Why every leader needs to take a “think week”

Autumn colours are seen in a forest outside Tbilisi, Georgia October 25, 2017. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili – RC1500D9AD50
Autumn colours are seen in a forest outside Tbilisi, Georgia October 25, 2017. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili – RC1500D9AD50
Image: REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
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Once a year, for the past 7 years, I go into the woods in deep isolation for a Think Week. I picked this idea up from Bill Gates, who used one of these weeks to steer Microsoft into the direction of the internet (see his memo, “The Internet Tidal Wave”).

In 2010, I got the idea to start Skillshare on my first Think Week. Having the room to think allowed me to connect the dots and gain conviction in the idea.

Since then, I’ve been taking these Think Weeks to answer larger questions for myself and for Skillshare. I spend time thinking through both my personal goals and the direction of the company.

It’s definitely not a vacation. The days are long, from 5 am to 9 pm. I spend the days reading, writing, and thinking.

Here are some topics I think through: reflecting on my personal goals and resetting them, reading through hundreds of articles searching for trends, and using those insights to come up with ideas to solve some of our biggest challenges.

I know what you’re thinking — who can afford to take a whole week off from work? I would agree that it’s very unusual.

I look at my Think Weeks as a solution to what I call the “execution trap.”

We stay really busy to keep moving the ball forward on our ideas. But what happens when we move the ball in the wrong direction?

This style of working brings to mind a hamster running along the “execution” wheel — running without really going anywhere.

Because we’re moving so quickly, it can be wise to slow down in order to make these bigger decisions. Going on my Think Week allows me to see the big picture from a fresh and different perspective.

Often times, one can miss the forrest for the trees, but a Think Week forces you to hone in on the bigger picture — it forces you to focus on the forrest.

If you’re considering a Think Week, here are some of my tips:

1. Take a Think Day or Weekend instead

Think Weeks are not just for people with C-level titles. This type of thought and course correction is important for everyone. If you can’t afford to take a whole week, take a weekend, or just one uninterrupted full day, from waking to sleep, to just think.

2. Remove all distractions

It’s extremely important that you go alone. This aspect minimizes distractions and enables you to focus on focusing. This means no meetings, little to no email, and ideally no cell phone/WiFi coverage. It also helps if you delete all distracting apps from your phone.

3. Pick a theme

For every Think Week, I come in with areas I’d like explore. These can be decisions, ideas, or macro-trends I’m looking to learn about. I queue up reading materials that will help foster some new ideas. I ask co-workers to send me ideas. Throughout a typical Think Week, I can read through a couple of books, hundreds of articles, and write over 50 pages of notes.

4. Have a set routine

Every day, I go to bed by 9 pm and I’m up by 5 am. I spend the morning reading, journaling, meditating, and running. I end my morning routine with a cold shower. I do this every morning, which sets a productive tone for the rest of the day.

5. But, plan nothing for your first day

It takes me a day to disconnect from all of my day-to-day thoughts. I usually spend the day going on a hike, picking up groceries and reading a good book (unrelated to work).

A vision is only as important as the execution. When I get back from my Think Week, I meet with our team to get feedback and move the best ideas into execution.

Certainly, great companies and teams need to move faster than ever and adapt. But the fastest way to execute is to move without analysis paralysis, and have a clear direction of where you’re headed.

By actively disconnecting and looking at everything from 50,000 feet, you’ll be able to effectively reflect, reset, and rethink your goals and aspirations. And, to see if the way you’re spending your time matches up to what you think is important.

Slow down to move much faster.

The busier you are, the more you can’t afford not to take a Think Week!

Michael Karnjanaprakorn is the founder of Skillshare 

This article was originally published on Hackernoon.