How to Create a Thinking Rhythm

During a typical week, how much time do you spend just thinking about your business and how you can get to the next level? Or how about during a typical month? Or quarter? And when you do spend time thinking, is that time you’ve proactively set aside for that activity or something that just happens when it happens?

Chances are, if you’re like most business owners and entrepreneurs, your answers to those questions aren’t as positive as you’d like them to be. Chances are you have very little discretionary time. You’re overwhelmed with work and putting out fires—and while the idea of thinking about the future of your business is something you’d like to do, it’s just not in that urgent category, which is why it often doesn’t happen.

However, if you want to get out of the day-to-day fires of your business, if you want to grow it rapidly, if you want it to scale, if you want it to crush your competitors, then you’ve got to create a thinking rhythm that’s proactive, not reactive. You’ve got to carve out the space and time to think—and not just think about this week or this month, but next quarter, next year, and the next few after that. No one else can do this for you, only you can.

So, how can you go about creating a thinking rhythm?

I. Schedule It

There’s no other way to make it happen than to put it on your calendar just like you would any other meeting. And just like you would with any client or customer, you can’t miss it. Believe it or not, you are your greatest client. No other client will have more impact on your company than you. Regardless of whether your ideas are good or bad, the choices you make will be determinative of what your company’s outcomes will be.

So, what kind of time should you set aside? Well, that depends on you and your company. But, if you’d like a generic thinking rhythm model, here’s a place to start.

  • Weekly = 2 hours
  • Monthly = 4 hours
  • Quarterly = 1 full day
  • Annually = 2 full days

The key is not the amount of time (though it needs to be significant), the key is that you actually schedule it (and keep it). For example, you might schedule it for every Monday morning from 10:00 a.m. to noon or you might schedule your monthly planning/thinking time for the morning of the fourth Friday of every month, etc.

And the best strategy of all is to do this a year in advance. In other words, right now, take out your calendar and proactively put your thinking/planning time on your calendar for the next 12 months. Why? Because if you don’t do it now something urgent will always come up and you’ll never get around to doing what you and only you can do for your business.

So, when are you going to schedule your thinking rhythm?

Note: the word rhythm implies a continuing pattern. So a thinking rhythm would be “Every Monday from 10:00 a.m. to noon I take time to think about the future of my company and I don’t let anything interrupt that pattern.” Just scheduling next Monday morning from 10:00 a.m. to noon would not be a thinking rhythm, it would simply be a thinking meeting. There is a difference.

II. Force Yourself to Think About the Future

Unfortunately, when most business owners and entrepreneurs take time to think about their business, they’re almost always focused on today. Their ideas, strategies and tactics are almost always related to what’s going on in their business today (note: I’ve been asking these kinds of questions to business owners and entrepreneurs for decades so I’m not making this up).

It’s hard to get out of today. But, as a leader, part of your job is to lead your people someplace. However, it’s hard to lead anyone somewhere if you’re not clear on what that future destination is or what it looks like. Leadership is a forward-leaning practice that requires you, if you want to be a great leader, to take the time to figure out where your “Next” is.

In order to do this, you DO NOT want to start your thinking time by thinking about where your company is today. Start by thinking about where your business or organization needs to be 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 months from now. Then, once you’ve spent some time thinking about the future and what strategic decisions you need to make, then, and only then, can you work it back to today and what needs to change in your business this week and this month.

That said, remember that the key to using your thinking rhythm well will be marked by your ability to continually start your time by thinking about the future first and clearing defining what it looks like BEFORE you work yourself back to what needs to be fixed this week, this month, this quarter.

III. Use Some of Your Time for Learning

Hopefully, you have a learning rhythm as well as a thinking rhythm, but one way to stay focused on the future is to make sure some of your time is engaged in learning about what the future might look like. That could mean reading material about future trends or reading about businesses or business owners/entrepreneurs who are a few steps ahead of you or doing some competitive analysis.

The idea is that in order to create a better future for you and your company, you need some time to think about things that you don’t normally think about and often in ways that you don’t normally think about them in—and reading (or taking a course) is a great way to help you get there.

As Einstein famously said, “We can’t solve today’s problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them.” To take your business to a new place, you need to think differently. So, as you carve out your thinking rhythm time, make sure you use some of that time to stimulate your brain to think differently than you currently do.

IV. Don’t Push Yourself to Make Your Time Actionable

Chances are you’ll come out of your thinking time with plenty of ideas, but I want to encourage you to NOT create your thinking rhythm thinking that the goal is to produce actionable ideas. The goal is to think.

If you’re not familiar with Gen. Eisenhower’s quote about planning, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,” that’s what I’m referring to. The goal of a good thinking rhythm time isn’t to produce more plans, it’s about creating space to think—and most importantly, to think differently.

Creating space to think allows you to function at the 50,000 foot level, not just the five foot level. And, whether or not you come up with some killer ideas each time you “steal away” to think isn’t the idea. If you create a rhythm of thinking each week, each month, each quarter and each year, you’ll create a better you—and that better you will come up with some killer ideas over time that would never have come about if you didn’t get away to just think. It’s the thinking, not the planning, that matters most.

So, if you want to create a bigger, better, faster, more scalable and successful business, make sure you commit to creating a thinking rhythm for yourself.

  1. Schedule It
  2. Force yourself to think about the future
  3. Use some of your time for learning
  4. Don’t push yourself to make your time actionable

If you do those four things continually, you’ll end up being a better leader leading a better, bigger and more successful business.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. One last thought. I’d highly recommend that you engage in your thinking time AWAY from your office/place of business. Restaurants, coffee shops, a home office, a friend’s conference room, a library, a park, a beach/lake home etc. all make great thinking places. One place that doesn’t is your office. Not only will you be distracted, but others will gladly interrupt your thinking time with their agendas and emergencies. So, get away.

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