This week I was in Denver to do some work for Secratic, and to meet with friends and colleagues in Denver and Boulder to discuss security, privacy and possible business opportunities both for Secratic and independently.

Over my visit, one of my longtime friends mentioned a particular public park in Denver that has served as a great place to ponder, and do so whilst swinging. Before my flight back to Detroit this morning I took some time to go out to this park and do some contemplation of my own. It was magnificent.

This post is not about the park itself, nor the things I actually thought about whilst perched on the very comfortable swings, moving my legs and swinging higher and higher (and doing so with a view of the Rocky Mountains off in the distance), but rather some of the steps I go through to make such contemplation most effective for me and what I get out of it.

Throughout the process of starting a new company, I have found the act of conscious contemplation to be invaluable to both keep all the various in-motion activities (some call these “balls in the air”) in perspective, as well to think about new possibilities, and review the various things I had heard, seen and discussed over the previous days. It also lets me identify issues and challenges in the context of looking at the wider picture, and figure out if I am happy with where things are, and what needs to change.

When I set out to think, I try to choose a location with no meaningful distractions. I get away from the office, away from home, hotel or other location with things that can shift my attention. I love to use parks (swings really are the best, but benches are great too), hiking trails, mountains or any other place in which you are capable of relaxing your mind. Some people are successful at doing this type of pondering whilst running or cycling too. I know some that use music and some that prefer nature or absolute silence. The choice is yours based on how you focus best.

Once in a suitable location I do a few mindfulness activities to start out the time. If you are not familiar with the notion, take a look at the introductory modules on Headspace to get acquainted with the idea of how to be in the present, and allow your mind to focus on what is happening right here, right now.

I also use the mindfulness activity to see what my brain decides it wants to think about. When in a mindful state, you can allow your mind to wander and see what it gravitates toward. Instead, there may also be a number of topics that you absolutely want to cover in a contemplation session, be they work or personal, and those can be decided before heading off to your thinking spot.

I try to limit the number of things I contemplate in a session to only a few (sometimes even just one or two) so that I don’t feel inclined to race through my thinking just to get through a long agenda. And for each topic, I try to have a couple (2-3) key things I want to try to determine, but if I can’t then I also don’t stress out about it; this is a fun activity and is not prescriptive homework (which allows me to decide “I’m done” when I feel like I have done all I can. Also, set a time limit and have a pen and paper with you to document bespoke ideas, questions or other items that are generated whilst thinking. Just jot them down and get back to your pondering, and only if it can’t wait until the end. Don’t focus on getting all the details documented or solving the whole problem then and there and lose the momentum of the contemplation activity itself. You can do that later.

Lastly, I recommend taking time at the end of each day to journal, and ideas that come out of contemplation sessions are perfect to reflect on in a journal. I’ll be doing a post in the next few days with info about how I structure my journalling, and how I have gotten both immediate and retroactive value from this way of reflection.

Being effective in life, be it at work or at home, is not only about “doing.” Every thing we do is enhanced when we take time to “think” about what we have done, what we are about to do, and what we want to do after that.

[Note: An enormous thanks to all those who gave of your time to meet and share ideas and chat with me this week; I am so very grateful. And to those new people I met at the DenSec meetup and Denver ISSA meeting, I really enjoyed all the talk and am happy to have met you. I got so much out of each of the discussions and interactions I had this week, and look forward to my next visit to Denver and Boulder in the very near future.]