4 ways to get the right headspace to work on your practice (including tips from Bill Gates)

You need the right headspace to work on your practice and get the best ideas for your accounting firm. That we can all agree. But how do you do this?

Here are some action tips shared during a webinar we ran for our members in May 2018.

Why do you need the right headspace?

Giving yourself the right headspace allows you to free your mind. This gives your brain that time and space, to think, to pause and reflect, so you can get into deep-quality thinking. It gives you a chance to have a virtual new whiteboard and gives your brain the space to generate ideas. It’s like having a new office with a blank whiteboard where you can design and create new ideas and then think about an implementation plan.

It allows you time to invest in strategic planning time and think about what you need to do to build your practice. Furthermore, it also reduces stress levels. So, having that time away from your business to pause, and to think, will give you a break from the everyday work. You get breathing space as well as thinking space.

We all need headspace, but what I’m going to cover in this slide is how your brain works. There are some neuroscience links to maximising your productivity and creativity and reducing stress. Heather’s book is about How to build a profitable one-million-pound practice, working fewer hours with less stress. We’d all like to have that, working fewer hours and less stress, and have a very profitable business. We’re going to look at ways that you can do that.

a hiker relaxingDeliberate rest

Working better, not necessarily working longer hours but working better. So, working less, and resting better.

Resting better could be…

  • Sleep.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Reading.
  • Playing a game.
  • Enjoying your favourite hobby.

When you do things like going for a long walk your subconscious mind keeps working on problems. The experience of having your mindset be relaxed allows you to explore different combinations of ideas, and test out different solutions. I’m going to share with you some examples of people that you may have heard of. This is how they either used or are currently using deliberate rest.


Successful people and their deliberate rest

> Winston Churchill had a daily routine of a nap in the afternoon, even throughout World War II, as did Douglas McArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and JFK. They all set aside time for rest even in the midst of the craziness going on in the world.

> Steve Jobs was famous for his walking meetings around the streets of Palo Alto. Bill Gates reads before he goes to bed. He sometimes spends one week twice a year alone in a cabin for his ‘think week’.

> Meg Whitman goes fly-fishing.

> Charles Darwin had a daily practice of taking long walks on what he called his thinking path. Darwin famously worked only four hours a day.

> Warren Buffett plays the ukulele.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick walks 40 miles a week on the indoor track of his company headquarters.

> Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square wakes up at 5:30 am for meditation, and then a six-mile jog. He also takes breaks during office hours to stroll outside as part of his daily routine.

> Chemist Kary Mullis, discovered the PCR principle, not in his lab, but on an evening taking a drive up the Northern California coast. The basic principle of Polymerase chain reaction or PCR is the fundamental technology that makes genetic tests possible. It just came to him as he was taking a drive.

> YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said, ‘I’ve found that sometimes you get really good insight by just taking time off work.

> Architect Frank Lloyd-Wright said he came up with his best ideas between 4 am and 7 am. If he woke up at 4 am and couldn’t get back to sleep, he would just get up, work three to four hours, and then he’d go back to bed for a nap.

> Nicholas Thompson, author, and editor of Wired said, ‘I do notice, a lot of the best thinking, or ideas that are generated, or problems that are solved happens when I’m running. I’m trying to focus on stuff outside of my head’.

> Oprah meditates two times a day for twenty minutes. And she says, ‘I walk away feeling fuller than when I came in, a full sense of hope and a sense of contentment and deep joy.

a woman meditatingWhat is your deliberate rest?

Knowing for sure that even with the daily craziness that bombards us from every direction there is still the constancy of stillness. Only from that space can you create your best work and your best life. So, when you’re out of your common element, the creative part of your brain is stimulated in new and different ways. Exercise is an important part of rest. Many people find that exercise clears their minds and helps them to calm down. It also reduces stress and gives the subconscious mind an opportunity to think through the problems.

What do you guys do for deliberate rest? Your rest could be active, or inactive.

Matt exercises, it’s a good way to get out and work off that stress.

Shahbaz spends quality time with his children, that’s a really lovely way to switch off, and have time with the family.

We all do it in different ways.



One way to create the right headspace is meditation.

When you run out of ideas, one way to increase creativity is using mindfulness meditation. Researchers at Rotterdam School of Management, at Erasmus University, conducted research to see if 10 minutes of meditation could make people more creative. The researchers were interested in whether a few minutes of mindfulness meditation would be enough to boost creativity. They found that if people meditated for 10 minutes, they came up with a 22 per cent wider range of ideas than the people who did fake meditation, or just relaxed.

Several companies have introduced meditation and quiet spaces, yoga classes, and other mindfulness practices in the workplace. Apple, Deutsche Bank, Google, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, and Yahoo are just a few. Executives at these companies say that meditation is not only useful as a stress-reduction tool but often has good effects. So, yes, they’re big companies. But think about how you could use their ideas to do something in your own workplace. Or if you worked mostly on your own what you could do for yourself.

Meditation techniques are easily available through apps such as Headspace and Calm, a way of letting your body relax, and generate ideas.

personal trainer and traineeSerious leisure

You might have heard this term, it’s also called deep play. This is when ambitious people work hard and play hard. It’s the play element that’s particularly interesting. People who engage in serious leisure have hobbies that absorb quite a lot of their time and energy. It’s through these serious hobbies that they get a mental break from work. The mental break offers psychological rewards that are similar to work, but in a different context. Serious leisure is a break from work that could be otherwise unhealthily consuming. It sustains the person’s ability to work, consider it resilience training.

Here at Excedia, Heather pays for us to have a personal trainer, and she considers that resilience training. It just keeps us going. Serious leisure is varied and specific for each person. Some people could be running, sailing, swimming, painting, gardening, rock climbing, or some other absorbing hobby or sport. Deep play provides many of the same psychological rewards, and satisfaction of work, but without the frustration.


Some examples are…

> Former Vogue Editor Anna Wintour plays an hour of tennis every morning at 5:45 am.

> Charles Dickens walked 10 miles a day, Dickens like Darwin also worked only four hours a day.

> Winston Churchill took up painting after World War I, he produced incredible paintings.

> Stephon Alexander of Brown University is, Theoretical Physicist by day, and a serious jazz musician at night. He’s written a book called the Jazz of Physics about how creativity and intuition unite his favourite, art, and science.

> Britton Chance was a Biophysicist and Biochemist, but he was also a serious sailor, he won a gold medal for sailing in the 1952 Olympics in the 5.5m class for the US.

a female runner with a batonWork hard, play hard

So, these are people that work really hard, but they also play really hard. Many people who have learned to rest well are also serious athletes. There are academic subcultures where athleticism is really valued. In modern mathematics and physics, there are a lot of really respected scientists who are also avid rock climbers.

For example, Lisa Randall, the theoretical physicist has climbs named after her in Colorado. The key benefit of serious leisure is that the activities are a diversion from work. It also provides the same subsections of work, the activities are mentally absorbing and often physically challenging. This combination is essential for driven people who are obsessed with the work. It allows them to channel some of that obsession into another activity; it gives them a break and raises the odds that this diversion will something that they do regularly, rather than just get bored and give up.

‘What do you do for serious leisure?’

Serious leisure doesn’t need to just be something really active, it could be a serious hobby that you do.

It’s about investing time away from your business but doing something stimulating for your body, physically, or mentally. If you don’t do anything now, think about something that you can do to help take away the stresses of work, but do something in a different way that will stimulate you, and you’ll see the creativity flows out of that.


Creative Cognition

Creative cognition is the ability to come up with creative ideas and products, and solutions to problems. It’s always been an inexplicable fact that we get the best ideas, flashes, and insights when we relax. You may have experienced this at some point; you’re making a cup of tea, or making lunch, relaxing in the garden, and then an idea just pops in your head. It might be a new idea or a solution to a problem with which you’ve been wrestling. The neuroscience explanation is this…

Idea and creative thinking are closely linked to the part of your brain called the frontal lobe. The frontal lobes are the gatekeepers to your brain. When they are active they decrease your ability to come up with creative solutions. When you are relaxed, and you let your mind wander, your frontal lobes go into a temporary sleep mode which allows ideas to flow more freely. This temporary brain state makes it easier for ideas to flow from your unconscious, into your conscious mind enabling ideas to occur. That’s actually what’s happening in your brain. When you take time to think about strategic planning for your practice, the significant value in taking time out of your business to relax and let your mind wander is, that you may come up with new brilliant ideas and solutions.

brain neuronThe Science Behind

Just to go back to the frontal lobe thing, some people are naturally hypofrontal, which means that the frontal lobes are a little less active all the time, so in other words, their frontal lobes are not controlling them and forcing them as much, and they’re likely to have more flashes of insight, think divergently and be creative. But to the rest of us who aren’t naturally hypofrontal, we need that time away just to relax and let the creativity come through, the ideas to be stimulated, which is really important for growing your business.

There are a plethora of neurophysiological studies that demonstrate that listening to or playing music has multiple measurable effects on human brain structure and function. In one particular study neuroscientists were interested in the link between music and dopamine, a brain chemical involved in pleasure and satisfaction. In their research, they found that dopamine was released at moments of peak enjoyment whilst listening to music. Their findings support the idea that human creativity relies on dopamine, and that dopamine increases creative thinking and goal directive working. So, listening to enjoyable music can help you to be more creative.

Any of these areas of deliberate rest, meditation, serious leisure, creative cognition, there’s quite a lot of research that backs all this up, and if you’re one of the people that just want to know the research, send me a message and I can send you the links to all of this, its all supported as research. But that’s what neuroscience has to say about why you need to take time out and away from your business, in order to operate at your best.


How Bill Gates creates the right headspace

Twice a year, Bill Gates spends one week alone in his cabin for his ‘think week’. You may have heard of his think week before. A lot of innovations from Microsoft come from these weeks.

  • He assesses what his company has been doing, and where it ought to be going.
  • He spends several hours a day reading newspapers, magazines, and company reports.
  • He’s searching for ideas about trends, trends in digital communication, advances, and micro-process of speed, digital photography, and so on.

Each week is crammed full of inputs. Followed by a flood of emails to his colleagues and employees about new ideas, old ideas, existing projects, and proposed ones. Prior to each think week, Gates has his assistant collect papers from every corner of Microsoft, according to what he thinks his priorities might be, he says, ‘Come on everyone, just send in all your papers, all your ideas’. It’s an opportunity for everyone in the organisation at any level, to reach the top with their ideas.

The retreat is not particularly relaxing for him, he sometimes works 18-hours a day, and for breaks, he gives himself five minutes to solve a daily online bridge problem. Occasionally he’ll take a timeout for a short walk, but the output he gives is significant. He’s been known to produce a 6-inch printout of think week comments, they’re in their follow-up meetings for weeks afterwards.

hot stones massageTime away from business create a right headspace

So, think about what you have done in the last year to get away from the fray, and see your business from a longer-term broader view perspective. The point is to give yourself the time and space to think, to shut out work so you can let in the inputs. If you want to do it the Bill Gates way that means no phone or email contact, just an emergency number.

Gather inputs that stimulate your thinking, it could be books, industry analyst reports, technology trends, and predictions, you could also bring inspirational materials. Decide what you need to bring with you and figure out what kind of schedule will work best for you. You might want to start with a 1, 2, or 3-day retreat, and you could do a separate retreat for each of your themes and your 3-year growth plan.

To listen to the whole of the virtual masterclass click here (email required).

Ready to kick-start the growth of your firm?