re unconvinced, maybe knowing that some of the world’s top leaders create big chunks of time for thinking may sway you.  

  • Warren Buffett, CEO of the fourth largest company in the USA, has apparently spent about 80 per cent of his career ‘reading and thinking’.  
  • When Tim Armstrong was CEO at AOL, it’s reported he made his executives spend 10 per cent of their day, or four hours per week, just thinking. 
  • Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn is said to schedule TWO hours of uninterrupted thinking time per day. 
  • It’s widely reported how Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, spends two weeks every year in a cabin in the woods – to refresh, read and think. 

There’s no reason why a savvy VA, PA or EA should not follow suit. Especially if they have high ambitions for their career or business. 

4. Be more productive (with Microsoft training) 

One way to claw back time each week is to be more productive.  

If, for example, a daily task usually takes half an hour and you find a way to do it in 18 minutes, you save ONE hour every week. You can use that saved 60 minutes for thinking time. 

What’s an easy way to do that?  

One sure-fire way is to have mastery of Microsoft Office and 365 (or whichever other tools or platforms you use). The Microsoft suite of applications provides excellent productivity power – if you know how to use it the smart way. 

If you’re not fully conversant with all it can do, the simplest thing to do is invest in some training. You could tackle one online course at a time – and upgrade your skills in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook or Teams. 

If you feel you could do with having everything at your fingertips, 24-7, you will save time and money with a ‘box set’. VAs might like my Tomorrow’s VA – The Hub or (for the savvy PA or EA) there’s my Microsoft Office Mastery for the Savvy Assistant, which covers the essentials and is Windows 11-ready.  

I love helping assistants and those who have invested in their future are often amazed at the time savings they can make – often with just being able to shortcut one task on their ever-busy ‘to do’ list. 

5. Power Naps and Break Times 

When some people take their break they don’t always ‘take a break’. They end up doing something work-related or getting dragged into a conversation about work. 

That’s NOT a break. 

If you want to use a break (or a lunchtime) for thinking space, you need to change your space. Get away from the office if you can. Go for a stroll if you can. Find somewhere that’s not your desk or where your laptop sits. 

Switch off your phone or, at least, turn your notifications to ‘silent’. There’s a reason a break is called a break. 

If you work for a company, it may not be so easy to take a short power nap during the day (typically in the mid-afternoon). More enlightened organisations may set aside a room or area for this. If yours does not, maybe encourage (or challenge) them to create something. 

If working from home, it’s easier to nap whenever you want.  

Whether at home or office, when I say ‘power nap’ we’re only talking about a 15 to 20-minute doze. And the key is to just lay down, close your eyes and relax.  

No music. No reading. Just silence. (If the ambience is a bit noisy around you, a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones or earphones can work wonders). 

The aim is refreshment. Recharge. Relax the mind. 

Try it. See what it does for you. 

6. Relax (with a Bath, Walk or Shower) 

When you relax physically, it also relaxes the mind.  

You’ve probably heard people say how they got a great idea, found a solution to a problem or remembered something they had forgotten – when they were doing something relaxing. 

In the bath. In the shower. Running. Jogging. Walking. Taking a nap.  

That’s no surprise. All these activities have an element of relaxation. They calm the mind. They allow the subconscious to come out and play. 

These are parts of our everyday lives that create natural space for thinking – without having to think about it. 

Again, the more you can avoid distractions like music, the more freedom you give the powerful inner workings of your mind to do their thing. 

7. Get More Sleep 

There’s a saying you should never make a big decision when you are in a highly emotional state. 

I’d add avoiding making important choices when you’re tired, jaded, fatigued or exhausted. 

The more research that is done into sleep, the more we understand how important sleep is for our health and wellbeing. Our mind and our body. 

If you want to create space to think, get more Zzzzzzzz’s. Aiming for about seven or eight hours of sleep a night seems to be what is recommended by the experts. I know some people survive on less but how good is that for them in the long run? 

What’s more, when you enter a state of deep sleep your subconscious gets to work. We genuinely do ‘think’ in our sleep. It’s why we have dreams. 

I’m told you can think of a question or a challenge that requires an answer, or a solution before you go to bed. Then, when you’re sleeping, there’s a part of your brain that starts looking for ‘answers’.  

So, when you wake up in the morning, you may find you have a lightbulb moment. That’s a pretty amazing thought. 

That’s the power of sleep. 

Set some boundaries around working late. Avoid late-night TV. Switch off your smartphone. (If you need an alarm, use a traditional one). 

Find what works for you. Just remember that the research suggests long-term sleep deprivation is NOT good for your health. 

Something to think about it. 

Now, are you going to make time to think? 

Let me know what tips or ways you use to create thinking time or thinking space. 

P.S. I am thrilled to share that I made it to the Grand Finals of The VA Voice Awards the deadline runs until 30th April so there is still time if you wish to vote for me. 

I find Shelley’s training easy to follow and the very best thing is that you can do it all at your own pace and revisit modules if it doesn’t quite sink in the first time round! I have learned so much from her training and continue to do so! She is responsive to my questions and I learn something new with each module. I find Iam hardly ever having to Google or YouTube information now, so it really is saving me time in my work day. Time that can be better used by learning more about the business I operate in!
Thanks Shelley!

Tracey Whitehouse – Executive Assistant

I have been following Shelley on Linkedin for several years, and always loved her hints and tips. In May of this year, I had the opportunity to recommend Shelley as one of our workshop speakers at the annual HMC Heads’ PA Conference in Sheffield.

On receiving the brief Shelley quickly produced content for two IT Microsoft Skills Workshops covering nuggets from Outlook, Word and Excel. Shelley then delivered (virtually) these two fantastic workshops to over 60 PAs at our conference.

From initial enquiry to delivery Shelley is the consummate professional and it was my pleasure to have had the opportunity to engage with her.

I would have no hesitation in recommending Shelley to any individual or group.

Michaela Fletcher – Heads PA

Shelley is THE guru on all things Microsoft.

I love Outlook, use it every day, and think I have a pretty good understanding of it. But every time I attend one of her sessions I learn a lot more. Her knowledge is remarkable. And she delivers her knowledge in a really clear, engaging way.

Thanks Shelley

Kathy Soulsby

I have just spent less than an hour at one of Shelley’s presentations and my mind is truly blown! I thought I was fairly proficient in Outlook, but I had no idea it could do so much more! So many time saving tips and shortcuts to help me – I can’t wait to get stuck in and implement them all! Thank you Shelley – I would highly recommend!

Hayley Rose – Executive Assistant -Dalcour Maclaren

Shelley joined us for the annual HMC Heads’ PAs conference in May 2023, where she delivered two hands-on practical IT skills workshops for over 60 PAs in attendance. Both sessions were warmly received by all participants, and from a personal perspective it was an absolute pleasure for me to work with Shelley both offline in the extensive prep phase ahead of the sessions, and online during the day itself – sharp in subject knowledge, flexible in content delivery and everything executed with a really affable manner and “can-do” approach throughout. I would recommend her services wholeheartedly.

Gareth Johnson – Leader GRE Education

Heads PA Conference

The session was well structured and the explanation was very clear. It was amazing how Shelley managed to squeeze so much info in just one hour and a half! Colin’s support and contributions were also very valuable, and so were “Virtual Veronica”‘s. Thank you for a most interesting and useful training session at the Miss Jones Virtual Summit!

Laura Carizzo- Royal Norwegian Embassy in Argentina

I haven’t used PowerPoint in 20 years, this has really boosted my confidence.

Lyn Parker

Course is packed with so much valuable information in a easy-to-understand and follow language, even for a complete beginner. I can respect the fact that sometimes it’s very hard for an expert to break the information down to basics. but Shelley has done it brilliantly. I was sure that I knew quite a bit but Shelley has proven me wrong even at the very beginning of the basics of PowerPoint. Lessons are short and precise which allowed me to easily transfer the new skill into practice without being overwhelmed and to carry on adding on more with each lesson. I had so many ‘Aha!’ moments and for most of them I couldn’t believe I used to pay graphic designer to do it for me, now, thanks to Shelley, I am looking forward to creating, designing, converting my presentations all by myself!

Iva Freeman – Vertex Human Capital

Shelley was very thorough and knew a lot of tip’s for using Teams, thank you 🙂

James O’Connor – Cavannah Homes

Very informative, constantly getting everyone in the meeting involved, loved every bit of it!

Dylan Teal Hopkins – Cavannah Homes
Fantastic and informative training and great to see all of the exciting functions with Microsoft Teams.
Laura Rigby – The Apprenticeship College
Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.
Leigh Dowling – Innuous

Microsoft Teams One to One Training Session

Shelley was approachable, easy to work with, and agile with answering questions to apply the session to my specific needs

Melissa Marshall – Present Your Science

A course on Outlook had been on the top of my list when Shelley asked VA’s what they wanted to learn. It was a real case of ‘so that’s how you do it’ or ‘I never knew that’. I have to say that I learnt so many great tips it has definitely improved the way I work in Outlook and my inbox is looking colourful and organised and I can’t wait to share this knowledge with my clients.

Jacqueline Leake – JLeake VA Services – Outlook

A great course with lots of examples and step by step instructions. I can now confidently create infographics and as a bonus, I learnt a lot of new PowerPoint functionality that will enhance all my PowerPoint work and save me so much time.

Jessica Bailey – Integral Resource

I really like Shelley’s courses. She has a clear and easy to follow teaching style. In ‘How to Create Fillable Forms’ I’ve learned about the functions of the Developer ribbon which will mean I’ll be able to create a bespoke Returns Form for a client who has an online shop

Freya Henderson – Virtual Office Orkney