What Is A Think Week & Why You Need To Take One

How going on vacation with your books may be the best vacation ever.

Reading regularly is probably one of the best practices you can engage in. It gives you an avenue to improve your memory, spark new ideas, gain knowledge, practice empathy, and so much more. Fiction, non-fiction, fan-fiction, and the rest are all valuable genres of reading, but how you read makes a difference too.

That’s where the Think Week comes into play. A Think Week is the practice of taking a ton of papers, articles, books, and other reading material with you on vacation for a week. Think of it as a deep dive reading sabbatical.

With your reading material in tow, you spend the entire week reading, writing, and exploring the ideas that you encounter. But you don’t just read in a linear manner, finishing one book and moving onto the next. Instead you read sporadically, jumping from book to book, in a very non-linear, almost chaotic manner.

For example, you read a chapter of a fiction novel and then the abstract of a research paper and then some non-fiction and so on and so forth. In essence, you are allowing the books to intermingle and their ideas to combine, which lends itself to a very contemplative state of mind.

It is a practice that has been used through the ages, but has become more popular thanks to Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and in particular Bill Gates, who use to share his notes on his personal Think Weeks at Microsoft.

So how exactly do you do this? Here’s the quick and dirty on how you can take your own Think Week and reap the benefits.

1. Go Alone

The most important ingredient is to make sure you go on this little vacation alone. People, no matter who they are, can be a distraction. By removing any temptation from the equation, you can truly focus on the purpose of the trip and get the most out of it.

2. Give Yourself Enough Time

I’d recommend at least giving yourself a full weekend to make the most of the practice. The idea is to have enough time to do some heavy mental lifting. You can squeeze in reading here and there in your daily life, but putting yourself through the paces for an extended period is when you truly reap the benefits. A weekend at minimum, but ideally a full week is what you should aim for.

3. Pick the Right Reading Material

The idea isn’t to just read up on the industry you’re already in. The idea is to explore everything EXCEPT what you see every day. To explore new ideas, fields, and genres and see what they can offer. When it comes to the thinking part, you’ll naturally come full circle, but look for those sparks elsewhere.

4. Simplify Your Routine

Make things as simple as you can. Pack quick and easy food you can make or just order in. The goal is to be present and focus on reading and contemplating. Part of this is cutting the cord from your technology. If you read on an e-reader or prefer to take notes on your device, that’s OK, but there’s no room for internet access on this trip. Ideally you can just take notes in your Commonplace Book.

5. Where You Go Doesn’t Have To Be Fancy

You don’t have to travel to a cabin up in the mountains or a lake house in the middle of nowhere. While that would be nice, it’s not a luxury we can all afford. Instead, try and find a suitable airbnb or offer to house sit for friends or family when they’re out of town. The vacation part is relative. The more important thing is to be in a new environment that is away from your normal distractions. If you can be close to nature that’s a plus.

6. Think About What You’ll Think About

Before you head off on your vacation, think about a few things you want to figure out on the trip. Having those goals in mind will keep your subconscious busy during your reading and lead you to the answers you’re looking for. It’s essentially a way to prime your mind before you dive into the process.

7. Take Time To Reflect

Reading should take a majority of your time, but you should also take time to reflect on what you’re reading. How does it impact your life today? What takeaways can you use? How does it apply to the things you went into the weekend hoping to resolve? Enjoy your surroundings, be mindful of the world, and reflect on the information you’re consuming.

8. Take Notes

During the reading process, make sure you’re taking notes. Actually, just take notes constantly. While you’re reading, while you’re reflecting, and especially when you have those AHA! moments that you’re hoping for. The notes are the gift that you get from this vacation. If you leave them floating in your head, you may lose them when you get back to reality.

As you can see, taking a Think Week doesn’t have to be an elusive endeavor. Moreover, the benefits from them are immeasurable. Here’s why you should take a Think Week ASAP.

Ideas Collide in Unexpected Ways

Throughout the week, your mind is engaging with different ideas from very different perspectives and sources. These serendipitous collisions can lead to ideas and insights that would otherwise be invisible during your daily grind. The connections you make can have a profound impact on your life and career.

The Mind Finds Clarity in Solitude

For once, you’ll give yourself time to think. Life is busy, fast, and flies by year by year. Often we feel like spectators of our own lives, not really giving ourselves a moment to think. It’s this exact problem that can be solved by taking a Think Week.

It’s the Vacation You Deserve

How often do we say we need a vacation from our vacation? A typical vacation is an escape from reality, and when you realize you’re back to the same old life it can be depressing. The opposite can be the outcome of a Think Week. By reading and reflecting on your life, you will come back with a fresh perspective and actually be excited to get back to your life because you now have some clarity on where you’re going.

I first came across the concept of a Think Week when I was listening to Steven Johnson’s audio book, Where Good Ideas Come From, and couldn’t help but smile. It’s something I tend to do quite often. I’m almost always reading something and have at least 3 to 5 different books in progress at any given time that I jump between on a daily basis (currently those books are Big Magic, Waking Up, Siddhartha, and Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman). It’s a practice I utilize on vacations, but also in my day-to-day life.

A few insights from my own experience:

  • E-books are a huge help — it’s difficult to carry around multiple books wherever you go. Instead, I can just use my Kindle and have my entire library on the go.
  • Even if you can’t take an entire vacation, just making a daily practice of reading and reading diversely, is beneficial.
  • Always mix in a little fiction! It keeps the mind fresh and sparks ideas all the same.

As a bonus, if you want to take this idea to another level, check out Stefan Sagmeister’s TED Talk on The Power of Time Off, where he takes a full year sabbatical every 7 years to recharge, play, and think.

Image via flickr.

Originally published at alyjuma.com on November 3, 2015.

Writer that designs — or is it the other way around? VP of eCommerce at function of beauty, creator of t-shirts, and lover of books.

Writer that designs — or is it the other way around? VP of eCommerce at function of beauty, creator of t-shirts, and lover of books.