Ten Things to Look for in Your Mental Kitchen

Posted 04.19.2010

Where do you go when you really need to think and get some serious work done? If the result of that work is some first rate food for thought, you might think of the place that enables you to create it as your mental kitchen. It’s that place where you can get out of the continuous stream of incoming distractions that redirect your attention every 10 or 15 minutes. It’s the place that enables you to focus your thinking and go deep. It’s almost certainly not your office because your office is full of cues that remind you of all the urgent work that keeps you from going deep on the important stuff that you need to cook up. So where is your mental kitchen? What kind of features do you need for your mental kitchen to be a place of maximum productivity for you?

Panera1Those questions are on my mind this morning because I’ve spent the better part of the past six  weekends working on the second edition of my book, The Next Level. I’ve found that it takes around eight hours to rework each of the ten chapters so your basic math skills will tell you that I’ve been spending a lot of time in my mental kitchen lately. When I wrote the first edition five years ago, the mental kitchen was a Starbucks a couple of miles from my house. This time it’s a Panera Bread a couple of miles in the other direction. Here are ten reasons why it’s a great mental kitchen for me:

1.    Room to spread out my notes at my favorite table.

2.    Upholstered chairs that are good for a multi-hour sit.

3.    Lots of outlets to plug a computer into.

4.    Lots of natural light.

5.    Free iced tea refills.

6.    Readily available, inexpensive food that works for lunch, dinner and snacks.

7.    Clean restroom.

8.    The piped in music isn’t so loud that I can’t block it out with my ear buds and my own music on my iPhone or a Pandora stream.

9.    Friendly staff.

10.    The occasional neighbor to talk to when I want to get out of my head for 5 or 10 minutes.

With those conditions in place and work to do that I care a lot about, I find that I usually enter what psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of flow. You know you’re in flow when you’re so engaged in your work that you lose all sense of time. That’s been happening regularly to me at Panera Bread. I’ll be writing, cutting, pasting, reordering, adding and deleting and then suddenly realize that I’ve been sitting there for three or four hours. That never happens in my office. Too many distractions.

So, where’s your mental kitchen? For one of my clients, it’s her dining room. When she needs to get some serious think time in, she stays home from the office, puts her e-mail on autorespond, turns off her phone and spreads everything important out on the dining room table. She’s come up with some pretty amazing food for thought doing that.

What about you? What are you working on that could benefit from some time in your mental kitchen?  What features do you need to have in your ideal mental kitchen?