Think Week

As CEO of your company, thinking is your job.

You don’t get paid to deliver a service. Your labor is done entirely between the ears.

If you can think more objectively, you’ll be a better CEO. If you can gain a broader perspective, you’ll be a better CEO. If you can improve your focus, you’ll be a better CEO. The best way to do all of these at once is to get away from your “notifications” for several days in a row.

Bill Gates made “think week” popular – he was doing it in the 1980s. He’d stock his fridge with Diet Coke and Orange Crush; pack a box full of periodicals and books; and go somewhere away from his home and the office for a week.

These blocks were massively effective for him, because he was often distracted at work–and these were the days before Slack, messenger, text, and even email. It might be harder for us to tune out the distractions of technology for a week, but we also have the advantage of science to maximize the time we DO have.

This week, I’ll be on a “think week” to make decisions in 5 major areas. It’s not a vacation; it’s a period when I do the hard–but critical–work to think about where my companies are going. It’s really a period where I decide where to invest my time and resources over the next six months.

Here’s how I plan to use the week most effectively:

  1. I set goals. This isn’t a vacation: you have to have at least two goals that will justify the week. I have five major decisions to make. Getting clear and deciding on four will make the week worthwhile.
  2. I choose a model for making decisions. It’s easy to just sit alone and ruminate without getting closer to a decision. Or just take naps. Instead, I have a model from Farnam Street’s Decision-Making Course, which I completed earlier this year to prepare for Think Week.
  3. I prioritize decisions based on their potential impact. I start the week thinking about the top two decisions I need to make, instead of all five. When I decide on one, I record it and move to topic number three.
  4. I put myself in Flow State at least 3 hours per day. I start the day by writing 750 words to clear my head and get me thinking in an ordered way. I ride my bike in Zone 2 (50-65% of my max heart rate) to keep my body busy while my brain drifts. I do manual, repetitive tasks (like hauling wood, splitting wood, or cutting grass) for the same reason. This is a strategy called “Thinking body, dancing mind” from the book by the same name. Get it here.
  5. I write down the decision, the rationale, and–most importantly–the desired outcome. This latter is a clear picture of what the optimal completion looks like. I use a tool called an Impact Filter from our mentorship practice.
  6. At the end of each day, I write down what I’ve completed and what I hope to complete the next day.
  7. At the end of Think Week, I’ll present my decisions to my exec team. I’ll share the Impact Filter docs and they’ll ask questions about the implementation, but I should already have all of the “why?” angles explained in the document. Then they’ll take the Impact Filter sheets to their respective teams and execute.

    If this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is–Think Week isn’t R+R time. While I’ll be doing a lot of reading, this isn’t the time to read a Michael Crichton thriller in a beach chair. For many CEOs, this is the most important time they’ll spend.

    There’s one more reason it’s important to write everything down, and deliver clear decisions and directives to your team at the end of the week. No matter how much you explain, most of your team will think you’re taking a vacation (or, possibly having a breakdown.) Their work is measurable in KPIs or hours worked; your work is measurable in the growth of the company. It’s easy for them to apply their metrics to you, and think “Coop is taking another week off, while I’m here for a full 40 hours!” But their metrics are not your metrics. There’s a reason you’re the CEO. And whether they understand the work you’re doing or not, the decisions you make will impact their lives. Record everything, show your work, explain your rationale, and let them execute with purpose.

    Most importantly, get some distance. Remove emotion. Catch up, leap ahead, and know what you’re trying to improve.

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