Most of us don’t spend enough time thinking. We are so busy doing that we have, I fear, almost forgotten how to think. Yet it is our thinking, more than any other single activity, that influences our outcomes.
The problems we face will not likely be solved by working harder. New gadgets won’t really help either. In fact, I sometimes fear that our many gadgets have only added unnecessary clutter to our lives. What we need is better, more profound thinking.
But how can we find more time? For most of us, our lives are chockfull of activities. We are like a glutton at a feast, with our mouths stuffed full, trying to squeeze something else into an already crammed mouth. There just isn’t room.
This is one of the reasons I like plane rides so much. It’s the one place where I can work for prolonged periods of time without interruption. I usually do my best thinking in the air. I have come up with several, break-through ideas while cruising along at 35,000 feet. I call this “head time.”
If this time is so valuable—for ourselves and our companies—how do we get more of it? Short of traveling to be traveling, we have to find ways to create more head time in our weekly busyness. It begins with clearing away the junk and clutter that chokes strategic thinking. We have to make space for long, uninterrupted time to think about our most important clients, projects, and procedures.
Here’s a few ways I am finding to do that. (Thanks to Timothy Ferris and his book, The 4-Hour Work Week for stimulating my thinking about this.)
- Eliminate everything that is not critial to your role. Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, used to say, “Don't do anything that others can or will do when there is so much of importance to be done that others cannot or will not do.”
Sometimes, we just keep doing the same-ol’ same ol’ because it is familiar. Now is the time to question everything. Start by looking at your calendar. Is it really important to attend all those meetings that fill your week? Scrutinize each one. Ask the hard questions. Be willing to make the tough call and extract yourself from meetings where you don’t add or receive significant value.
Next, look at your to-do list. How many things end up on your task list that are just not that important? They may be important to someone, but they are not that important to you or what your company is paying you to accomplish. So often, we drag forward tasks and activities from a previous role. We do it because these things are familiar and we are comfortable doing them.
One of the most help tools I have ever employed in this regard is a not-to-do list. The idea is simple. Make a list of all the things you are going to stop doing in order to make room for the things you need to be doing (like thinking). Once you have this list, share it with your assistant and colleagues, so they can help you. You don't need them inadvertently sabotaging your plans.
- Automate everything that is repetitive. Technology is a wonderful tool, but I find most people don’t avail themselves of what’s available. For example, why pay the same bills month after month when you can automate bill-paying and never think about it again?
If you haven’t done so, read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. This is one of my top-ten business books. It provides a way of thinking about your business that will revolutionize your thinking. Instead of merely working in your business, you will begin working on your business.
You have to look at every repetitive task and figure out how to template or automate it. For example, do you send the same sales report to headquarters every month? Do you make the same board presentation once a quarter? Do you draft the same acknowledgment letter to resumes you receive? Sure the details are different, but essentially, these tasks are repetitive. If so, then you need to create a template, so that you don’t reinvent the wheel every time you do the task.
Recently, I discovered that we were in a squabble with an author over which tour expenses we were going to reimburse. I thought, Ninety-nine percent of this could be eliminated by simply creating a “Tour Expense Reimbursement Policy” that is given to authors before the tour begins. That sets everyone’s expectations and would eliminate negotiating after-the-fact. Thankfully some of our people are already on this. I’m just surprised it hasn’t been done until now.
- Delegate everything that someone else could do. Okay, maybe you don’t have an assistant or a staff. If so, then you’ll have to make the most of #1 and #2. But if you do have a staff, you need to be using them. And, if you don’t have a staff and still want to delegate, consider outsourcing. Upwork.com and GetFriday.com are two excellent sources of inexpensive, amazingly competent help.
What should you delegate? Frankly, anything that you find boring, tedious, frustrating, or time-consuming. Keep in mind that there are other people who actually enjoy doing these tasks. For example, I dislike yard work. I just don’t have time. But my son-in-law, Nathan, loves it. He is an arborist by trade and loves trimming trees.
Or consider bookkeeping. I hate it. So does Gail. As a result, this task often is relegated to last place in our to-do list. Recently, we ran an ad on Upwork.com and found a certified bookkeeper for $10.00 an hour. She thinks she can handle our needs for around $100 per month. To think this has been creating frustration for us for most of our adult lives, and we could have solved it for less than $100 a month! Best yet, the bookkeeper will do a much better job than we could do and that time is freed up to pursue the things that only we can do. What is often a burden to us can be a blessing to others.
In addition to eliminating, automating, and delegating, I am also trying to structure my week so that I build in time to think. For example, recently I issued an edict in our company prohibiting meetings on Fridays. (Yes, I realize that occasionally, we will have to break this rule to meet our customers’ needs.) It is so easy for all the available work time to get scheduled with one meeting after another that people have no time to think creatively. This is one simple way to reclaim part of the week for a higher purpose.
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