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Why your business needs you to take a break

It's a deeply ingrained truth that if we just keep working hard, the success will come. That is true to a degree, as hard work is an essential characteristic in any endeavor and many business owners and managers affirm this by working 80 to 100 hours weeks… sometimes more.

Unlike a wage earner, when you’re a business owner, the hours you work is not the only measure, you work until you achieve what you need to. If that takes 20 to 70 hours, so be it. Over time most owners try to put in place strategies to reduce these hours. It may sound like an oxymoron, but one strategy is for you to take a break; to take a step back; and to take the time to think.
Working on the right thing will always be more important than working hard.
The truth is when we put our head down, work long weeks and focus obsessively on the tasks at hand, we stop seeing the big picture. A 2011 study published in Cognition analyses the idea that when you work on tasks continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. Alternatively, taking short breaks aids in goal reactivation. Taking a break encourages you to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. It’s a practice that encourages you to stay mindful of your objectives, and, as the authors of the study report, reliably contributes to better performance.

Taking a bi-annual ‘Think Week’ is one way Bill Gates tries to keep from getting lost in the weeds. A ‘Think Week’ is scheduled time away from the business and spent in isolation. It is a time to practice pro-active pondering, research new ideas and focus on overall business strategy.

It is on a Think Week in 1995 where Gates wrote ‘The Internet Tidal Wave,’ a now infamous memo, to his executive staff. During this Think Week, Gates researched and studied the internet, a relatively new phenomenon. He analysed what potential it had in the industry, how that would affect Microsoft, how his competitors are dealing with it and then came up with his vision to move forward with it. As he says ‘all we can do is get involved and take advantage.’ This was quite a change when Bill was reportedly dismissive of the internet in his thinking prior to this.

Following on from Bill Gates example, Michael Karnjanaprakorn came up with the idea for Skillshare on his first ‘Think Week’. Karnjanaprakorn says that taking the break away from work allowed him time to think, to connect the dots and gain conviction in the idea of Skillshare. It also allowed him space to answer larger overarching questions about the direction his company was going.

Would Microsoft have survived the tidal wave of the internet had Gates not taken the time to reflect on what was happening in the current market? Would Skillshare be in existence had Karnjanaprakorn not taken a Think Week?

Will your business survive market changes if you do not take the time to step back and see the big picture enough to steer it in the right direction? Taking a break from your business gives you the freedom to ponder long range strategic thinking about your company, preparing it for an ever-changing market, and readying ideas and innovations to stay current.

This is part of the reason that initiatives such as the Owner Manager Program have such a profound effect. They are long enough to force reflection and change, while structured enough to allow testing, application, and feedback as part of the execution process. The Program creates such a rich environment exclusive to business owners where ideas and improvement are conceived and flourish. Following the Program, we commonly see alumni looking forward to OMX as their annual ‘Think Week’ type refresher.

Whether it’s the Owner Manager Program or a personal ‘Think Week’, here are some tips to taking some time out

1. If you can’t take a week, take a day or two instead
If the thought of stepping back from your business for a whole week seems daunting, scale it back to a Think Day or couple of days.
  • Any time you can put aside to step back to think, refocus and strategise will benefit your business. Try and schedule this over time to make it consistent and enduring. 
The Owner Manager Program consists of 3-day blocks, we find this manageable timewise, while long enough to ensure reflective thinking.

2. Disconnect
Minimise your distractions so that you can focus.
  • Find a quiet spot or offsite location where you can’t be interrupted.
  • To aid you in this, you may want to limit meetings, emails, texts and phone calls.
  • You may also want to delete distracting apps from your phone. 
We commonly look for venues on the Owner Manager Program that are a little bit away to force this kind of disconnection.

3. Decide on your goals beforehand
Take questions or ideas you want to ponder with you on your break. You might want to consider questions such as:
  • what are you truly trying to accomplish?
  • Who are your customers and what are you providing them?
  • How do we truly add value?
  • How is your vision and mission - and the products or services you provide - different from what competitors offer?
  • What emerging connections are you seeing in the industry? 
Generally in the Owner Manager Program we see business owners that are looking to transition themselves or their business in some way, what’s next and how do I make that happen?

4. Gather material
You’re aiming to feed your mind over the week, and now you’re armed with the questions you want to ponder.
  • Develop a reading list of articles, ideas and data in advance so you’ll be more focused in your information consumption. Doing this will save you wasting time searching for the right information to review, but will also allow you to make informed decisions. For example if you’re looking at your customers, take customer/ industry/ data to aid your thinking. 
Within the Owner Manager Program we provide plenty of thought provoking material to add to your questions and challenge you both with external presenters and the other business owners in the room.

5. Put ideas into action
You’ve gone away to think, and you’ve come up with some ideas that you think may work and now it’s time to put them into action. When Bill Gates goes away on his annual Think Week, employees across the globe know they can expect texts and emails from him based on his reading and research. Following a Think Week, Gates holds multiple follow-up meetings to discuss ideas and inspirations and how to incorporate them into company strategy.
  • Make sure at the end of your session you list the actions that you and others are going to be take. 
This is why the Owner Manager Program consists of five blocks over time and at the end of every block the question is asked “what are you going to do” – which ensures not only the ideas, but the application and implementation.

We look forward to hearing your experiences of stepping back and stepping out for greater clarity, focus, and effectiveness. For those looking for further reading on the topic here are couple of additional articles.

Related articles to post:

1. HBR Article From Harvard Business Review - an article discussing the importance of taking short breaks to aid in achieving long term goals.

2. Deloitte Article An interest article discussing the idea of challenging assumptions to explore new possibilities.

3. Internet Tidal Wave Memo A typed publication of the faxed memo ‘The Internet Total Wave’ written by Bill Gates in 1995 and distributed to his executive staff following a think week.