Even Short, Practical Think Weeks Are Powerful

Credit to Unsplash user adrian

I had my first think week last weekend. It was the type of think week for the amateur. The Average Joe.

Taking the time to think is a powerful thing, regardless if it’s for work, relaxation, or personal spirituality. The most successful people in the world regurlarly take the time to reflect on their lives or a specific problem. Bill Gates had made the concept famous during his Microsoft days. The founder of Skillshare has been taking a think week for the past several years to answer his larger questions.

For years I had felt lost in my life.

  • What did I want to do?
  • Why haven’t I progressed towards my goals?
  • What were my goals?
  • What’s my purpose?

I needed space to figure these things out. I felt determined figure it out. I knew that I needed a think week, but like many people:

  • I’m an average full-time salaried professional ,
  • I can’t afford to spend an entire week of vacation just to think,
  • but I can afford to spend three days at the ‘local’ wilderness. Local is the large state park about an hour from my home, where the campgrounds are rugged and quiet.

Getting into the wilderness for three days was the antedote that I needed. We live in a state of always-on and connected. We are constantly plugged in, and the constant bombardment of information can keep us from reflecting on our lives. I also needed perspective. Fortunately, I have an endless supply of perspective from many Medium authors.

I began by stealing like an artist. I spent the next month preparing for my trip — gathering supplies, articles, and sticky notes to organize my thoughts.

It seemed appropriate to gather articles related to minimalism and lifestyle.

I had already been an avid reader of several authors, but I stretched my search to topics related to lifestyle — relationship abuse (I don’t experience this, but there are valuable insights to how we can be hard on ourselves), philosophy, education, etc. Sometimes we can gain valuable insights by searching the fringe.

In total I had over 50 articles spread across the two categories.

The campsite. Photo courtesy of yours truly.

Starting Out — Day 0

As preached in ‘how-to’ guides, I spent the first day setting up camp and relaxing. I didn’t do much else beyond staring at the fire and cooking on my camp stove. It took the entire day just to tune out the noise that I am accustomed to. I also left the phone hidden in the glovebox in the car. Having no sense of time was essential to disconnecting and felt liberating.

My synthesizing madness. Looking looney does have its perks, such as a free meal.

Getting My Feet Wet — Day 1

The great thing about camping outdoors for a think week is that the birds will wake you early and the sunrise can really put you into a peak state. I spent the first hour stretching, brushing away the awful taste in my mouth, and jogging down the nearby dirt road and back.

Then, I began with the minimalist stack.

I studied each article carefully and highlighted the key messages that stuck with me. It must have taken several hours to read through entire stack, but I had finished just before dinner time.

Obviously there was a lot of time dedicated to reading, but the important thing to keep in mind is that this is also a time to relax. My productive, real-world corporate-self wanted to plow through the entire thing to be done. Old habits crept back in. Instead I paced myself with frequent breaks to stoke the fire, make snacks, and generally enjoy the scenery.

The last leg of my day consisted of synthesizing the data. I transferred all of my highlights to post it notes and clustered them according to idea.

My synthesizing madness:

  • Ideas which relate to each other were physically touching
  • It was interesting to see how thoughts flowed into other thoughts, and that seemingly irrelevant notes could be connected through a stream of thought
  • Specific thoughts clustered into chunks. I would rearrange the notes as needed to find hidden inspiration
  • I also looked at post-it notes at opposite ends. Sure they connected to each other through dozens of other notes, but idea sex’ of initially unrelated thoughts produced valuable insights

I finished the day by relaxing next to the fire, reflecting on what I had learned. I wrote and diagrammed in my journal, thinking about the new information in the context of my life. Right away I could see that I had opportunities to improve myself.

Feeling Confident — Day 2

The second day was more or less a repeat of the first, although I had considerably more to read concerning my lifestyle theme. I read, highlighted, and synthesized the data by clustering the sticky notes on my car.

On a side note, yes, I did look like a nut-case. My camping neighbors invited me over for a fireside dinner just to inquire about the nonsense, but the learnings were worth the weirdness.

I came across some interesting tensions during my study.

Some sources claim that we are entering the Age of Authorpreneurship. This is observable, after all, how many bloggers today have an email subscription service? Medium is a successful blogging platform. Yet, many sources claim that we are transitioning from the Information Age to the Over-communication Age. James Altucher doesn’t browse opinions on the internet because 99% of what we read is forgotten. Even more sources note that experiences happen when we disconnect.

Once again, I finished the day by relaxing next to the fire, reflecting on what I had learned. I continued to draw in my journal and ask myself questions in the context of what I learned. I reflected.

Some interesting tensions across many of the articles.

Wrapping Up With A Plan — Day 3

The morning of my final day was unlike the previous two in that I had to translate all of this to my life. I needed a plan to make it worthwhile.

These are some of the big points that help to guide me in sorting out my life:

  • I figured out how my life could ideally be and aligned my inner compass to work in that direction. It’s the direction of travel that matters
  • I identified the pain-points, the pointless decisions and the mindless routines that I was putting myself through daily
  • I learned to favor authenticity and that ‘normal is broke’ in more than just a financial sense
  • I fostered a desire for the journey and unprioritized the destination
  • I learned that minimizing leads to maximizing
  • That success is enjoying the passing of time, not tasks completed
  • Lastly, that amateurs define their success based on accomplishments. Professionals push forward, confident that they will one day succeed

The reflecting that I had done at the end of each day is similar to how great artists work. Louis Chew in his article The 7 Habits of Highly Creative People highlights that,

The great artist selects elements from others’ work and incorporates them into his own mix of influences.

Nothing is truly original and we are all borrowing from each other to make something new. The learnings that I incorporate into my life may not be original thoughts, but the combination creates a life that is uniquely mine.

Reflection in the form of a think week was a powerful way to reflect on my life and to incorporate other viewpoints into my mix of influences. I can say with certainty that I no longer feel lost.

Feeling lost? Looking for your purpose in life? Go on a think week!