Stop Doing and Start Thinking

Sep 9th, 2019

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

Henry Ford


Many of us will be returning to work after the summer break, having had the opportunity to reflect, gain fresh perspective and come up with new ideas.  But how do you maintain that space and time to think, as the pace of life speeds up again?

In this age of information overload, many of my clients who work to very demanding schedules do not always prioritise regular thinking time as a critical part of their leadership role.  Yet when they do, they recognise that this is when they have some of their best ideas and most creative thoughts. 

Some of the world’s highest achievers can vouch for the value of thinking time.  Jeff Weiner, the chief executive of Linkedin, reportedly blocks out between 90 minutes and two hours every day for reflection, describing those ‘buffers’ as “the single most important productivity tool” he uses. With company earnings at more than $6 billion this year under his leadership, this suggests that keeping space clear for reflective time is working well. Also, Bill Gates famously took “think weeks” in a cabin in the woods and Tim Armstrong, AOL’s chief executive, has also been known to encourage executives to spend one-tenth of each working week on reflective thinking.

It is clear that the value of reflective time can have a significant impact.  To give an example, one of my clients faced a big decision recently, following the appointment of a new chief executive at the company he worked for. While my client had had a good relationship with the previous chief executive and an impressive track record as a board director, it was becoming apparent that his relationship with the new chief executive was not working as well.  To address this, he took time out to reflect and had one-to-one coaching through our Vision Intensive Programme. As a result, he gained clarity on how he could transition out of this role and into a new one that would value and recognise his talents.  Not only did this enable him to depart graciously, he has now found his ideal role, which has considerable growth opportunities.

Everyone’s work, business and life goals and ambitions are as individual as they are.  But broadly they tend to fall into similar categories, such as how to make the next move in your career or transition successfully into a new role; or how to grow your business and/or set up your own business. 

Some are in the final stages of a successful career and are looking to prepare for retirement, which they want to be a new exciting chapter.  Managing uncertainty is a key theme too, for instance, how to choose which path to take if you are at a crossroads in your career.  Many of my clients also wish to further enhance their leadership skills. 

So, if any of these matters are on your mind at the moment, now could be a good time to schedule in some quality thinking time.  You may not want to do as Bill Gates reportedly did, and sit alone in the forest.  But there are a few specific do’s and don’ts that you might like to consider, for best results, as follows:


Top 10 thinking-time tips

  1. Break the cycle

Begin by scheduling regular time to think – however much time that might be.  Don’t let your diary fill up to the point that you overlook your own needs, and make sure your assistant understands the importance of leaving space between meetings.

  1. Prepare

This is your chance to find the answers you’ve been looking for. Before you take the time out to do your thinking, prepare for what you want to think about. What would be the ideal outcomes from your thinking time?  Make notes of the issues and problems, and your ambitions throughout the day, and collate them as useful reference material.

  1. Think about your objectives

Set clear targets about what you want to achieve from your thinking time, but don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

  1. Change your space

Consider what might be the best environment for you to think things through.  For some, that might be a café. For others, a walk by the seaside or in the countryside could be most productive. It’s up to you.

  1. How much is enough?

If you haven’t set aside time to think before, identifying how much time you need will come with experience and practice, and be based on the issues of the moment. Sometimes it might take a day; on other occasions a half day or a few hours will cover it. Little and often is ideal. However, it’s not about the amount of time taken – it’s about what you get out of it. Don’t be afraid of letting your mind wander.

  1. Expert input

It can be helpful to talk to an expert coach, who will work with you effectively to identify your goals and how to reach them, and support you as you travel towards them.

  1. Ask yourself ‘powerful’ questions

What’s a powerful question? It’s one that gives you greater clarity and awareness and has an impact on how you think about the most important issues in your life. This is another area where input from an expert coach can be invaluable.

  1. Capture your thoughts

When you have the chance to clear your head and focus solely on your own personal aims and ambitions, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find what emerges. But it’s all too easy to lose the thread when you return to day-to-day life. So, make sure you take notes. Some people like to write up their thoughts in a notebook, others like to record them verbally. You also might like to jot them down on your phone (if you decide to take it with you).

  1. Distractions

Talking about your phone, make sure that if you do have it with you, switch it off.  Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by work emails or anything else that will divert your thinking from your future.

  1. Do it again

This is not a ‘one-off’; this is about managing your career or business and life goals as a work in progress. So, keep the momentum going, by making sure you schedule in the next thinking session (and the next), as soon as possible.


Are you ready to set new goals for achieving your ambitions? If so, to begin the conversation, email Oona at

If you’d like some further information in the meantime, why not take a look at our Vision Intensive Programme? And if you’d like to know more about what our clients have gained from our coaching, we have lots of testimonials that you might find interesting. 

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