30 Minute Thinking Appointment

In the age of the knowledge worker, it’s hard to imagine needing a practice to set aside time to think, but that’s exactly what this is.

Leaders help teams improve performance by creating windows of time for teams to spend learning and developing skills. Leaders and managers must also allocate time for themselves. This time is set aside for one purpose only: to think without interruption.

You need to develop the daily habit of allocating time to think deeply about a topic area, rather than robotically focus on execution all of the time. While leaders must take ownership and focus on details, it’s crucial for leaders to not get so bogged down in minute details that they can’t see the big picture. For this reason, this is a crucial practice for leaders.

Pain Points

  • Stagnant teams that don’t improve or learn as they follow the example of their leader
  • Leaders often find themselves in a dilemma when unexpected situations arise, as they have never taken time to consider exceptions and how to handle them
  • Few or no ideas or thought-generating questions are put forward by leaders to help the organization succeed or improve
  • Leaders react to emergencies without taking the time to consider multiple options and potential side effects

Benefits

  • Leaders are more self-sufficient and require less assistance during exceptions or a crisis
  • When leaders think deeply about a topic, the team tends to follow and everyone improves as a result

Assessment

  • Leaders schedule and stick to the scheduled time, holding at least one 30 minute, uninterrupted thinking session each day (200pts)
  • Leaders schedule and occasionally stick to the scheduled time (50pts)
  • Leaders schedule but regularly cancel thinking sessions (-50pts)
  • Leaders don’t bother focusing on thinking and just “manage” teams (-200pts)

Application

✓ Critical ❑ Helpful ❑ Experimental

Adoption Experiment

Steps to first adopt this practice. Please read detailed explanation below for additional important information.

Setup

  1. Find a 30 minute window of time you can reliably reserve every day. Block your calendar
  2. Spend time evaluating areas of focus that need your attention (see LearningJournal)
  3. Consider a mindfulness practice, such as box breathing, to help you prepare for the session
  4. Silence phones and close email and messenger programs for the 30 minute window. Close the door to your office or work area

Trial

  1. Try to stay focused on the topic selected for 30 minutes
  2. If you catch yourself veering off topic, let that go and refocus on your selected topic
  3. Be sure to capture any relevant information from your session like important questions, topics requiring further investigation or creative ideas

Evaluate Feedback

  1. Wait until you have an opportunity to get 8 hours sleep (this is important) before doing anything else
  2. After you have an opportunity to sleep, review the topic and consider if your session was helpful by possibly:
    • Uncovering additional information
    • Allowing you to gain some further insight
    • Giving you a better idea of next steps

What Does it Look like?

This practice is about setting aside time to think about your business, team, where you are going, and how you are getting there. It starts with finding a time each day to spend one half hour, preferably in a different place from your typical work environment, behind a closed door.

The time you pick is important. It should enable you to hold the session without interruption for 30 minutes. You should focus on one topic only for this session and allow yourself to be open to ideas that emerge during the session. This doesn’t include doing research or surfing the net for ideas on how to do something. It’s about you spending quiet time to think. At the end of the session, take a few minutes to write down anything meaningful that you need to record.

Here are some tips we’ve found helpful:

  • Play with ideas using pen/pencil and paper, not electronics
  • Try using a mindmap to generate insights1
  • Try thinking about the problem in reverse: instead of solving it, what would you do to deliberately cause it? How many other ways could you cause it?
  • Use Wardley Mapping to track how the current environment will change over time

Warning Signs

  • You’re constantly distracted with interruptions
  • You’re having a difficult time focusing on a topic and find yourself surfing the internet or becoming distracted by the news of the day
  • You convince yourself because everything is going well at the moment, there’s really nothing to think about

How To Fail Spectacularly

  • Ignoring the practice in its entirety and focus solely on execution, as everyone is comfortable with current practices. This often results in having a competitor outpace you with innovative approaches and problem-solving techniques

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  1. See Pragmatic Thinking & Learning (Hunt, 2008)

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