Mark Dickinson investigates the concept of a Think Week and shares his findings
Think Weeks were inspired by Microsoft founder Bill Gates some 30 years ago. He developed a practice that would see him take a week long break from his working environment, totally isolate in a cabin, and focus on things that were important to him. He has repeatedly stated the importance of his Think Weeks as influencing some of his most critical decisions and as the inspiration for several of the significant moments along the Microsoft journey. A Think Week is a period of time away from everyone and everything, giving you the complete space to think. The idea is to disconnect from the world, stop all emails, messages and calls, and use the time to be alone and think.
Our lives are overloaded with information. A New York Times article in 2009 stated that humans consume 34GB of data per day. That’s a lot of information. We process so much information that we develop something called ‘inattentional blindness’, which means that due to the information overload, we fail to recognise or respond to very important new information. A Think Week extracts you from your daily environment and gives you back your life. You slow everything down and you begin to re-learn what is important. Think Weeks allow you to deliberate on the things you choose to concentrate on, and allow you to become focused.
Bill Gates used to do it twice a year. I tried it once and it was epic. When? Plan and go whenever you feel you can. It is essential that you make it a priority or it will not happen. Once the dates are set, then it is set. You are going to need to give sufficient notice to those who work with you so that they can prepare. The family is not going with you, so you need to prepare them too.
A galaxy far, far away! Just kidding. Open a map and start dreaming. Where you go will be dependent on your budget. You don’t want to bet the whole house on your first Think Week only to discover that it is not for you.
Ensure you have seclusion and a lack of human interaction. A place where you can take care of your essential needs easily and be disconnected. I went to a Greek island that involved a five hour plane ride (from Dubai) and then a two hour ferry ride. I stayed in an old Greek villa hidden in an olive and pomegranate orchard overlooking the Aegean Sea. There was no TV and it was a drive along an old bumpy road. I saw no visitors the entire week other than the cleaner who popped in very early a couple of times to take care of the basics.
Sign out of your work email account and put it on forwarder so that you do not get any emails. Someone in your work environment can screen them and send across anything that is “very important”.
Get some A3 paper and some pencils, marker pens and stationary for capturing your thoughts, along with your favourite notebook. Sticky tape for putting your work sheets on the wall. Sticky notes for randomly organising ideas.
Avoid digital devices as much as possible; old school is much more stimulating.
I planned a full week at the villa. You can find amazing places on AirBNB that provide the isolation that you need. I searched for interesting places to explore in my area and then I put together a daily plan. Each day had an outline of thinking time and enjoyment time. Early rising, before sunrise, walking, then coffee and breakfast and the first round of thinking that went all the way through until the early afternoon. Plenty of healthy snack food. Lunch was in the local tavernas located in the near vicinity with wonderful affordable food, followed by a dip in the sea and back up to the villa for a late afternoon brainstorm activity that morphed into a sundowner and simple dinner. I cooked each evening with local produce, but for those that don’t cook, I recommend delivery rather than going out for dinner. I estimated that going out for dinner would break the solitude and distract me, and the temptation for staying out late would spoil the sharpness of the next morning.
The return on investment is massive. Number one is the clarity that comes after the first two days. As things slow down and there are no emails coming in, your mind clears. You begin with lists and progress to mind-maps as the ideas flow.
New ideas are the big ROI. These are priceless. Ideas about how things should be done and about how things should not be done. Ideas about things that can be started and things that should be stopped. Things to sell. Things to buy. Things to do. Things to increase. Limitless thinking.
The deepest inspiration came towards the end of the week. I found my greatest ideas were on the last day, around things that I had spent time ruminating on. I went into overdrive, writing a complete business plan for a new company launch and creating the services that the business would offer.
The ROI? Brilliant memories, outstanding plans that excite me and my clients and a future flow of income far greater than the investment to go there.
Should you go for it? Absolutely, it is a must.