The Value of Time Out To Think

Time is precious

What’s for tea? What activities are the kids doing at school this week? Which clients are shouting for help? When am I going to get round to that DIY list?

In this technology filled fast moving world what value is our time worth? Do we ever get enough time out to think?

In the summer of 2014 I was chosen as one of the select few to attend a Leaders of The Future retreat by my employer at the time, Grant Thornton.

16 people from around the UK firm, none of whom knew each other, staying away for 4 days with no mobiles or laptops allowed during the day.

Sounded a nightmare to me.

But was it really?

The course started bright and early on the Monday, the tutors asking us all to take 20 minutes to simply think about life…what was currently consuming us, what could be improved, what do we enjoy doing in and out of work, what inspires us etc.

The facilitators then told us that the week ahead would be focused all on us…to me it sounded like selfish indulgence.

They left us on that first morning with a parting thought….

“for some of you the career you are currently pursuing is not progressing you nor making you happy…you need to move on. But that is fine, don’t be ashamed to admit it. Everyone will benefit as a result”.

The rest of the week entailed;

  • group sessions on Myers Briggs type self review,
  • pairing up with others to critically review each other’s personality,
  • sports games together,
  • walks in the countryside letting the silence give you headspace to think, and,
  • evening dinner together with vino (too much!) allowing everyone to socialise without electronic distractions.

For the first time in my life I actually started to think about what really motivated me, the direction I wanted my life to travel and what I needed to do to make positive change happen. I had been given the precious commodity of time….and used it to think deeply about the future properly for the first time in my life.

So what did I do after the course…… I resigned !

Thank you Grant Thornton. Without your openness to develop people I wouldn’t have flourished as I am now.

Today openness, training and development are hot topics in terms of making the team feel engaged and empowered….is your business doing enough in this area?

In my current role at, as a non-exec to a number of the UK’s fastest growing digital agencies, I often see agency owners / management teams running fast trying to grow a healthy sustainable business.

Sometimes their judgement on key decisions is clouded by the mass of decisions they need to make and issues they need to deal with. Decisions are often made quickly without taking the time to think over all the consequences….hence the need for a non-exec (!).

The modern age of technology and social media hasn’t necessarily helped in this area….yes we have more tools at our fingertips but often we feel pressured to respond immediately….often emotionally and not rationally.

A number of agency owners I work with are huge fans of the Agency Owner retreat….getting away from the business for a few days and networking with peers in a country retreat. Yes there is great food, and a healthy budget spent on wine, but also the learnings they get from their peers, together with the timeout for thoughts and reflection, is invaluable…….I know, I did it in another guise.

One of my areas of expertise is finance and this often means I need to take my time in making a decision.

Weighing up all the implications (cash flow impact, tax position, strategic direction etc) takes time but is essential, rather than jumping to a conclusion and making a rash decision which could adversely affect the company.

The value of time shouldn’t be underestimated.

But how do you get more timeout to think when you have 101 things to do.

Part of the issue of time is clarifying what’s important and dealing with these areas. Perhaps the rest are trivial and don’t need attention….but you clear the non-important things first, taking up your valuable time and leaving the difficult important matters to later which then get rushed and not dealt with properly. This can stress you out, make you less productive (although I know a number of people who perform better under stress) and your goals aren’t achieved.

I’m sure plenty of folk will know about the analogy of Rocks….but if not this is well worth a watch from the master: dealing with your rocks

I’m sure you’ve heard umpteen people say “I haven’t got the time”…but if something is important you need to make the time.

Perhaps the thing you need to do but don’t want to do is a challenge, one you don’t want to commit to, something that will take you out of your comfort zone, something you feel will take “too much time”.

Most entrepreneurs have already challenged themselves (sometimes not intentionally!) by setting up in business but some can then be wary of challenging themselves further, worried that the business may suffer as a result…especially if they have time away from it.

Sometimes to achieve the quality time you need to step away and think about;

  • what is important to you,
  • why you do what you do,
  • what you want to achieve, and,
  • what (if anything) needs to change to make you realise your ambitions.

In my experience setting a simple roadmap in place for the future enables a business owner to focus in on the important areas, setting the quarterly “rocks”, and helping them realise their goals and ambitions. I help a lot of agency owners roadmap the future and it certainly helps focus their time in the right areas.

I have a little secret to tell. This is my first blog. It’s been a struggle to make the time (!) and it’s something out of my comfort zone….why would anyone want to read something I have written. Oh well, it’s out there now! At last I made the time.

I hope you get an opportunity to do something that will challenge you further and that you have time to achieve it. I am sure you can make the time.

Mark Probert

Managing Partner