“Thinking time” is underrated by leaders and managers of ecommerce companies. We operate in a fast-changing environment — competing both in technology and commerce. In this post, I will address the value of taking a few hours every week to stop and think.
Many merchants are likely asking, “I don’t have a few hours a week; what is this guy thinking?” Trust me. This is actually a time saver.
We are conditioned from a young age not to think. We are conditioned to be active. Many of us have been told as kids to stop dreaming and start working. We learned —sometimes by our parents and sometimes by our teachers — that activity is rewarded, while daydreaming is idle time. This may have been true at some point. But it’s not true in the knowledge economy we are living in.
So why think? What is the value? During a normal day, you likely have a long to-do list. There are meetings and phone calls and fires to put out. During this time there is often no meaningful way to consider options, opportunities, or threats.
Taking an hour to consider, say, which marketing option is best for your company to invest your limited budget, and then documenting the decision (adding benchmarks and what success looks like), can save a lot of money in the long run. As ecommerce merchants, we’ve all received phone calls or met vendors at trade shows with offers that seems good with low risk.
We often tell the vendor something like, “Let me consider this and we can speak again in two weeks.” You assume that two weeks is plenty of time. But when the vendor calls, you haven’t spent two minutes (let alone two weeks) considering the offer. Now you make a quick decision to give it a try. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
When we take the time to truly consider something, we become more intentional. We learn from past mistakes. We find the gaps in the offers before we are faced with a problem. And we have targets that show us if the offer is working out as planned. In short, we are being proactive in our approach to every major part of our business.
As merchants, opportunities come our way every day — such as adding a product line, hiring a business-development person, and investing in new equipment. Taking the time to think through these opportunities (or look for opportunities that have not presented themselves) is the key to growth.
For example, at overstockArt.com, we recently noticed that our inventory was growing. We reviewed the data to determine what was causing the growth and what part of our inventory was growing. We wanted to know what approaches we could take to lower the inventory. Instead of letting the inventory levels get out of hand and then conduct fire sales, we decided to be proactive and get in front of the problem.
We gathered the data and spent four hours considering our options. Once we came up with ideas, we implemented and tested them. We looked at the results. We then fine-tuned the initial steps. Now the trend of growing inventory is reversing. We estimate that not only will we reduce inventory to earlier levels, but it will drop to less than half — all while we increase availability and increase sales.
This has an amazing impact on overstockArt.com. The same can happen to any business.
To inject thinking time into your ecommerce business, here a few simple rules to follow.
- Get out of the office! I can’t stress that enough. Thinking must be done in a relaxed place with limited interruptions.
- Before you leave the office, assemble data and research. Don’t worry about having everything, since new data and reports will be needed later.
- Have a list of three or more topics to think about. If you if don’t three or more topics, just think about a current, pressing item.
- Write or draw in 20-minute (or longer) sessions. Start with a blank paper. Decide on a topic and write (not type) about it for at least 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter what you write; just put your thoughts down without stopping. This is harder than it sounds, especially at the beginning. After you finished writing, take five minutes to review what you wrote. Highlight the key ideas. Then do another 20-minute session.
- You may need many of these sessions, depending on the topics and your progress in solving them. Consider a diagram to illustrate your thoughts better,. Feel free to draw to unleash your creativity.
- Don’t expect this to be easy. Sometimes I generate seemingly amazing ideas that turn out to be worthless. Other times I generate simple ideas and solutions that go a long way. Regardless, you’ll get better the more times you do this.
- Have fun. Thinking time is productive, but it also needs to be fun. Go to a coffee shop or another relaxing place. The solutions will come.
If I did not explain the steps clearly or if you have further ideas, please post a comment. I love hearing from readers.