Finding More “Head Time”

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.

Back of a Man’s Head - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Casarsa, Image #3351550

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Casarsa

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.)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. Elance.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 Elance.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.

Question: How can you find more time to think?
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  • http://spudlets.wordpress.com Marc V

    For some of us, particularly those not in management, we may have the time but not the discipline to set aside a regular portion of the day for deep thinking. It may look questionable when you’re sitting at your desk and appearing as if you’re either paralyzed or napping. You also should consider time of day, where I find my better ideas come in the morning.

    The Bible addresses this topic when Jesus urges us to utilize our “prayer closet”. It’s up to us to find the time and place, get our proper praying in and then switch to full-mind business problem solving (and asking the Lord’s help on those problems is OK too!). I’m at a time in my life now where it’s difficult to find quiet time, since I’m in a small house with a 3, 4 and 9 year old. I thank God for them every day, but they can make it a challenge to find a quiet spot. At night I unfortunately get too sleepy to stay in the prayer closet all that long.

  • binar

    An obvious question I had after reading this insightful post…

    I have to get back to work though, my manager just delegated some work to me. :)

  • http://oakgrovemedia.com Jay Kelly

    Great thoughts! Thanks for pulling the curtain back a little on this.

  • PollyQ

    It’s “chock-full“, not “chalk-full”.

  • Just Stopping By

    I notice you credited Tim Ferris with stimulating your thinking on this. Any chance you also perused this Forbes piece that ran the day before your post?

  • http://www.colleencoble.com colleen Coble

    Oh this was a timely post! I just found a fabulous program for my Mac called Notebook (Circus Ponies). it’s a way of organizing AND thinking for me. I spent more time thinking the last two days than I usually spend in a month. Well almost anyway. I’m part plotter, part seat of the pants writer. This new program really helps corral my thoughts and help me plan through the part that needs planned.

    I use it for book organization but it works for any project. I’ve been telling everyone with a Mac about it. It’s kind of like Microsoft OneNote only better. :-) Here’s the link if you’re interested. http://www.circusponies.com/ All my author friends with Macs have been raving about it too.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com michael Hyatt

    SallyQ: Thanks for the correction on “chockfull.” Dictionary.com lists it as one word, without a hyphenation.

    Colleen: Notebook is a great application.

  • Tim

    Thank you, again, for your post. You might be pleased to know (or maybe not) that your article hit LifeHackers today between a few other postings below. Take your pick of whether you want to be before–

    “How To: Remove a wine cork trapped in the bottle”

    or after “Silence your Mac’s Startup Sound”

    or two after “Household vinegar not only cleans anything”

    I rank the practicality as:
    1. Thinking
    2. Mac
    3. Vinegar
    4. Wine

    Have a good day! :)

  • Tim

    Thank you, again, for your post. You might be pleased to know (or maybe not) that your article hit LifeHackers today between a few other postings below. Take your pick of whether you want to be before–

    “How To: Remove a wine cork trapped in the bottle”

    or after “Silence your Mac’s Startup Sound”

    or two after “Household vinegar not only cleans anything”

    I rank the practicality as:
    1. Thinking
    2. Mac
    3. Vinegar
    4. Wine

    Have a good day! :)

  • http://www.permastudent.com Ryan Stewart

    Great post Michael.

    From where I sit, the problem is not only a lack of thought and resulting inspiration, but also an aversion to risk that prevents people/companies/organizations from acting on new ideas.

    It’s so much easier to go through the day looking busy and saying “we don’t have time to think” than it is to think of new ideas, initiatives, and solutions and implement them with the full knowledge that they just might work.

  • Paul K Smith

    As to the priority of thinking, am drawn to John Macmurray’s notion: John says it’s Not “I think, therefore I am,” but “I act, therefore I am.”

  • Carl Thompson

    Thank you Mike. Great stuff as always. This would be a solid guest column in the Wall Street Journal. Has anyone out there tried 5-10 minute “power naps” during the day?

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel Hauck

    Another inspiring post. I’ve listened to Mike Bickle’s “Power Of A Focused Life” CD several times now. He stresses the importance of managing our time because we will be accountable before the Lord.

    While we can’t be 100% on a schedule most of the time, we can do at least 50% or more. Most people don’t do that – things they need and want to acccomplish, aren’t.

    I’ve not arrived, but I’m working on it.

    I love these post, sir, that remind us we can take a hold of our time and be productive.

    Speaking of… :)

    Rachel

  • Lindsay Terry

    A young man was hired by a large company. For two or three weeks, each time he passed down the hallway, he saw an elderly gentleman in an office, sitting at his desk, staring out the window. Day after day the new employee saw this same sight.

    Finally the puzzled employee asked his boss, “What is the responsibility of the elderly gentleman who sits at his desk all day long staring out the window?”

    The answer came, “One day while staring out his office window that gentleman thought of an idea that saves our company million dollars. So… we just let him sit in his office and stare out the window.”

    Lindsay Terry

  • http://www.bohemianprose.wordpress.com Nathan Hov

    It’s nice to hear from someone tied into mainstream corporate America that actually encourages creative thinking and downtime that resolves in feeling inspired. One of my favorite quotes is “if you keep doing what you’ve been doing- you’re going to get what you’ve got. I too agree that we are busied with the modern, the biggest and brightest things that fly off the production line.

  • Heidi

    I also hope for the “walking meeting” revolution to gain momentum. Studies reveal that muscle movement encourages better brain activity. Our brain cells turn to mush when we sit all day at our computers. Body, Mind, and Spirit.

  • http://www.rightattitudes.com/2007/07/28/the-time-to-think/ Right Attitudes – by Nagesh Belludi

    Ideas for Impact #14: The Time to Think

    In the age of knowledge work, we are all paid to think to evaluate solution-paths and solve problems creatively. Yet, we get busy doing and fail to devote part of our days for deep thinking.
    In todays workplace, we all have too much to …

  • James Daniel

    Hi
    While we’re talking about body, mind and spirit, I’d like to observe that from where I sit (next to people, coaching them on productivity), the most productive thinking is generally accompanied by some kind of doing – usually writing or drawing. It seems to be desperately hard to stay focussed when there’s no accompanying physical action. So perhaps it shouldn’t be that hard to look as though you’re doing something worthwhile while you’re “thinking”? Because the chances are that if the thinking is maximally worthwhile, you will indeed be doing something visible…
    Conversely, if you’re spending time thinking without writing (or Jotting?) you may be missing a trick. Seems the thinking often moves on to the next stage better and faster once what’s pending up there is stashed somewhere outside the nervous system.

  • http://andrelegoh.typepad.com Andre Legoh

    I read this article already months ago. Struggling for allocating more “head time”. It went on and off but the improvement is there. Thanks also for your spot on Timothy Ferrris’s book. Just got the book a week ago from overseas – I still cant get the book in Indonesia – and I agree that this stimulate my adrenalin to be more effective.

  • Pingback: Are You Taking the Time to Think Deeply? « Ministry Management Memo()

  • http://mjharvell.com Michael Joe

    Great article and loved the personal additions! BTW is that a picture of the back of @sethgodin’s head? (Could help myself – just had to ask?)

    • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Ha!

  • http://www.rentmychurch.com RentMyChurch

    Thank you for the article – its needed and will be implemented!

  • Fr. John

    Michael, Im new to your site, but after reading several dozen posts, I can say that I love it!

    What are you thinking of your assistant who does your bookkeeping for $100/month? Is it working as you’d hoped? My wife and I are looking for the same thing but we’re a little timid about trusting someone far away to do what we need! Provided you are happy so far, would you be willing to share your assistant’s info? We’d be happy to offer her some more work!

    Thanks so much!

    Fr. John

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I am no longer using that service, Fr. John. My Nashville-based assistant handles everything I need. This was more of an experiment. However, I was very pleased. This is a great option. I have many friends who use assistants in India and no one knows that they aren’t local.

      All the best.