By Andy Bailey
If you own a small business, you’re always working. For entrepreneurs, its standard operating procedure to think about your business all day long – and even all night. But that is not sustainable and being that occupied can impair innovative thinking, which is vital to keep your company moving forward. It may be against your instincts, but you’ve got to rest your mind, clear your thoughts and reset your brain if you’re going to achieve the results you want.
I learned this lesson myself when I sold my first business in 2011. I had started NationLink Wireless while I was in college and had grown it into a successful business. If you’ve ever sold a company – or are preparing to sell one – I don’t need to tell you that it’s an exciting time for any entrepreneur, but it can also be a terrifying one, full of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Once I completed the NationLink sale, it was time to decide, “What’s next?” Right? Wrong.
I made a conscious decision to avoid contemplating the “next phase” of my career for a full year. I knew that if I jumped into the next project right away, it would be a mistake. I needed to keep my mind open and clear. And, that allowed me to do a lot more paddle boarding.
Now, you may not be a paddle boarder, but I’ve got to tell you, it can work wonders to get out on the water by yourself and just let yourself be. In fact, it requires a total reserve of mental energy. Being occupied with an activity like paddle boarding actually allowed my mind to expand and solve bigger problems than I could have tackled otherwise. Whatever activity you might choose to give yourself the space to rest, it’s important to take the steps that will allow you to move into your next venture fresh and ready for the challenge. Here’s how you do it:
Get away from it all.
What’s your “paddleboard?” Ask yourself what it is that allows you to feel the most relaxed and to separate yourself from the thoughts that usually take over your mind. Maybe you’re a golfer or a runner. Maybe you meditate, or maybe you find solitude on a ski slope – or, maybe it’s not a physical activity at all. What’s most important is that you find something that allows you to engage muscle memory rather than creative or constructive thought. Create space for the new, and hit reset without brainstorming or thinking about what you should be doing. Just be.
You’ve got to enjoy it.
Clearing your head shouldn’t be torture. The only way to clear your mind of stress and the responsibilities of being an entrepreneur is to do something that you truly enjoy. You can try something new if you want, but if you don’t enjoy it, it’s not going to do you any good. Chances are, you’ve got a pretty short list of your favorite activities or hobbies. Pick the one that allows you to be the most mentally “still” while still giving you the same enjoyment and run with it.
Stop thinking so hard.
Entrepreneurs are champion over-thinkers. Once you’re engaged in your activity, stop thinking as much as you can while still being physically active – more than that, embrace the joy of not thinking. You’re a goal setter, so make “not thinking” your goal, and do what it takes to achieve it. An activity that encourages you to escape will allow you to turn off the swirl of thoughts and worries that can interrupt your process.
Solitude is key.
Entrepreneurs process external stimuli differently than others do. We filter everything though our own perspective, always thinking about how something can fit into whatever business we’re tackling at the time (and, maybe it’s more than one). This external “noise” is fine most of the time, but not when you’re trying to clear your mind. Therefore, you’ve got to commit to being alone so you can reconnect with what you really want and where you want to go, without anyone else’s input.
For me, my head-clearing trips were crucial in getting me where I am today. In fact, while I was on one of my paddle boarding trips, I got the idea for my next company, Petra Coach. Now, I have the opportunity to share all of my successes and lessons learned with other business leaders around North America, who are looking to improve both personally and professionally. If I had been deeply engaged in another project right after selling NationLink, I may never have had the breakthrough that brought me to my true calling.
You don’t have to escape to the middle of the ocean to clear your mind. However, do whatever you can do limit distractions around you. Make the commitment to find your “paddleboard,” and your next, best idea may be right around the corner.
Andy Bailey is the author of No Try Only Do: Building a Business on Purpose, Alignment, and Accountability. He is CEO and head coach with business coaching firm Petra Coach and serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the Scale Up movement. Visit his blog for more business and leadership insight.