Too Busy to Think?

Too Busy to Think?
How and Why to Carve Out “Think Time” For Business

Too Busy to Think? How and Why to Carve out 'Think Time' for Business

Business moves fast.

Between the pile of responsibilities on your plate and the constant demands of leading a team, you may feel like you don’t even have time to think. In order to lead well in today’s complex, fast-paced society, however, finding time to think is exactly what you need most.

Sure, “getting stuff done” is essential — at times. But without a clear goal in mind and a clear road map to get there, simply “doing things” might cost you and your team more than it gives. Here’s why — and how — to make time to think.

Why Your “Think Time” Matters

The popular media provides us images of business leaders as people with a lot of “hustle.” As a result, we begin to believe that doing more is the same thing as accomplishing more. But is it?

Warren Buffet has built a business empire by spending most of his time reading and thinking. At AOL, CEO Tim Armstrong and the rest of the executive staff spend four hours a week just thinking. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner actually puts “think time” in his daily schedule — two hours of it. And Bill Gates’s twice-yearly vacations are spent in contemplation, not in catching up.

When you spend time thinking, you can approach business more efficiently, gaining maximum impact from minimum application of time, money or effort. Abraham Lincoln reportedly once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” When you think, you spend time sharpening your axe — so when you start chopping down the tree, you can do it more quickly, more cleanly and with less effort.

How to Make Time to Think

Thinking is an essentially different mode of operation than action. While thinking can be combined with action — some executives do their best thinking on the treadmill or bicycle — “think time” works best when it’s structured specifically to let your brain work. Here’s how to create think time that works for you.

  1. Learn to say “no” and “please handle this.”
    Delegating is important. When it comes to finding space to think, delegating is essential. Check your schedule for meetings and tasks you can say “no” to, and find ways to delegate items that must be done. This will help free you from the details, giving you time and space to look at the big picture and to think more strategically.
  2. Find your quiet space.
    Virginia Woolf famously said that “a room of one’s own” was essential for success as a writer. For success as a leader, a “quiet space of one’s own” is just as essential. Focus on developing both a quiet “external” space in the form of an office with a closed door or a solo hike, and a quiet “internal” space with mindfulness practices like focusing on your breathing. When you quiet both the outside and inside noise, you improve the quality of your thought processes.
  3. Let it bubble.
    The best ideas don’t appear fully formed in their creators’ heads. Instead, they arrive in pieces — an idea here, a concept here, an insight on resources there. Use a journal or similar tool to keep track of ideas and to provide some perspective, so you can spend time considering how to fit the parts together.
  4. Be clear.
    Having an idea, mission or plan is half the battle. The other half is communicating it clearly to your team. Practice communicating your vision, ask for feedback and clarify where necessary so your team is as clear on the plan “on the ground” as you are during your quiet moments.
  5. Keep thinking.
    Once your thought processes have paid off by producing a new strategic plan or developing a new solution to a sticky problem, don’t quit. Keep examining how the change is working and contemplating improvements. And stick to your “quiet time” — practice will improve your ability to think deeply, which will continue to improve your business.

Think better when you can bounce ideas off another professional? Talk to your staffing partner about strategies for better hiring and retention.