In order to become more strategic and more effective, leaders should aim for more think time. But making it happen is hard. So we need to find more time for thinking, versus just tactically working.
Because if you don’t have enough thinking time, you end up with your head in the day to day problems, which leads to short term, urgent issues being resolved, but the longer-term important things not getting any attention.
We discuss six things you should consider to ensure you can optimise your think time.
Think Time – the only way to really be strategic
Episode 113 – The Growth Whisperers
The Growth Whisperers is a weekly podcast hosted by Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence two advisors to mid-market businesses, one Australian, one Canadian, who each work with CEOs and Leadership Teams across the world with a mission to build enduring, great companies. Each weekly episode covers interesting situations and questions from the world of strategic planning, leadership development, talent and hiring in high growth entrepreneurial companies where real results matter.
Think Time – the only way to really be strategic
Kevin Lawrence 00:13
Welcome to the growth whispers podcast. When and where everything we talk about is about building enduring great companies. Because Brad and I just kind of like, we kind of think it’s a great thing to do to build a business for generations or decades, however you want to look at it. I’m Kevin Lawrence. And I was always here for more than 100 episodes in a row. We’re actually 113 As of today, with my co host, Brad Giles, Down Under in Perth, Australia, Brad, how are you today?
Brad Giles 00:41
Lovely, thank you doing very well, how are you? Good as always?
Kevin Lawrence 00:45
Yeah, absolutely. And by the way, before we get into the show today, if you haven’t subscribed, please hit that subscribe button. And if you kinda like what you hear, happy for you to give us a reading as well. So Brad, what are we digging into today? What is the topic of the day,
Brad Giles 01:03
today we’re talking about think time, that is taking the time purposefully, to think to step out of the day to day, all the busyness and to be able to think and we call it think time, the only way to really be strategic
Kevin Lawrence 01:22
like that think time take the time to think it’s very simple. And often for a lot of people hard to do. And we’ve seen a big difference in the CEOs that we work with actually had a really interesting conversation with one of the CEOs that I worked with about this, and he came back with a brilliant answer, which we’ll talk about in a bit. All right. So let’s get into it. And what’s your wheel word of the day? Brad, what’s your word?
Brad Giles 01:49
It’s no your customers. It’s a phrase, not a word. But a few weeks ago, we had an election in Australia, the government was voted out. And without getting into it. Everyone, a lot of people were really shocked. And the analogy, the analogy for me was Do you know your customers? Because you shouldn’t be shocked when things happen? Like that government that was voted out. They shouldn’t be shocked at the at at the reaction of the electorate. And there’s been endless articles written about why and how did it happen and so forth. But you should as a leader, you should never be in that situation. Now, your customers, what about yours give
Kevin Lawrence 02:32
awesome anticipation. Anticipation. And it’s in a similar perspective, actually, just quickly, on a break, you got a call from my son telling us about a new piece of legislation that our government is trying to jam through. And you can tell that they have been waiting to jam this piece of legislation through until some relief, something bad happened in the world that would be a catalyst and got a lot of public support. I mean, kudos to the government. They got this stuff all ready to rock and they’re just waiting for the opportune time. They’re anticipating just the right moment to drop it. Drop the mic, change the laws, and change the country forever, better or worse, depending on your opinion. So know your customers, and anticipate their behaviors. So you can influence them the way you want to. All right, so let’s jump in today think time. I mean, this is a topic that we’re very passionate on. I’ll share our story. So this CEO who was awesome CEO, in a country in the southern hemisphere, I will say, and we’re having a conversation, and I call that about being a strategic CEO, I think there’s many different types. There’s tactical, boss, CEOs, there’s operational CEOs, and then there’s real strategic CEOs. And I call strategic CEOs, big see CEOs, and tactical ones, little see CEOs, and it’s not well, it’s it depends on your stage of business and where you’re at, but truly to be a CEO of a business that’s going to sustain and endure, you need a fair amount of big see on the big C CEO and that’s a lot of contemplation, and so on being a strategic, real strategic CEO looking out at the future of where you’re going, and you’re going to be versus where you are in the fires of the day. And so the CEO we came up with the question is how do I be a better strategic CEO? So he talked to lots of different people. And when he came back and I’ve got it written on my wall because it was so complicated. Let me grab it. Let me grab it. It’s not just CEOs, it’s leaders too. And here it is. And Kevin’s beautiful writing isn’t reversed. Think time equals a strategic leader. So think time is the number one variable that he came back with from his research, and from what we’ve seen in our work with CEOs is the real driver of being a true strategic Big C, or strategic CEO. So that’s it’s obviously critical. And and it’s just damn hard. Like, it’s really hard because of all the daily fires, the daily drama, The 75 cent problems all come up, and they keep your real busy and keep you from your high value strategic thing time.
Brad Giles 05:30
I love Stephen Covey Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And in that he has the time management matrix. And most people, especially in business, get drawn towards the things that are important and urgent. And the job to be done for a CEO is to traverse that and spend most of your time in the area, which is things that are important, but not urgent. And part of that is this thing time that we’re talking about.
Kevin Lawrence 06:05
So maybe that’s the answer would just say to yourself, important, not urgent, like 10 times a day, and maybe you’ll magically do it.
Brad Giles 06:14
But if that’s Kevin’s advice, not mine there.
Kevin Lawrence 06:17
Well, if that doesn’t work, we got a whole bunch of other good things. And like Brad and I normally do, what do we got here, we got six real good things you can do to be a more strategic CEO or leader, and really master mastering of your think time. In particular, and the main thing is that, if you don’t do enough of the thing time, he gets sucked into the day to day. And it’s it’s damn interesting. There’s drama, there’s problems, there’s upset customers, underperforming employees, all that kind of stuff. And you just get sucked in if you’re not careful. I mean, I look at a strategic CEO is like eyes up, eyes up looking at the future. And if you’re not capable, the environment will pull you back down to the ground as before, you’re looking at your toes, like what’s happening in the next 30 seconds. And obviously, you can’t do your best work there. That’s not your job. You know, most of the time, I remember,
Brad Giles 07:15
I remember when I had a larger business, I’d walk into the office back from the meeting. And they’d be like, 17, people would look back over their workstation and see that I’m back. And they’d be like, Oh, he’s back, I can grab him. And I don’t know, whatever the problem was, I managed to work that out. But yeah, you can get dragged into the minutiae all the time.
Kevin Lawrence 07:41
Yeah. And even in our firm, and again, we’re a small boutique firm. But in our firm, I don’t have a lot of that, because most of the team is very strong and independent. I mean, we have an obsession with only hiring a players in our firm. But my challenge is, I am also very busy. I’m going here, I’m going there. And I’ve got lots of interests outside of work. And, you know, teenage kids and I have got so many things going on, than just making the time to think is harder. In my case, even though it’s not necessarily my team pulling me so much. It’s me, usually the biggest, the biggest culprit. But no matter what the whole idea here is think time is very, very rich, valuable time and a critical part of our rules.
Brad Giles 08:27
I want to frame it this way, in terms of our bodies. In terms of our bodies, we need to sleep every day. Again, we need to recharge, recuperate, and recover. So thinking for the CEO, exec and leaders, it’s like conscious sleep. So it recharges your mind it gets you to be able to think in different ways. And to be able to spend the time yeah, in that important and not urgent area. So think about it like conscious sleep. Yeah,
Kevin Lawrence 09:04
it’s awesome. It’s therapeutic. And it’s really doing your job of leading the firm and thinking about where you’re going. And if you want to continue to grow, it’s, it’s required. So you got six points. And, you know, sometimes I like seven, but six is good for today. So the biggest thing with your think time is, is to really pick the topic, like what, what is the question that you want to call the compelling question that you’re trying to get the answer to, and ideally, it’s one of your highest value opportunities. It’s the thing that’s going to make a difference to your business, you know, whether it’s a million or millions or 10s of millions, like a really big, you know, opportunity that could really have a massive positive impact and scale your business. And, and I mean, obviously we have to deal with tough problems and process problems. But I would also say is that Be careful of sticking to problems too long, because you know, you’re going to be staring at your shoes versus looking at the horizon. Yeah, it’s important to be thinking about the things that make a massive difference.
Brad Giles 10:16
And that might just come to mind that might be there. This is the thing that’s on my mind. But actually spending a moment to think what is it that I want to use this valuable time for does matter? And I guess the second point is it some people won’t want to do that some people, they will be just like, I just want to clear my mind, and then see what sort of flows into my mind from there. And that’s okay. If you want to start freestyle, by the point being, either consciously pick a topic or know that you’re not consciously going to pick a topic.
Kevin Lawrence 10:52
Yeah, both works, depending. So for example, I did a bunch of this on Saturday morning. And I like my preference is to sit and go freestyle and allow myself to go and I often do a lot of this through writing, is to write one of my process is writing, weathers collaboration. But as writing as much as I want, and flushing out all kinds of things. My, my, my dining table was covered in stuff that I had written on, because I did a bunch of it on paper this time instead of digitally. But then I always go back to my goals and pick something off my goals. Soon, I’m going to solve three or four little things. But then I go back to my goals and fair, what can I do to make a big impact on my goals, because that’s the that’s the stuff that matters most again, however you do it, I often, sometimes I can do it in a few minutes, or, or a big chunk of hours, which we’ll talk about next, which is number two. So number one, pick, pick, pick the topic, or decide that you’re gonna go freestyle to set the time. And this is this is really the clincher here where, for most people, they don’t find a way to really make the time and stick to it, they might plan for it. And, you know, Bill Gates was famous for his think weeks, which became two weeks where he goes away for a week, every year and do this. And I know a number of people that use that strategy. Some people do it quarterly, some monthly, somebody, everyone’s got rhythms. But it’s interesting, just like artists, it actually is a discipline. There’s a great book, a member, the name of it, it’s all it might be how artists work, I think is the book. And as fast as you think of these artists of these creative, free flowing thing that work on inspiration. farthest from the truth, all the artists you’ve heard about writers, painters, sculptors, poets, hold them have one thing in common, freakish, daily grind, discipline, like must write 1000 words today, must paint for hours today. Now, they might go intoxicate themselves and do all kinds of weird things to their minds, which many of them did. But it was all a in credible discipline, nothing at all was left to a whim.
Brad Giles 13:06
Yeah, yeah. And you got to protect that like it. There is a competition every day for your calendar, there is a lot of people inside and outside the business who always want your time. And so having the ability to protect it and say, this is a no go zone, unless the building is on fire type of thing is what matters. I mean, for me, when I got myself an EA A while ago, I said to her, the first thing is, every day in the morning, I’m going to exercise and that’s that sacred time, like we can’t breach that. You know, or put it this way, break in case of emergency. Like, we’ve got to protect that. That’s where I do my thinking.
Kevin Lawrence 13:55
Yeah, and some people have that around exercise and not thinking some people think that not so the point of it is you’ve got to find a way to do it. And that you know, and one of the pieces there is accountability. How can you set up some accountability on that, we’ll talk more about that later. So number two, find a time but it needs to be scheduled, it’s not likely to happen on a whim. Most things that are important don’t happen on a whim. A third know what you need like I referenced how I write a lot to think that is my Puritan will too and I like to collaborate. Some people they’re thinking requires learning like they go seek out knowledge. Everyone’s got different ways, but there’s a way that your brain works and comes up with the solutions that you need or the insight or the clarity so know what you really need to be successful. So if it’s contemplating like as a big part of mine, you know, then think about well, what do we have to do? How do I need to set myself up like you touched on exercise For me to do contemplation, I need to exercise first, I get grounded, my body calms down, my mind settles and I do brilliant thinking. And ideally for me in the morning,
Brad Giles 15:12
we know that Bill Gates used to go away for a full week. And he would take a stack of books, and he would get people within the business to write reports on certain subjects. He’d go away to the countryside, in a little cabin, just by himself for the whole week, and he would read all the books and do all of that. Now, that worked for him, that may not work for you.
Kevin Lawrence 15:33
I couldn’t do that I would not go sit by myself. And read, I wouldn’t say never. But again, everyone’s got it, it doesn’t really matter what it is, figure what works,
Brad Giles 15:42
he figured what works for him. And that’s and that’s, that’s good. That’s good. Yeah, so. So for some people, it’s going to be learning or part of a learning event. So there’s, there’s obviously getaways or retreats or learning events that you can go to. We used to go to some several years ago. And so that could it could form a part of that it could become a part of something else. And then if that is your case, that you want to learn, as well as the thinking depending on the rhythm, if it’s daily, weekly, quarterly, annually, you know, pick your subjects carefully based on the trends, observations, that concerns the opportunities that you’re seeing in the business. Moving on to number four, set the environment, do not disturb the worst thing you can do when you want to think is have a constant beep in the back ground, which is your emails coming in, or your SMS or whatever that might be? Some people like music or meditating, and I mentioned running. But it’s a disciplined around knowing this is where I do my best thinking.
Kevin Lawrence 16:59
Yeah. And it’s again, it’s not rocket science. But how do you set up that environment to work for you? So obviously can’t get distracted, distracted? Sometimes, like, I often will like to collaborate with people, I’ll want to sit and work with somebody else on it. It’s like, you know, Brad and I, we come up with some awesome stuff collaborating on his podcast, which is multiple times better than it would be on my own. And I don’t know if that’s true for you, but I’m sure true for me. Yeah. And then the other piece, the environment is the accountability, like you know, whether it’s your EA, your family member or colleague, you know, sometimes I’ve been in environments, this goes back to the old days in college and your study, buddy, you might have an active study group, and you might just sit there and read the damn stuff. But how do you set up an environment that is a catalyst for you to do your best? It was interesting. I think I mentioned this on a previous show. But I was up at the racetrack and ran into a guy I’d given a book to and he talked about licking your toads. And his solution was he didn’t eat in the morning until he licked his totes. So how could you set up a self discipline to calibrate that you don’t do something or you wait for something until you do your most important thing. So whatever it is, set the environment, set yourself up to win. And, you know, some people might need to organize their office first, or who knows what or, you know, vacuum or take out the garbage. Everyone’s got their different things. So So that’s number five is just some interesting things that we’ve seen people do like holy. So when I interviewed CEOs for scaling up, I heard all kinds of things. You know, some people had us a rhythm on Sunday mornings, some people would go for a walk or a run, or a bike ride, there was a couple guys that would do a brainstorming on a bike ride. That was their solution. You know, riding is something that I’ve talked about. Some people would be there, EO or YPO, or whatever the forum they’re in, that was a real catalyst for them to get activate ideas. Once CEO interviewed had one of the best ones, and I resonated with us the most, he would go and attend a two day conference and one of those, you know, 14 speakers over two days. Yeah. And he did his best work, because he didn’t pay attention to the speakers. He tuned in when it was relevant. And he just worked on his stuff the rest of the time. And, that works for me. Because there’s noise and eneg on around me, which enables me to focus better because of how my brain works. And that was his thing that was his best. And this guy, you know, built the business over very, you know, not an incredibly long time sold it for half a million dollars, have a billion certain dollars. But he would just be at the conference. And all that stuff in the background is you know, standing thinking, going to meet their mentor. Another guy talked about how he would go and meet his mentor on his yacht, like twice a year. And while he was traveling, to go in Meet his mentor. It forced him to prepare to make damn good use of the mentors time. Another CEO, I know does what calls 24 calls and might be 14, when they have a question. They literally just call a whole bunch of different people to help them think it through people that might have had similar experiences, long flights, those people I know, they’ll book flights to Vancouver to Toronto and back, Vancouver to Tokyo and back. Just cost effective business class flights, flights, pardon me.
Brad Giles 20:33
And then the problem with long flights is that I think we’ve all been there. And what I mean is, we’ve all thought, oh, great, I’m gonna get a lot of work done on this flight. But you know, we can be better than that. And that better than that means we can be more disciplined in our approach, you shouldn’t need to get on a flight to produce work, you should be able to find your ability to step out of your environment, and create an environment where you can do good work.
Kevin Lawrence 21:08
But that isn’t an environment. I know, I’m on the other side. Like, I think it’s brilliant. Like if you’ve got high value critical work, I mean, I love 14 hour flights through like the past, I get so much done. And because I have a hard time sometimes getting it done in other places. So I need either I need a deadline or an environment like that. So I don’t know. I think it’s awesome. And but you might by nature be a more disciplined human, Mr. Jobs?
Brad Giles 21:37
Look, I wouldn’t go that far. I like the next one that you’re gonna say, which is about talking to your dog? Yeah.
Kevin Lawrence 21:47
Yeah. So one of the guys I interviewed, he says, he goes for a walk. And he talks his problems through and his ideas through with his dog, when he says it’s, it works. As he’s just talking about, obviously, the dog doesn’t answer, or at least he didn’t admit that the dog answered. But the point of it is, it doesn’t matter what the heck you do, as long as it works, and just be open to different things that gets your mind is that creative thinking space, where you’re coming up with great stuff?
Brad Giles 22:15
Yeah, I think like my perspective is that and we may get a bit too deep, too quick here. But my perspective is that we make decisions in our subconscious, and not our conscious, okay, so the more that we can curate an environment where the subconscious can process, then the better the decisions that will make. So if you are always in our highly demanding environment, putting out fires with your team, or, or trying to solve rapid fire, you were really just reacting to the situation as it sits, when you can step out of that. And let your subconscious do its magic. Through, you know, the examples we’ve provided, exercise, walking conferences, whatever it is, that’s when you can really do some serious cognitive processing to make some great progress. I agree.
Kevin Lawrence 23:15
And many of these things are ways of activating that. I believe, like, for me, when I write, it goes, like It shocks me when I write what comes out. It’s so simple and so clear. But it because it gets me into a certain state where it’s where I’m accessing and activating different things. Then in the day to day, firefighting busyness and truly, the one sound egotistical. I feel like I’m like three times as smart when I’m writing and I get into that state. What it really means is I’m a third as smart normally.
Brad Giles 23:50
Well, that’s the flow state. That’s, that’s
Kevin Lawrence 23:52
it is it absolutely is. So the final thing is like, Okay, that’s all wonderful now how to get the value from it. So whatever you’re doing, and I’ve seen lots of CEOs or leaders have little notepads low right key things down in or on their phone, or some have memories where they just remember that stuff. But somehow it needs the highest value stuff needs to be actioned. And you know, to quote Jim Collins, you said your first question should always be a who question. When it’s time to activate it, who is the WHO that will help you to get it done. And whether it’s evolving the idea or just full on testing or implementing it you? Yeah.
Brad Giles 24:36
The reason that you need to do it is to get value from it. And so what is the way that you will get value from it? You’ve got to be conscious about that decision as well to figure out what works, but once you figure out what works like rinse and repeat, keep putting it into your calendar and then there may be different timeframes. For example, every The day you might have 30 minutes every week, you might have an hour or two. Every quarter, you might have a day and every year you might have, you know, a week or a multiple days. There’s something that’ll work for you. But overall, I guess the point is that that success comes from thinking was that the quote that you see gave you kept?
Kevin Lawrence 25:21
It was think time equals a strategic leader. Yeah. Oh, yeah. It was very close. Yeah. Yeah. You know, just think you and I should actually book our annual things on we get the regular title stuff. We talked about getting together and doing it. That’s a whole that’s a sidebar.
Brad Giles 25:38
Yeah, that’s probably something good to talk about off air.
Kevin Lawrence 25:41
Yeah, exactly. We will. We’re gonna get into it right now. And it just sure was. So the point, the point of it is, if we go back and review our points, I’ll do the first couple here. The main point is if your route you need think time to truly be strategic, and the most effective version of yourself as a CEO, or a leader, or even as a parent, or whatever it happens, a partner. So the idea is, you got to find a way to create the time so pick the topic, make the time and then protect it fiercely, and then know what you need out of it? And is it contemplating a learning or brainstorming? And then Brad, you want to cover off the other ones? Yeah.
Brad Giles 26:23
So once you’ve set the environment, you want to understand, like what’s going to work for you, for a lot of people it’s exercise. It could be meeting your mentor, it could be conferences, some people who are at a different level might like long flights, maybe you could do better than that. And then make sure that you’re getting value from it, make sure that it’s working. But overall, the point is, if you want to be a strategic leader, you’ve got to have think time, you’ve got to know that the importance of seeing time and how much value that brings to you. So with that good chat today, and thanks for listening. As Kevin said earlier, if you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe and hit that. Hit that like button or Review button if you can.
This has been the growth whispers I’m Brad Giles in Perth, Australia. Kevin Lawrence is in Vancouver, Canada. You can find myself at evolution partners dot Comdata you and my newsletter and you can find Kevin and his newsletter at Lawrence and co.com
Hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. Look forward to chatting to you again next week. Have a great one.
Or watch it on YouTube