Arment Dietrich

Thinking Time: Book a Staff Meeting for One

By: Arment Dietrich | March 10, 2014 | 

Thinking Time: Book a Staff Meeting for One By Clay Morgan

Let me noodle on it.

Gini Dietrich hears that phrase from me quite frequently.

It really means to think about the challenge or situation before us. We all do this day in and day out.

However, two very smart men gave me very similar advice about thinking, and it is something I still do to this day.

Jim Chionsini, who is the founder and CEO of Granite Publications, once advised me to, once a week, close the door or better yet, get out of the office, and spend an hour just concentrating on and thinking about my operation.

Similar advice came from John C. Maxwell. I was listening to a tape during which he talked about having a corner where he goes, secludes himself for a little bit, and just thinks.

Let’s Focus on Thinking Time

It is important to point out this thinking time is not some willy nilly thing where I’m really just blowing off work.

It’s sort of like a staff meeting with yourself.

Chionsini offered this advice: He said to use one week to focus on your financials. One week, focus on editorial, and then the next week focus on your sales. Occasionally throw in a good, old-fashioned brainstorm session.

The idea isn’t to think randomly, it is to think focused, and if you need an actual agenda for your meeting with yourself, go ahead and issue one.

And as part of that focus is a critical piece of advice Maxwell gave in a blog post on the subject. He said to stop thinking “can I” and starting thinking about “how can I?”

It’s a small adjustment that shifts your brain from wondering if you can do something, to figuring out how you’re going to get it done.

As Maxwell said in his book, Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work, “Until thought is linked with purpose, there is no intelligent accomplishment.”

The Habit Remains

I have two walking routes. One is through my neighborhood, and if I’m really moving, I can do it in about 30 minutes. The other is at a state park near my house. If I’m hustling, I can walk the lake in about 45 minutes.

Often, I’ll use those walks for my thinking time – at least if the weather’s nice. But here’s the thing: When I use them for thinking time, my time to complete the route roughly doubles. Why?

When I’m trying to complete my route in a certain amount of time, I’m focusing on the route, on keeping my pace up, and usually listening to music. When I’m thinking, there is no music, and I’m not focusing on the route or the pace.

That slows me down. Plus I have to stop and jot down notes occasionally. That also slows me down.

Of course, if I don’t walk, that doesn’t mean I don’t think. To this day, once a week, I’ll retire to our bonus room or other part of the house, with no phone, computer, or iPad, and think. I might take a resource with me – a copy of the financials for instance if that is my “agenda” – and I always take a notepad with me.

Walk or not, I have specific time set aside for thinking. It’s even on my calendar.

How Does it Work?

It does vary depending on what I’m thinking about, but here’s an example: Soon, we’re going to offer businesses the opportunity to sponsor certain aspects of Spin Sucks and Spin Sucks Pro.

When I sat down, I had a few tools with me. I had a paper listing the Spin Sucks traffic, how many people register for webinars, our webinar schedule, email subscriber lists, and related items. I also had data on what other blogs were charging, and other information.

I also had my trusty notepad.

Those tools were never referred to in my thinking time, but they were there in case I needed clarification. What I really needed was to give some focused, uninterrupted thought to this thing I want to implement.

Questions that really formed my “agenda” were:

  • What can we do from a technical point-of-view? We have a great team, but we’re not techy.
  • What is Gini’s tolerance/comfort level? Any discussion of the blog and the first consideration – rightfully – is the readers.
  • Who will actually sell it? Me? Someone else? Hire someone?
  • What should the rates be? While I joke I think we should charge until someone screams, in truth I want a rate that is fair and allows the sponsor a good return on his or her investment.
  • What will the readers tolerate? What am I myself okay with, in terms of sponsors on sites I visit, and what tends to annoy me?

That hour or so of thinking produced a lot of ideas, and much thought about the best way to proceed. Today, we’re about ready to execute.

My Final Tips

People will think you are insane if you set up thinking time. Therefore, I do not bill clients, if my time is focused on a client problem. I don’t bill Arment Dietrich. I don’t even count it in my hours worked, because sometimes, it isn’t even about work.

But if you want to do this, I recommend the following:

  1. Set a specific time each week. Put it on your calendar and block it out.
  2. Keep your appointment with yourself.
  3. Have an “agenda” to keep your time focused.
  4. Shut down the distractions. No phones, no iPads, no TV.
  5. Keep a notebook and use it.

Thought dictates action and attitude. We’ve all said, “I have to think about this.” Don’t just say it, actually schedule it, and give it some thought.

  • I’m always thinking, analyzing, turning things over, etc.—it’s sometimes my downfall. But I like the idea of actually scheduling the time to hash things out in a focused way. Though if I’m thinking through a client problem, I definitely bill them for that!

  • This is my ‘dog walk time’. A certain time near the end of each day Oliver and I go out for our long walk. This is the time that I just sort of decompress from the day, roll things over in my head and sort through stuff. Interestingly enough if I don’t get this time I start feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and disorganized. I notice this every winter when the weather is not as good and we can’t do as long of walks. That’s a big part of the reason we started our treadmill walking ritual. Oliver gets his exercise and I get my sanity.

    An interesting note, Gini and I were discussing this morning how crazy we go if we aren’t able to exercise. We were comparing war stories of our many injuries when we were forced to take it easy (never without a fight of course). I was discussing when I tore my hip flexors out and I had to give up distance running. It was horrible! Not just because I didn’t get that running high, but because I lost long periods of time that I was just out by myself with no distraction and could just think. I ended up finding other ways to cultivate that, but it was amazing to see how valuable it was for me. 

    Really great post. It’s easy to forget the simple things that help us become better professionals, sometimes not doing is much more important than doing.

  • RobBiesenbach  For me, scheduling time gives me a focus. That’s all.

  • I really really REALLY need to start doing this. Also, as Laura mentions, I am SO missing my “outdoor walkies” time with Hank. This winter has been so brutal – the worst one in 20 years – and I am seriously feeling it. Not only is my body missing the exercise, my brain is missing the time for reflection. After this winter, I might just invest in a treadmill before next year rolls around. 🙂

  • You know I’m a big, big proponent of this. My bike is my thinking time. I’ve written epic blog posts in my head while I ride. Also, the shower does wonders. What I used to do – and need to get back to doing – was reserve Fridays only for working on the business. It was amazing how much we were able to accomplish when I did that. I’m getting back to it. After the book launch.

  • Great post Clay. We get so caught up in every day work and we forget that clarity, inspiration and all the good things inside us need a break to pop up. Sometimes I get so overhelmed, I just shut everything down and go play with my German shepherd – Rex. He gives me so much positive energy, that I come back with clarity and renowed energy. Things that earlier seemed complicated, find the solution, almost by themselves (almost :)).
    I very much like the idea of setting time aside to think and I’ll start doing it. Thank you for the tips.

  • It is interesting reading all of the ways we make the time for ourselves to chill and enjoy our own thoughts. I was a person who worked most of my career in a very structured environment (either a medical facility or corporate) and now find myself in a family home with two other people. I admire those that can work from home successfully and find the time for themselves and work. I do not find it to be my arena. 

    In the busy corporate setting I was able to schedule so much in a day, including personal time whereas in the home environment I am constantly interrupted and taken easily away to menial tasks. For me the thinking time is at 4 am when all is quiet here and I can read, walk (if the snow ever stops) or just have a cup of coffee. 

    My point is that whether it be a structured setting or home, you must find the routine that works best for you, to take care of and focus on you so you will be able to productively focus on others or the work.  It is good mental health. Obviously I am going crazy;)

  • I really appreciate this, Clay.  I also am a big fan of John Maxwell, except he makes me cry for some reason.  When you mentioned saying “how can I” instead of “can I,” a light bulb went off for me. “Can I” easily leads to “No, you can’t.” But, “how can I,” is thought provoking. It immediately leads to problem solving.  Thanks for your post!

  • photo chris

    I LOVE the, “HOW can I” as opposed to “Can I?” I use this more and more in my daily life, and the light that floods the room with the flip of that switch is just amazing!

  • photo chris

    ginidietrich  That pesky book launch, tsk! 😉 

    Gini- how on earth do you HOLD ON to the writing you do while riding? I use the distracted technique all the time (I’m sure there’s a REAL name for it!) It’s like my creativity and flow is sometimes a pouting child that only shows up when I’m ignoring it, or trying to get some rest. When it does this, I quietly open whatever note-taking device is around, “ho-hum, ho-hum, nothing to pay attention to here…” quickly jot down notes with one side of my mind while continuing doing whatever it was I was doing, then string it together later.  But, as soon as I STOP the distracting activity, *poof* gone. Empty. Vague memories of brillant ideas…..

  • photo chris

    LauraPetrolino  wait, don’t you live in Florida? How bad could it have been? 😉

  • photo chris

    annelizhannan  I’m sorry when? 4a.m. wha,?!?!  For the love of Pete and Mike and John and Tom, does anyone in this crazy community get up past 5?

    Once upon a time I used to be a morning person. Then I had a job for ten years that required me to do math several nights a week for contracts, at, like, 10:30pm. And I got home at midnight from my swim workouts.  It’s only been 10 weeks since I’ve been gone, but I still hide under the covers for as long as possible, though I’m starting to realize the value or rising earlier. I’m still afraid I won’t be able to think coherently at 11pm.

  • photo chris LauraPetrolino  it’s pretty bad…..and it rains endlessly (as in pounding rain)

  • photo chris

    LauraPetrolino photo chris  Oh, I LOVE a good storm. I really really really do. Sometimes I even take walks in them. But yes, if you are an outdoor-y exercise person, I can see how this would get old fast!

  • photo chris LauraPetrolino  I do too, and I don’t mind to walk/run in them when it is possible. But do you understand Florida storms. Often I’ll get stuck out walking Oliver in them and we just have to go find shelter behind a tree because you can’t see in front of you. It’s sheets of water. Plus the weather this winter has been in the 30s a good portion of the time and there has been zero sunshine. It’s been pretty brutal.
    Don’t get me wrong, Florida is great weather-wise a good portion of the year, but every place has its crappy side 🙂

  • photo chris All in my brain. Sometimes I have to repeat my two or three points over and over again until I can get somewhere to write them down.