In today’s fast-paced world, few of us take quiet time for creative thinking and problem solving. But we should!

It’s the paradox of our time. Self-help authors are nearly unanimous in their praise of devoting time to creative thinking and reflection. Yet, according to a recent study, overworked and stressed-out executives are spending little or no time thinking about the future of their companies – and, by implication, their lives.

Devoting several hours of uninterrupted time per week to thinking, reflection and creative problem-solving offers numerous benefits:

It deepens the spiritual part of us that often gets overlooked during the “busy-ness” of our everyday lives.

It allows us to consider our opportunities and challenges, goals and dreams – away from what author Steven Covey calls “the tyranny of the urgent.”

It frees us from needless worry and allows us to focus on more constructive pursuits. It’s been said that successful people have as many problems as anyone else. What gives them such tremendous leverage over their lives is a simple, systematic method for analyzing and solving their problems.

It’s fun! There’s nothing else like the “a-ha!” experience of creative illumination. It’s equally satisfying to dissect a problem or challenge, only to realize that a simple solution lay hidden within it all along.

What’s even more compelling is the role creative thinking and planning time has played in the lives of some of the world’s greatest artists, philosophers and business leaders throughout history. In a recent television interview, one of Hollywood’s leading special effects experts suggested that many of these luminaries had an advantage that we’ve traded away for the sake of speed today:

Years ago, before commercial aviation and the automobile revolutionized transportation, it often took days or weeks to travel from one place to another by foot, carriage, ocean liner or train. These lengthy trips offered many hours of solitude, reflection and creative thinking time – without the incessant interruptions of phones, faxes, beepers and other tools of technology that keep many of us “connected” nearly 24 hours a day. He believes that many of history’s greatest works of literature, art and music took shape during these lengthy sojourns.

The lesson for us is clear: we can’t do our best work while careening from one jam-packed day to the next. Like an artist creating an oil painting, we must take a few steps back from the canvas of our lives, to assess all of our activities and accomplishments – the individual brush strokes of our lives – from a wider, more holistic perspective.

While we can rarely afford to take the scenic route like the great artists and thinkers of the past, we can dedicate one or two hours per week to creative thinking and problem-solving time. For best results, block out two to three one-hour time slots on your calendar first, then try to schedule other priorities around them. Treat these appointments with yourself as seriously as you would any other key meeting. Make them a habit-knit part of your life, and you’ll be astounded by the results.