Take a Thinking Day

“Airplane Days – A couple of years ago I noticed that I got some of my best work done on long intercontinental flights. No Internet access, no distractions, just churning through high priority to-do items. I would finish the flights not only at Inbox 0 but also having completed some “creative” tasks that had long lingered on my list due to lack of contiguous time to complete them: drafting new presentations/documents or deep quantitative analysis of some data/spreadsheet, for example.

When I made the joke that I should start flying internationally more often for productivity reasons, the light bulb went off. Now, at the beginning of each week, I carefully look at my schedule and declare one day (or two half days) to be Airplane Time. I block it out on my shared calendar and treat it as if I were in the air: working out of the office, disabling my phone, and shutting off network connections on my laptop. The rest of the days are for meetings, etc. but this blocked out time each week is my most productive by far.”  – Quora

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Sometime back, I wrote about the Long Walks. The key idea was that you need to have contiguous, uninterrupted blocks of time where you focus on a single project or task to be most productive. Having ‘long enough’ time for an activity helps you coalesce all the different data pieces hanging around your head and outside and bring out aspects and issues that simply is not possible if you are in a short-burst mode. That is why I called it the Long Walk model.

This is exactly what is being quoted above as an excellent tool to achieve the same goal.

John Donahoe, CEO eBay, takes what he calls a ‘Thinking Day’ every six months to ‘beat the chaos’. John wrote:

“I have found that one of the simplest tools for learning and enhancing my performance is to regularly reflect on how to spend my time. Every six months I go through a process where I step back, contemplate what I have learned over the previous six months, and then adjust my focus to ensure I am spending my time and energy in ways where I can create the greatest impact.”

It is essentially a process of zooming out from the current reality, rising above the daily fires and chaos and reflect on what is happening. It is like a military commander climbing the most strategic height of a battlefield to see what is happening. The visibility, perspective and insight that he will get from that vantage point is invaluable. We all need to such visibility and insights.

“I just finished one of my thinking days last month. I filled a white board with my assessment of the external market and how we were doing against our priorities for the first six months of this year. As frequently happens, once I had written everything out in one place, I found it useful to step back and look at things from a holistic perspective. I emerged with new insights and with greater clarity about what’s most important. To remind myself of these insights, I wrote them out, as I always do, into my personal priorities file and now carry this file with me everywhere I go.”

This is one of the best productivity and effectiveness tools. It helps dodge off the daily fires we have to fight. It makes you think deep and long enough to get the best use of your time. As Drucker said that an executive has just about 25% of his time in his control.

Taking a regular thinking day out is the best use of that time!

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4 thoughts on “Take a Thinking Day

  1. My personal opinion is that there two kinds of executive jobs, hands-off and middle-of-the-mix/mouth-of-madness kind. I think most,if not all of operations jobs fit into the second type. Now if your job is not a ‘operations’ kind of job, i think one may have a bit more time control. This maybe the reason why many companies divide jobs into COO/CEO tiers.

  2. Nice post Ather and any one involved in knowledge worker, need more thinking time. Did you notice that the best thinking time you get is when you are not in office e.g. long walk, international flights etc. How bad is the feeling that offices which were meant to be a productive place are so counter-productive that you have to be out off office to get some real thinking jobs done.

  3. Pingback: The thinking break | Knowledge Tester

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