How to take a ‘think week’ (or day) like Bill Gates

Twice a year, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is known for going off the grid for what he calls “think weeks.” During these solitary retreats, Gates reads hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and company reports, chugs Diet Orange Crush, emails Microsoft employees about his strategies and visions, and reflects on the future of technology.

Famously, one of his think weeks in 1995 led to an email sent to all executive staff titled “The Internet Tidal Wave,” which accurately predicted the future of web surfing and caused Microsoft to develop its own internet browser, defeating its competitor, Netscape.

The lesson? To recharge our tired minds and come back stronger than our competition, we need to leave the regular routine and distractions of our office.

How to take a think week

Not all of us have the luxury to take “a helicopter or seaplane to the two-story clapboard cottage on a quiet waterfront,” as Gates has done for his think weeks. Some of us have bills to pay, children to feed, and a shortage of vacation days.

But even if we’re not billionaires, we can apply the meditative spirit of think weeks to our lives. We can go for a hike or stay in for the evening. Although Gates may be helicoptering to his think weeks now, his first think week was a visit to his grandmother.

1) Scale back a think week into a think day

Taking a whole week off can be intimidating. Try starting small with a think day or a think morning. Once you complete your first think morning, you can try adding more time at a manageable pace. The goal is to purposefully take time away from your regular routine to reflect on your career and your future.

2) Cut out distractions

Once you’ve given yourself the time to reflect, you need to make sure you put yourself in the best space to facilitate this mindset. Technology can be a distracting addiction, so it may be wise to unplug for your think week.

If social media causes you to waste time, click out of your tabs or delete the apps from your smartphone for your think week. Turn off your phone and tell your family, friends, and co-workers that you cannot be reached for these scheduled hours.

3) Purposefully reflect by picking a theme

After making your ideal think week working environment, you need to think about what to think about. The goal of any think week is to take a wider look at your professional goals in a way that the normal workday does not allow.

Skillshare founder Michael Karnjanaprakorn, who adopted a version of think weeks from Gates, said that he picks themes for his reflective weeks.

“For every Think Week, I come in with areas I’d like explore. These can be decisions, ideas, or macro-trends I’m looking to learn about,” Karnjanaprakorn writes. “I queue up reading materials that will help foster some new ideas. I ask co-workers to send me ideas.”

You can apply this advice to your own think week by soliciting feedback from colleagues and coworkers in the days leading up to think week. What do you need to be reading to be your best self? What are stories that our competition is overlooking?

To be a leader of your industry, you constantly need to be generating new ideas to execute. Taking your version of a think week may just be the spark you need to come up with one.