The Think Day: Your Secret Weapon
Today at a Glance
- In the 1980s, Microsoft founder Bill Gates began an annual tradition he called the Think Week. Gates would seclude himself in a remote location, shut off all of his communication, and spend an entire week dedicated to reading, learning, and thinking.
- While I knew I didn't have an entire week to dedicate to it (due to early career demands, family priorities, etc.), I figured I could adapt something with a similar core ethos and vision. The Think Day was my creation—and I want to share its value with all of you today...
- Pick one day each month (or quarter) to step back from all of your day-to-day professional demands. Seclude yourself (mentally or physically), shut off all of your notifications on your devices, and put up an out-of-office response. The goal is to spend the entire day reading, learning, journaling, and THINKING.
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In the 1980s, Microsoft founder Bill Gates began an annual tradition he called the Think Week.
Gates would seclude himself in a remote location, shut off all of his communication, and spend an entire week dedicated to reading, learning, and thinking.
The radical approach became an essential part of his process:
"Think Week is a time when I can be creative and push my own thinking. It's a time to step outside the day-to-day demands of my job and really focus on the big picture." - Bill Gates
I first read about the Think Week a few years ago and immediately knew I wanted to give it a shot.
While I knew I didn't have an entire week to dedicate to it (due to early career demands, family priorities, etc.), I figured I could adapt something with a similar core ethos and vision.
The Think Day was my creation—and I want to share its value with all of you today...
Finding Time to Think
In Through the Looking Glass—Lewis Carroll's darker sequel to Alice in Wonderland—the Red Queen makes an important comment to Alice about their apparent lack of progress after a feverish run:
"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
This simple interaction gave a name to an important phenomenon with continued relevance in our lives: The Red Queen Effect.
The Red Queen Effect says that we must run just to stay in place—and that we must run even faster to ever hope to get ahead. The name was originally proposed by American biologist Leigh Van Valen, who in 1973 formulated an evolutionary biological hypothesis that a species must evolve faster than its surroundings if it hopes to survive. While the evolutionary biological application is interesting, the Red Queen Effect’s secondary application—to our modern careers—is certainly more relevant here.
Are you running faster and faster just to stay in place? How often do you answer "busy!" when asked how you're doing?
Most of our careers seem to exist on a never-ending hamster wheel of meetings, calls, and email.
The back-to-back days and jammed schedules make us appear (and feel) productive, when in reality, we may just be running faster to stay in place.
We've all been conditioned from a young age that free time is bad—lost productivity, wasted time, opportunity cost.
The reality: Free time to think is a "call option" on future interesting opportunities. When you have free time built into your schedule, you have the headspace and bandwidth to dream up and pursue high upside ideas.
But it won't be easy—you're programmed to avoid it. The Think Day is my process for regularly forcing this free time into my schedule.
Here's how it works...
Creating Your Think Day
Pick one day each month (or quarter) to step back from all of your day-to-day professional demands.
The ground rules:
- Seclude yourself (mentally or physically).
- Shut off all of your notifications on your devices.
- Put up an out-of-office response.
The goal is to spend the entire day reading, learning, journaling, and THINKING.
By doing this, you force yourself to create the free time to zoom out, open your mind, and think creatively about the bigger picture.
My essential tools for Think Day:
- Journal and pen.
- Books/articles I've been wanting to read.
- Secluded location (at home, Airbnb, or outside). I did my first Think Day last fall at one of the Wander properties in Hudson Valley and it was glorious.
- Thinking question prompts to spark my mind.
Six thinking question prompts I have found particularly useful (that you should steal!):
- What are your strongest beliefs? What would it take for you to change your mind on them?
- What are a few things that you know now that you wish you knew 5 years ago?
- How can you do less, but better?
- Are you hunting antelope or field mice?
- What actions were you engaged in 5 years ago that you cringe at today? What actions are you engaged in today that you will cringe at in 5 years?
- What would your 80-year-old self say about your decisions today?
I aim for an 8-hour window (typical 9-5 day) split into 60-minute focus blocks with walks in between.
Important Note: Depending on your professional and life constraints, you can scale the Think Day up or down. If an entire day is intimidating, I would suggest you start with just a few hours blocked off once each quarter and scale it up from there. The point is to force this air and space into your life and experience the unlock it provides.
Slow Down to Speed Up
The Paradox of Speed: You have to slow down to speed up.
In a world obsessed with speed, the benefits of slowing down are extensive:
- Restore your energy
- Notice things you previously missed
- Be more deliberate with actions
- Focus on the highest leverage opportunities
Move slow to move fast.
The Think Day can help. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.