Small Business

Adequate thinking time is critical in the workplace

Warren Buffet spends about 80 percent of his time thinking and reading. So many outstanding leaders spend specific time thinking. Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, requires his senior staff to spend 10 percent of their time thinking, and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn schedules each day so that he spends two hours thinking in an uninterrupted environment. Finally, Bill Gates takes weeks off just to think and reflect.

Why is thinking so important for critical roles in almost every organization? I think the answer is that normally in a given day, we are bombarded with tasks that we need to get done or focusing on those urgent items that need attention. Now they may not be important, but they are urgent and must be dealt with. But responding to urgent tasks just doesn’t allow most managers and leaders to just think about the important issues they are facing.

Management has to allocate time to think about critical problems to ensure they just do not respond to a crisis, but rather have a carefully thought-out a plan.

Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in private and public life have been the consequence of action without thought.

-- Bernard Baruch

I encourage you to allocate time every day to spend time just thinking as this is just so valuable to your organization. One great way to accomplish this is to build it into to your daily schedule, then try to not let other activities interfere, including staff and technology. Having this time is not a perk of being a leader, but rather a requirement.

Frequently, people find out that the best thinking is done when they are out of the office, when they are not constantly bombarded by urgent tasks that must be done. For me, the best times are when I am walking in nature for two hours, as there are no interruptions there and your mind is free to ponder critical elements in your organization.

Abraham Lincoln had a great quote, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” Obviously, he was concerned about spending adequate time just thinking about how to cut the tree down.

Many people are going to think that spending time thinking is a waste of time and counter-productive. But we all need adequate time to think through our priorities and objectives. There are no real rules for this, but to do it and focus on critical issues of your organization. Some great questions to ask yourself with your alone thinking time:

1. Do I have the right staff in the right positions to do the job?

2. What are the three items I need to spend more time thinking about?

3. What goals do I need to revisit and revise?

Now go out and figure out a way to spend more time alone to think along with critical issues that you need to spend some time on. This will really make a difference in your role and your life!

Jerry Osteryoung, a business consultant and Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University, can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung