When Bill Gates was the CEO of Microsoft, he’d have a thinking week twice a year. He left away and couldn’t have been disturbed for the entire week. He’d read a lot of papers by his employees, go through their ideas and do things he normally didn’t have enough time for. You might have heard that. And you’ve probably heard you should do the same. Then you said to yourself – why the hell should I? I’m not a chairman of Microsoft and don’t have an idea pool by 100k employees. And leaving for a week seems impossible.
But disconnected time helps even for an hour during any day. So few full days on your own will be a whole new creative experience. How to plan it? Where to go? What to do? Let me share how I usually do it.
I intentionally say weekend. This should be enough, mainly for your first time. Trust me, t’s not as easy as it seems to be alone and to do nothing specific for three days. As soon as I was reading about this for the first time in a book, I started to plan mine right away. I was an employee at that time and to spend 5 of my 20 vacation days on my own was hard to imagine. Therefore I started with a weekend. So many great things were happening that weekend (just like any other weekend…) but I resisted all the temptations. I would just tell everyone I’m busy with something. If you feel that people wouldn’t understand why you are skipping a party or a snowboarding trip, adjust the story however it fits. No need to lie – you’re just gonna be working on something, you’re preparing a project, a thing for your work / school / whatever. Leaving on Friday afternoon and coming back on Sunday evening should be reasonable.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLACE
Be creative and consider what (cheap or free) options you have. Your Thinking Weekend venue can be an airbnb flat in near town, a cottage or a beach-house of your friend’s parents, a camp or a wellness hotel if you wish. There is only one thing: once you close the door, you should be there all alone. It also depends if you feel more creative in a city or in countryside. For me both work well. But if I need to brainstorm about my brand’s events and activities, then a cultural metropolis usually works better than mountains. You can also stay in your own town. Just don’t stay home or in your office. Even if you were there alone, way too many disturbances are waiting for you there. And changing the environment helps a lot, too.
Do whatever feels most comfortable and affordable for you – drive, take a train or a bus, hitchhike, fly. Don’t forget that the traveling itself is already part of your Thinking Weekend – read or listen to a podcast if you are driving.
NO WIFI? NO PHONE? NOT NECESSARILY.
Of course you can (and should) bring your cell phone, tablet or a computer. And you can (and should) be connected to the Internet. Sometimes you just have to be able to explore your ideas or to do more research online right away. Just make restrictions. If you’re someone who cannot live without tweeting or checking your Instagram feed don’t end up spending whole day doing so. Do you remember studying for a final exam? When every disturbance kept your attention? This might feel similar in the beginning. The difference is – you’re doing this because you want to. And there is no one examining you afterwards.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU ACTUALLY DO AT YOUR THINKING WEEKEND?
I review all the notes from the books and articles I’ve read recently. I also go through my Evernote and through all new business or project ideas I have there (I tag all these notes “idea” so it is simple to filter them). I review all the milestones I had for each of my projects, mid- and long-term goals I set during my last Thinking Weekend. And I set the new goals. Not only business related; also the personal ones. Browse through your bookmarks or watch an inspiring video you saved to watch later. But again – don’t end up spending two days by only watching TED videos.
AND WHAT SHOULD COME OUT OF IT?
Have a big sheet of paper ready for the outcomes. I always write them as action points: a to-do list with specific deadlines per each task. If a full project comes out of your Thinking Weekend make sure to write a simple project plan with the very first action steps and milestones. Very valuable is reviewing the current projects I’ve been working on. How much time do I spend with each of them? Should I rethink my daily schedule? Should I allocate a specific time slot for a new project – e.g. each Friday morning? This is exactly how Forbidden Taste started and that’s also how I started writing more.
ARE THERE ANY MORE RULES?
Absolutely no! Make it as big or as small as you want. Eat out, go for a coffee or for a beer if you feel like it. Or stay in bed the entire time. Go for a long run if that helps you thinking. It doesn’t mean you need to be closed in one single room. Just stay as disconnected as you can – don’t call an old friend if you’re in their town; don’t get disturbed with phone calls and e-mails; don’t watch Simpsons or The Big Bang Theory; don’t… Well, you know exactly what keeps you from doing the important stuff.
And have you read my 5 tips to find the right mentor for your startup?