Thinking Time: The Secret Weapon of Billionaires

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

Sometimes it can feel like you’re a firefighter when you’re running a business.
As soon as you wake up, people are already blowing up your emails and Slack with their problems and issues. You don’t get to work on your “big ideas” because you’re constantly putting all these little fires.
And you know Murphy’s Law, as soon as things start to calm down, something else hits you sideways.

I call it Hamster in a wheel syndrome. It’s where you’re working your ass off, but you’re in the same spot a year later.
If you keep running in the hamster wheel, then it’s only a matter of time until you exhaust yourself and burn out.
My parents always preached to me the value of hard work. When they immigrated to the USA, they didn’t have much. No connections, no form of higher education, no money – their only “lever” was hard work.
Working harder was the answer to everything, and I feel the current entrepreneurial culture says the same thing. 

Here’s something that I learned a long time ago – the hardest working people aren’t the most rewarded.
We’re in a
knowledge economy. It’s not about how much effort you put in or about how many hours you work- you’re rewarded based on the results and value that you create.
It’s hard to create value when you’re in an endless cycle of meetings, answering emails, and trying to finish Asana tasks that are several weeks overdue. 
So, what’s the solution?
Several years ago, I attended a workshop conducted by Keith Cunningham. He introduced me to the concept of “thinking time.”
It’s exactly what you think it is – you schedule time in your calendar to think. This is a common habit I’ve seen with some of the CEO’s that I know. They take a few hours off each week just to read and think.
What’s your typical week like?
You’re constantly working, talking to people, and absorbing information – but how often do you set time aside for quality, distraction-free thinking?
Do you know who loves to spend time thinking? 
Warren Buffet spends 80% of his days reading and thinking.
Bill Gates takes two weeks off a year to retreat into nature. He just reads and thinks. 
I have to admit, I thought the concept of thinking time was dumb when I first heard it. I have way too many fires to put out for this.
But then I started doing some thinking time consistently and started seeing the benefits.
Thinking time is the equivalent of sitting back, looking at the bigger picture, and coming up with better solutions.
Thinking time means you’re thinking of solutions to prevent the fires from happening in the first place. It means, “Hey, maybe I should build a sprinkler system to put out future fires instead of running around with a bucket of water.”
I’m going to show you exactly how to implement thinking time, and I’m going to give you some questions to get your journey started.
Note: Huge credit to Keith Cunningham for helping me create this habit.  If you want some more thinking time questions, I recommend picking up his book “The Road Less Stupid”.

How to Actually Do “Thinking Time”

Here’s a step by step playbook on how to actually implement thinking time.

    1. Schedule thinking time into your calendar each week.
      I suggest you start with a 45-minute block, twice per week. 45 minutes is the sweet spot for me. I know it’s tempting to try and get by with 20 minutes, but I find that my best ideas come near the end. I like doing them on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon around 2 pm.
    2. Focus on one question per thinking time. This allows you to give each question the energy it deserves.
    3. Find a quiet spot without any distractions. The local Starbucks is not a great place because it’s unpredictable and full of distractions. Your normal desk isn’t a great spot either. You’re probably there all the time and it helps to have a different environment.I have an area in my home designed for thinking time only.
    4. Find a favorite pen and notebook.Don’t overthink this – it’s just a pen and a notebook. You could use a crayon and printer paper if you wanted. Here’s what I use.
    5. Use the restroom and drink some water.
      Do whatever you need to do. Once the timer is set, you’re not allowed to move.
    6. Set a 45-minute timer.
      I have an Amazon Echo dot in each room so it’s easy for me to set a timer.
    7. Start writing.
      What you’ll find is that the first several minutes will be easy. You’ll get all the low hanging fruit answers out of the way.
      However, towards the end you’ll find that it’s going to take serious brain muscle to get that last 20% out. Those final ideas are going to be the best ones.
      Stick with it.
    8. Analyze.
      You have all these ideas. Ideas are useless without execution.

A Few Thinking Time Questions

You need good questions to have good thinking time.
Most people spend their thinking focused on finding tactical solutions.
Several years ago, I wanted to focus more on my YouTube channel.
I brainstormed different ways that I could gain more subscribers. I came up with solutions such as joint ventures, I could interview some people, and I could hire a designer to help me out with the thumbnails.

I was feeling pretty good about my ideas.
A few weeks later, I did some deeper thinking time when it comes to growing my audience. I realized that YouTube wasn’t the best channel for me.
I didn’t own my channel like I own my blog or email list, it takes a tremendous amount of my time to film, and I personally don’t enjoy being on camera compared to writing.
That’s the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy deals with the WHAT, while tactics deal with the HOW. 
The WHAT is far more important. Not only is it more important, but it’s much, much harder to figure out. 
That’s where the power of thinking time comes in – it helps me figure out WHAT to focus on and prioritize.
Here are a few thinking time questions to get you started. 

Affiliate Marketing Thinking Time Questions

  • What can I do to consistently have an edge in knowledge over the rest of the affiliate marketers in this industry?
  • If it’s true that you can’t be strong in every skill set, what are the most important skills that I should develop that actually matter?
  • What changes would need to happen so that I could walk away from my campaigns for two weeks, and still remain profitable?

Three Business Thinking Time Questions

  • What is the #1 pain point for my customers in my industry? Where are they frustrated because my competition is not delivering?
  • If I could devote 100% of my time and attention to just one type of customer, who would it be?
  • What friction points exist that prevent a customer from buying?

Three Life Thinking Time Questions

  • What are the ordinary things that need to be done on a consistent basis which will produce the desired outcomes?

  • What were the three biggest financial mistakes I’ve made? What assumptions and information lead me to make these decisions?

  • What can go wrong in life? What can I do to help mitigate the damage? 

Doing some thinking time should give you some solutions that you didn’t think about before.
Everyone believes that “great ideas” come from either a random “Eureka” moment of insight, or you hear an idea from someone else.
The truth is there are all these million dollar ideas in your head right now as we speak.
I honestly believe that.
You have a fucking million dollar, if not billion dollar idea inside of you right now. You don’t need to read more books, watch more YouTube videos, or listen to more podcasts.
You can’t figure out what that idea is if you’re wasting all your time on Facebook, answering countless emails, and being in the trenches.
You need to set some time aside to just think.

Thinking Your Way to Victory

I’m tired of “struggle porn.”
I don’t want to work 10x harder. I don’t want to hear some asshole telling me that I’m wasting my life because I don’t work on Saturdays.
If you have to grind until 2am every day, then you’re doing it wrong as far as I’m concerned.
I’m not interested in competing with other people based on my time and energy. I did that in my 20’s already. Now I’d rather devote more time to my health and to building a family.
I still want to win at business though – that’s important to me. So I realize that great strategy, and quality thinking, is going to be my equalizer.
Featured Image by Sanngat

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                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

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