Post title image: Think Weeks: What They Are and How to Do Them Right

Think Weeks: What They Are and How to Do Them Right

Lessons from Bill Gates (and others) when it comes to finding productivity and creativity.

The Future of Work

In an undisclosed location somewhere in the Pacific Northwest lies a small waterfront cottage. Twice a year, that cottage is home to Bill Gates.

He stays there for seven days, armed with stacks of carefully curated reading materials, and a plentiful supply of diet coke (formerly diet orange crush).

From the early 90s onwards, Gates has used that stretch of time to step away from the everyday, and do his biggest, most creative, thinking. He calls them Think Weeks.

Understandably, we all want, from time to time, the space to step back and think. Helping our users do that is the heart of Ashore’s mission, so we get asked about them a lot

So here’s the latest on Think Weeks - what they are, why they’re worth doing, and how you can incorporate them into the way you - and your team - work.

What's a Think Week?

A Think Week, as inspired by Gates, are dedicated periods set aside to spend time thinking deeply and creatively. As he describes it himself:

"Think Week is a time when I can be creative and push my own thinking. It's a time to step outside the day-to-day demands of my job and really focus on the big picture."

For Bill, papers are provided and printed in advance, which he then takes with him to his aforementioned cottage. He reads. Digests. And thinks. For seven days.

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The way Gates conceptualises his time away is - unsurprisingly - by comparing the brain to a computer’s central processing unit:

“You write down all these things [...] then you think, okay do I need to read some books about this? Who do I need to talk to about that? And some things, I say to myself - ‘Hey, I just need to think. It’s CPU time. When you write down these things to think about, that’s like the code.”

Do they actually work?

Gates’ think weeks well known for being responsible for many of the decisions that have taken Microsoft to its place as the largest company in the world were made.

Most notably, a trip in 1995 led to the decision for Microsoft to develop its own internet browser, taking down Netscape, and leading to the birth of Internet Explorer.

It’s not only Bill. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, decided to borrow the idea.

In late 2002 he took a Think Week, coming up with not only a new company structure, but the now famous two-pizza principle.

Can anyone do a Think Week?

The idea of a Think Week might look like it’s only the preserve of CEOs with private helicopters, a chef, and a gorgeous cabin in Washington State, but ultimately anyone can do it.

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At heart - the idea of going somewhere new to unlock great work - is not a particularly new one. Artists and writers have been doing it for centuries.

Gates has taken the concept and applied it in such a way that anyone working on anything creative and important - whether they’re a software engineer, a commercial lawyer, or a tech founder - can do it.

What about the science?

It’s now relatively well-evidenced that a change in routine boosts creativity:

  • for tasks that require creative thought, productivity increases by 20% when working away from the office; and
  • individuals that have had their routines disrupted produce 58% more ideas than their uninterrupted counterparts in the three weeks after the interruption.

Similarly, getting away from the city seems to help:

  • The Creativity in the Wild study found a 50% improvement in creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings for multiple days.

What a Think Week does is combine both of these things, and in doing so boosts your productivity and creativity, meaning you’re in the perfect state to get stuff done.

How do I arrange a Think Week?

Well, if you’re reading this and are thinking about doing your very own Think Week, you’ve come to the right place.

Ashores are designed to be the perfect spaces to think, create, and build, and we’ve been fortunate to help hundreds of guests do their best thinking.

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You can directly book a stay via our website, or, if you want to get our thoughts on how you can do your best possible Think Week, drop us a message in a chat.

We recommend using a home that’s specifically set up to help you do your very best work - Rush Cabin and The Vines are our two most popular Think Week spots.

With the location sorted, the next thing to think about is timing.

Bill does a Think Week twice a year. We’ve seen people do more, and less - often combining weeks spent alone with weeks spent with others (often co-founders).

Two or four times a year feels to us like a good cadence.

In terms of the time you spend away, we actually recommend slightly less than a week - finding that three full days of work provides the optimum combination of being able to go really deeply into a problem, whilst not succumbing to cabin fever.

Often users combine those three full days of work with some time resting and exploring the nearby area: a great combination.

Do I need to do a Think Week alone?

Some will say yes. We think not. Solo stays are perfect for the deepest, most important thinking: particularly when it comes to a big decision about a career or company pivot.

But we’ve seen spending time away with co-workers or partners unlock some of the most needle-moving insights and decisions that we’ve been privileged to help make happen.

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If you need inspiration, look to another fan of the Think Week, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The idea that would become Hamilton came to Miranda whilst on holiday with his wife (he picked up Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton in an airport bookstore.)

Any tips for success?

CEO Aled has recently written about the power of the Think Week, and that article is a good place to start if you’re looking for tips to success.

Alongside those, we recommend:

  • Thinking deeply about the location you choose: this can really be make or break, and often for the reasons you might not expect. For example, both background noise, and the temperature of the home that you’re using, can have a real impact on whether your Think Week is a success.
  • Planning, but not over-planning: it’s good to have a rough idea of what you’ll work on, but so much of the magic comes from going down unusual rabbit holes, or taking a step back and conceptualising a problem in a different way. Leave space for this.
  • Accepting that the day-to-day might pull you back in once or twice: no man is an island, especially if you’re working on something that matters. Remembering it’s fine to respond to something that only you can deal with, and then step back into the big picture thinking, is important to make sure a Think Week stays on track.
  • Making sure you have time to explore the local area during your stay: everyone knows that walks are the fuel of creativity, but if you’re in a great part of the world, exploring the village and shops nearby is the ultimate recipe for serendipity.
  • Bring the good stuff: Bill Gates had Orange Crush. You should bring, or find nearby, some things to help fuel you during your time crushing it. If you’re planning a Think Week with Ashore, let us know, and our team can definitely help on this.

How do I incorporate Think Weeks into my business?

Given the entrepreneurial pedigree behind it, it’s no surprise that some of the most forward- thinking companies have copied Microsoft and incorporated Think Weeks into how their company operates.

We work with a number of partners - currently via our startup programme - to help them quickly and easily provide their employees and teams with best-in-class Think Weeks for whenever they need to step away and do their most important thinking.

Either leave your details via the startup page, or email CEO Aled at aled@ashore.io.


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