Doug Hirsch has a surprisingly simple method for getting the best ideas: setting aside three to four hours of alone time for deep thinking per week.
Hirsch, co-CEO and founder of the prescription drug savings company GoodRx, believes so strongly in the method that he intentionally builds that alone time into his work schedule each week. Finding the time is a challenge — he and co-CEO Trevor Bezdek collectively manage more than 700 employees at a company with a $2.43 billion market capitalization, as of Friday evening.
But it helps him succeed, Hirsch says.
"I find it helpful to actually lock in time to think deeply and creatively, to really set that aside each week," he tells CNBC Make It. "It's like quality time with myself. I just step back from everything and really go in deep to think of the best ideas."
For Hirsch, that means sitting completely by himself somewhere, often writing on paper or a whiteboard to build out his thoughts. Those few, uninterrupted hours help him pump out his "very best ideas" for advancing GoodRx.
That usually means brainstorming potential new products and features, studying how consumer behaviors are changing, and thinking about what his competitors are doing — and how his company could do it better.
Hirsch isn't the only CEO who believes in blocking out time to think. Ex-AOL CEO Tim Armstrong made his executives dedicate four hours each week to thinking. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules around 90 minutes of daily "buffer time" for himself to think. Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has "think weeks" twice a year, where he goes on solo getaways to reflect — one of which led to the creation of Internet Explorer in 1995.
You don't have to be a CEO to do it, too. The time might be useful for thinking about your career goals, considering all the possible solutions to a problem you're facing or generating new ideas that you can pitch to your boss.
Not sure where to start? Follow in Hirsch's footsteps and schedule thinking time on your calendar. Whether you choose a few minutes each day or a large block of time once per week, treat it as ironclad and immovable.
You could even block out time outside of your work day. A survey by the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness found that some Fortune 500 executives dedicate as little as 30 minutes each day for "personal development" time, usually late in the evening outside of work.
A 2017 Harvard Business Review article also advises coming up with a list of questions that can prompt your thinking: Good ideas will "rarely simply appear to you," so it's helpful to outline what exactly you want to reflect on during your thinking time.
If you want to think deeply about your career, you might ask yourself questions like:
- Where do I want to be in five years?
- How much am I growing in my current job?
- What are the areas of my work that I could still improve on?
Hirsch has another tip for anyone who wants to start deep thinking: Fully commit to it.
"I think you have to be very disciplined about saying, 'I'm going to set this time aside for myself,' and then actually doing it. It really requires a level of discipline," he says.