As an entrepreneur, CEO, and leader, it is your duty to make vital business decisions and build a well oiled productized machine. When you’re running a service-based business, however, the workload can often be all-consuming, leaving you with minimal brainpower to think about anything else other than delivering quality services to your customers — even if thinking is what you actually need most.
Have you been stuck in this loop lately?
Then you now, more than ever, need to cultivate a thinking time practice to help you design a better machine. Service businesses aren’t complicated, but your ability to design, manage, and scale people and leverage technology will be your keys to success.
This technique requires intentional thinking and designing time.
Since you are balancing many balls, it can be very easy to neglect certain aspects of your service business. This results in quick-fire decisions being made without any real consideration of the potential outcomes. The key to impeccable decision-making, therefore, depends on your ability to ask the right questions about your business. This is what I call “Productized Thinking Time”.
Much of this principle was adapted and learned from one of my mentors from afar, Kieth Cunningham, who originally wrote, “An Introduction to Thinking Time” which you can download and read here. Save this and reference it often. Keith is a business ninja, and I would highly recommend diving into his content.
So what is Thinking Time?
Thinking time doesn’t mean relaxing on the beach and scrolling through endless cat videos on social media. It also doesn’t mean sitting on the floor, closing your eyes and meditating. The concept of thinking time involves carving out a small portion of your working day. During this scheduled time, you scrutinize your own decision-making, focus heavily on key business decisions, and look at the right questions from multiple angles. It is a routine you perform with purpose and intent to find solutions and poke holes in your assumptions.
Remember: Business is an intellectual sport.
To consistently make great decisions, you need to know when to step to the sidelines of the playing field and reevaluate your game plan. How might you make profitable, tactical decisions? Oftentimes success isn’t always about figuring out how to hit home runs but rather limiting your risk and downside.
Athletes don’t just take breaks to recharge their batteries and rest. They take breaks to listen to their coaches, study others, and ask questions; to break new, strategic ground. Top business “Athletes” do the same.
It all starts with a problem.
Ignoring and burying challenges is easy. Every business has problems; even the ones that are experiencing exponential growth with dazzling financial results. Good problems are still problems. Sometimes, the most detrimental business difficulties linger beneath the surface and require critical thinking to be uncovered. This is what I want to help you accomplish.
Many business owners do not confront a problem until it manifests into something bigger and uglier. Usually, the worst issues are the most challenging to address, demanding a considerable amount of brainpower to decode a possible solution. So why not tackle these early and often?
Thinking time can turn a problem into a potential opportunity. After using some of this time to meaningfully reflect on your business, you can unlock a treasure trove of possibilities that weren’t previously obvious to you. This is where the true power lies.
Moreover, the human brain is a remarkable instrument. When you give it the opportunity to truly focus, it processes and tackles problems with a degree of consideration that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
To make a perfect business decision, you need to analyze a problem from many different angles whilst contemplating the effectiveness of specific solutions. It helps to approach thinking time with a framework which I will share below in a moment.
It’s usually the trickiest questions that are the hardest to confront, unveiling a substantial weakness in your business. Too many business decisions are made with spur-of-the-moment emotion. In business, thinking with your heart and not your head can do more harm than good. When emotions are high, intellect goes down. This is why when you are extremely emotional about something, you often make poor decisions. We want to avoid that as much as possible.
Thinking time is an opportunity for you to put your emotions aside and focus on rationale-driven decision making. A short period of solid concentration can help to declutter the mind, as you throw all your brainpower into solving a singular problem.
What I have discovered is there isn’t a right or wrong way to practice thinking time. Most people don’t dedicate time at all to “think”, so by even starting at all, you are already ahead of 99% of others.
How can you practice Thinking Time?
At its core, thinking time is an immensely personal experience. With this in mind, every person’s approach to the activity is going to be slightly different. After all, we each have our own unique ways of processing information, getting in-the-zone, and performing in our optimum state.
The ROI of your thinking time session will be determined on many things, but in order to set yourself up for the most success, you will want to do two things very well:
- Ensure you are focusing on the right problem and not the symptom.
- Ensure you are asking the right questions.
It’s actually easy to ask a bad question that won’t help you get closer to a solution.
For example, asking, “Why do our sales suck?” is one way to address a problem. But the issue with asking it in this way is that this will only allow your mind to address internal reasons why your sales might be falling. In that case, you put your possible solutions in a box. Compare the previous question to this: “How might we increase our sales?” You see, it also addresses the same “problem” but actually puts you in a solution mindset and allows you to think more productively.
One of the most popular ways of approaching Thinking Time is by turning off all your electronic devices and getting out a notepad and pen. It’s a back-to-basics method that minimizes the potential for distraction. If you reference Keith’s Thinking Time doc, you will see how ritualistic he makes the process. I have taken a lot of his approach and applied it to my practice as well. A distraction and a tech-free environment have been the most productive for me.
At the top of the notepad’s page, you can write one question that focuses on a problem in your business. When it comes to picking a question, try to think outside the box like my example above. Another thing I found useful is writing out a question in multiple ways. The same question positioned in five different structures will actually help you travel to different places mentally, which can be powerful.
You want to make the experience challenging. By doing this, you prevent any feelings of boredom or discontent during the activity. This is a habit you want to cultivate into your business practice. The question doesn’t need to be a riddle, but it could have a sense of ambiguity to it.
If, after a couple of minutes, you’ve found a few potential solutions to the problem posed in the question, you picked the wrong question! Dig deeper. You want to really get those cogs churning away in your brain, unlocking the doors to new streams of thought.
Thinking time is best completed in periods of between 25-45 minutes, on a regular basis. This gives you enough time to dive into a question and thoroughly explore the challenges that it poses and come up with possible solutions. As ideas come into your head, you can simply jot them down on the notepad in front of you; below the question.
I like to always have a black dot under my question and whatever I’m writing. This helps me keep thinking of one solution after the other.
For a service-based business, collectively discussing and debating ideas could have the potential to bring some really valuable insights to the table. I like to even have a “Thinking Time” colleague with whom I can share ideas, questions, and challenges. In the right-hand corner of this page, click the video and feel free to share your biggest struggle right now and thinking time questions you are considering around this problem, and I can help brainstorm with you.
Here is the official thinking time Framework from Keith Cunnigham to run through to help you get the most out of each session:
- Check your assumptions– Is what you are assuming real? Remember to not only be a cheerleader of your ideas but also argue against them.
- 2nd order consequences– What is the upside? What is the downside? Am I okay with the potential downside?
- Finding the core problem vs. the symptom– What you think is the problem is more than likely just the symptom. Push yourself to dig deep here to avoid creating a solution for a problem that isn’t.
- Discover the unasked question
- Designing the solution / Machine
What are some examples of questions for Thinking Time?
We’ve compiled a quick list of thinking time questions to get the process started:
- How might I get to my desired outcome in the next 10 days instead of the next year? What would I have to do?
- If my business was 10 times the size as it is today, based on exactly the systems and operations I currently have, is this something I would want?
- How do my customers define success in the long-term?
- If I could only run my business based on referrals how would my business look?
- What are the most important personal skills I should develop to impact the future growth of my company?
- How big would my business be if I had never lost a single customer?
- What does the certainty of success look like for my customers when they work with me?
- What are the exact friction points that exist and prevent a customer from buying my services?
- How can I get my target market excited about my services without increasing our marketing budget?
- If I were to completely pause working for one week, what specifically would break in my business?
- How many hours, days, or weeks could I completely take off from my business without it being affected at all and still grow without me?
- If I could change one thing about my business tomorrow that I don’t like, what would it be? And why?
- What are the symptoms in my business that I believe are actual problems?
Thinking time has the potential to dramatically change the direction of how you address problems in your service business. In some ways, the activity turns this method of concentrated problem-solving into a game. You can actually use this process for any area of your life, not just business.
As you near the end of each thinking time session, your aim should be to read through the ideas you have jotted down and circle potential solutions to the original problem.
Are you ready to get started?
For your first session, carve out 20 minutes of your day and attempt to find a solution to one of our example questions! Let me know in the comments below how it goes. And if you know of anyone who could benefit from a practice like this, please share this post with them.
Thinking Time Chief