Why Taking a Thinking Day is So Important in the Age of Distraction

Can’t believe how excited I am to be taking a “Doug Day” later this month. I’m going to head up the California coast to a campground resort that rents out a few safari tents to people like me. Perfect for the rustic, away-from-it-all environment that always gets my creative juices flowing. Sure, I’ll admit that I’m anxious to be leaving behind piles of work and a looming travel schedule that extends through the holidays. But I’ve got to get away. All the more reason that my Doug Day is on the calendar, and I’m not bailing.

If you’ve participated in one of our workshops or heard me speak, you may recall that I asked you to seriously consider taking day out of your routine to think about your life, your career, and your business. I almost always talk about Doug Days on the lecture trail these days because clients request that I do.

The other day after I spoke at a conference in Austin, Texas, a man came up to me and said he’d heard me speak about Doug Days some months before at a conference in Pennsylvania. Inspired, he’d rented a convertible and was about to embark on a driving Doug Day across Texas. A gathering of Chevron’s top IT people reported that the Doug Day concept played out throughout their conference, “hey, you need a Brenda Day,” or “I’ve got to take my Steve Day.”

So, you’re probably wondering: who is this Doug guy? And why does he get a day named after him? The idea came from a man named Doug Greene, founder and chairman of New Hope Communications, and a pioneer in the natural foods arena. When I interviewed Doug for the book, Winning the Innovation Game, I was trying to understand how people like Doug came up with really cool ideas. Here’s what Doug said:

 “Once a month I schedule what I refer to as a Doug Day. I create a block of time where I have absolutely nothing to do. I have no appointments; I have an appointment every minute with me. I’ll go to another city or to a different environment. And I’ll sit and just draw or whatever my first instincts are to do. And I have to say almost all the major innovations of my life [that I’ve had] I can trace back to an idea that was born on a Doug Day.” 

My interview with Doug occurred in 1985. Since then life has gotten incredibly more complicated. The pace of change has accelerated. Who has time to take a think day once a month today?

Turns out that it’s not the frequency as much as the commitment and getting away to think that’s most important. But here’s the value proposition: If you take time out to think and plan and check in with yourself on a regular basis, I guarantee you’ll come up with powerful ideas and insights that will accelerate your success.

Whenever I hear someone talk about a Doug Day as a time to goof off, I know I haven’t communicated what these days are about. Doug Days are about tuning in to the ideas that are fluttering around daily that we never pay attention to because we’re so busy. Doug Days are about tuning in to that intuitive voice inside you that is your lodestar. Doug Days are about capturing ideas, random thoughts and observations on paper, and sifting and selecting and implementing the best of them. Doug Days are about energizing your personal creative process.

While there are no hard and fast rules for organizing a perfect think day, I do recommend a change of venue. For me at least, being in the great outdoors and connecting with nature is a big part of the experience. I suggest a complete disconnect from the office, your family, friends, and your devices. Posing a set of questions to yourself ahead of time can jumpstart your dreaming session.

Doug Greene likes to sketch in his artist’s pad, and ask himself questions such as: do I have the right people on the bus? What’s going on with our customers? What new markets should we be exploring or entering? What new directions should I take? Am I taking enough risks or have I begun to go on autopilot?

You may want to broaden the questions to include all aspects of your life: What about your relationships, your marriage, your kids, and your spiritual journey? What is being neglected in all the rushing about? What will you look back on later in your life and wish you had done more of? Less of?

It will be fairly deserted up there now that the weather has turned cool and the kids are back in school. Towards evening, I’ll hike up into the hills for a view of the sunset. A jog on the beach will jumpstart my day. Just me and the sandpipers and the plovers and the seagulls. It’s bound to open up some new lines of thought. No way am I going to cancel my Doug Day. And I invite you to plan one real soon.

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