Each week, at the same time, on the same day, I sit down with a pen and pad. It’s a clearing time. Having no distractions around me with no clearly defined tasks helps to release the barrier of “being on” all the time, allowing new ideas to bubble up.
I call it “Paper Time.”
This “paper time” is where some of my greatest ideas have come from and it makes me feel like a genius every time.
My business partner has used this strategy for decades – since engineering school – and has sworn by it. It wasn’t until I recently tried it that I realized it’s enormous impact on everything from productivity to my general outlook on life.
The Paper Time Process
First, you must make this one hour a sacred time.
Let the people around you know that you’re off limits during this hour. My husband knows that when I’m having “paper time,” he’s on – no matter what. My phone is turned off and put away. If an earthquake took out my family in another state, I wouldn’t know it.
Also, make sure you have no reason to leave the room. Use the restroom, pour your coffee into a thermos, and get some water before sitting down.
While I have no rules around what I write down, I do have patterns. I’ll usually spend the first 20 minutes getting out a list of to-dos or some of the more emotional stuff. This allows me to get to my genius.
Here’s a more detailed list of how to make this happen:
- Set aside 1 hour on a weekly or daily basis
- Walk away from everything
- Sit in room with lined paper and pen
- Split your paper ¼ and ¾ section by drawing a line from top to bottom.
- Use the left hand (¾) side for notes
- Use the right hand (¼) side for to-dos, topics to investigate next time, and “brilliant concepts”
- Allow yourself to be quiet.
- Have faith that a topic will come.
- Write down all thoughts.
- Start to work them.
(Note: a friend recently told me about a note-taking strategy called Cornell Notes. It’s often taught in schools as a concrete method for note-taking. If you’re not into notepads, download a Cornell Notes template and use it instead.)
What It Is (and Is Not)
A lot of you will refer to this process as a “brain dump.” But brain dumps are quick, a jettisoning of the clutter in your head. They are about instant gratification – getting a list of to-dos on paper so we can start checking things off to feel productive.
This isn’t a brain dump. This is high-level thinking. “Paper time” is the opposite of instant gratification. It’s the deep thought required to sort through complex business issues.
Brent often calls this process “$10,000 per hour work,” because it’s the kind of thinking that produces $10,000 ideas. This is where you’ll define processes, identify gaps, and strategize for growth.
Here’s the deal: you probably spend your time doing lots of things that feel like work, but don’t really contribute to your business’s bottom line.
Normally, in any given hour, I’m deleting junk mails or some other menial task. I know it’s stupid and pointless, but it gives me satisfaction and feels like work. (Confession: I even stay subscribed to some newsletters just so I can delete them.)
We need instant gratification sometimes. But we also need to do the kinds of thinking that lead to growth, that don’t distract us from the bigger issues.
It feels unproductive at first, because we’re not used to it. But I’ve never regretted doing it. In fact, every week, I walk away wanting to do it more often.
Getting It Right
I’ve been diagnosed with ADD, so I have a natural tendency to jump all over the place. Paper time allows me to get out all of the distractions. It’s time to take care of my brain; to give myself space.
Research shows that when we have things that are unsolved in our brains, they continue to cycle and pop up. That’s why it’s so important to have a clearing.
I often go in with nothing on my mind, fearing that nothing will happen. Every time, I come out with golden nuggets, thinking, “Wow. I had no idea that was in me.”
Recently, I wrote out our entire sales strategy. Normally this would take five meetings and some planning while answering the phone, responding to emails, and handling all of the other tasks that “pop up” throughout a day.
The satisfaction of a 45-60 minute sitdown is more valuable than having a clear inbox. I can’t help but think that if I did this four hours per week, I could probably be working just five.
There’s no right or wrong way to use “paper time” in your business. If all you do is create a to-do list, that alone is enough. It can be extremely focused or it can be anything you need to get out. The key is in knowing that something great will come out of it.
I didn’t have a lot of faith in the process when I started. I was skeptical of it’s value. But just like going to church, it’s more about showing up and receiving what’s being offered that day.
You don’t need anything but faith, paper, and a pen.
The Cost of Not Doing It
What’s your hourly rate? One hundred dollars? I know an hour is valuable to you. Invest your $100 and see what it turns into.
Do you have room in your business to invest $100? If you do, gamble on it.
What if you come up with an idea that eventually nets you $10,000? That’s a 100x return! Well worth it if you ask me.
You don’t have to believe me, but just try it. Start today.
Do you have a process similar to “Paper Time?” What have been the results in your business?