Time and Space to Think

Yesterday, I shared what I learned from Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. I don’t watch much TV, but this was an insightful series. Today I’ve been thinking about Bill’s “think weeks.” He regularly spends a week alone in a cabin reading and thinking. The quietude and stillness give him an optimal environment for his best thinking, allowing him to distill things and solve complex problems.

Bill’s intelligence and ability to rapidly comprehend things have been remarkable all his life. (His siblings, coworkers, and wife all confirmed this.) And they’re at their highest level when he reduces his activity level and just thinks.

I started to wonder what environment allows me to do my best thinking. I usually need to get in the zone to think about complex things. Big blocks of time let me do that, and then I can concentrate and make significant progress on a problem. Once I see progress, I get excited and want to keep going. Interruptions or lots of activity around me are disruptive, so I try to be somewhere quiet and still when I need to get in the zone. I’ve also learned that writing helps me make connections and solve complex problems. It forces me to organize and communicate my scattered thoughts in a way others can understand.

This year has been challenging, to say the least. Like everyone, I’m ready for it to be over. In tough situations, I try to look for the silver lining. I believe life is about perspective and there’s always something positive; you just have to look for it. This year is no exception. Less activity and a slower-paced life because of the pandemic have given me more time to think than I’ve ever had. I’ve accomplished things I’ve been putting off for years (like blogging) and worked through some tough problems. Bill Gates does think weeks. I’ve sort of done a think year.

Bill Gates is a brilliant person who made an impact on society through entrepreneurship and is doing it again through philanthropy. I love learning from the experiences of people smarter than me, like Bill. There’s a lot to be said for his practice of taking week-long blocks of time to think. (If someone of his stature continues to prioritize this, there must be something to it!) I don’t have the luxury of doing think weeks, but I’ll work toward being more intentional about taking time to read and think in the right environment.