WP Remix


Much has been written about Bill Gates and his bi-annual ‘Think Week’ exercise. If you’ve not heard of this, Bill takes a couple of weeks a year to get away from it all. During this time, he reads papers, proposals and other materials that he otherwise might not have time to devour during his busy schedule.

In my ‘dream world’ I see Bill calling his pilots, telling them to fire up the G-V, and he heads to a luxurious mansion on a remote private island where he stays in his hammock alternating between reading, cat-naps, and just gazing at the ocean thinking about how to make his next billion. In reality, it’s said he only allows one caretaker to join him at a small secluded cabin, he works 18 straight hours a day reading 100+ papers and drinks a kidney-killing number of diet soft drinks. I like my dream world better.

While most of us have neither the time nor the money to replicate Bill Gates’ Think Week, we do face the same problem: Information Overload. Our day-to-day jobs include too many meetings, to-do-lists that need completing and several fires to put out daily. We have little time to think and read. Even less to explore new ideas and research new opportunities. Instead of moving forward, we tread water daily.

In case you were wondering, that’s not a good thing. We need time to step back and think about the future. Our organizations will only move forward when we regroup and take considerable time to organize our thoughts about what we want to accomplish and the best ways to get where we want to go.

Several years ago, after first learning of the ‘think week’ exercise, I tried a 1-day ‘think day’ experiment and loved it. I rented an inexpensive hotel room (on my own dime) for a night, took a bunch of stuff I was working on and checked in. I didn’t leave until the next day at noon, and spent my time doing nothing but reading and thinking. My caretaker was the pizza delivery person who brought my dinner, and I drank more than a few 2-liters of Dr. Pepper. It wasn’t a hammock on the beach, but it was an enjoyable experience. I need to do that again.

My happy medium today is a box that sits under my desk labeled ‘Travel Stuff’ that sits filled with a wide variety of materials. In the box you will find presentations that have been given by others, interesting blog posts, magazines like Fast Company and CASE Currents, a few books, random memos and proposals and many pieces of paper of varying sizes with ideas, notes, and concepts written on them in my horrible handwriting. Everything in the box was, at one time, considered important enough to read or think about but not time sensitive enough to warrant immediate attention. When I have anything that fits the ‘Travel Stuff’ category I either throw it in the box or email links or documents to my assistant to put them there for future travel.

Every time I leave town, I take a handful of items from the ‘Travel Stuff’ box to read on the plane, at the airport, when dining alone or in my hotel room. Travel often provides downtime I wouldn’t otherwise have. Rather than waste that time, having a go-to selection of important reading materials available to throw in my briefcase at a moment’s notice gives me the opportunity to read and think about things without the normal office distractions. On those rare days with few meetings and little to do, I can also dip into the materials. Some materials are then forwarded to appropriate members of my team with my scribbled thoughts, some spark follow-up meetings, and some hit the circular file.

I highly recommend going away to a beach and thinking in a hammock. But until then, consider creating your own ‘think box’ system for those brief trips or other times you might have to ponder the world without distraction. You might find the most productive time you spend is when you are actually doing nothing at all.

Note: I won’t go into the technical details, but another great technology I use to facilitate this is Instapaper – a tool that lets you save web pages for reading later. It’s great for the iPhone, as you can read the page on an airplane in the ‘airplane safe’ mode. And it doesn’t kill as many trees.

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