Carve Out “Think” Time

42 Rules of Product Management The following article by Brainmates co-director Adrienne Tan, is an excerpt from 42 Rules of Product Management.


Product managers-carve out some “think” time in your busy day to be more productive and to deliver better results.


Product managers are often overwhelmed by day-to-day operational and tactical responsibilities. Urgent tasks such as reporting, solving urgent customer queries, responding to the sales groups, and reviewing marketing collateral are constantly on the product manager’s agenda. Product managers repeatedly say that they have little time to focus on the important, more strategic activities that generate real value for the business.

Whilst it’s almost impossible to stop supporting the product at the operational level, it’s vital that product managers carve out “think” time in their working week or month.

So What Does “Think” Time Actually Mean?

“Think” time is essentially about taking a moment to consider the long-term prospects of the product, explore new markets, discover untapped opportunities, learn about alternative product solutions, and up-skill on product management techniques. It’s reflective, quiet time to step aside from the day-to-day machinations of supporting the product.

As a product management consultant working on a project for a cable television channel in Australia, I noticed that producers and editors made an effort to carve out some free time from their tight daily television production schedules. They used what they called “think” time to dream of fresh story lines, explore new ways to promote existing television content, and generally took time away from their desks to refresh their minds and to help think creatively.

The strategic role of the product manager is complex and requires quiet time to consider and reflect on customer problems, the direction of the market, and the strategic path and alignment of the product against the business strategy. Sitting at a desk responding to operational problems or preparing that all important slide pack for senior management leaves little time for product managers to consider or uncover innovative solutions to these issues.

“Think” time is productive time. The benefits may not be immediate but are enormous. The benefit of “think” time is evident across many industries and professions.

Stefan Sagmeister, a New York designer and TED 2009 speaker, closes his studio and takes a sabbatical every seven years. The time out, he says, not only gives him the opportunity to rejuvenate but enables him to develop innovative design solutions to common problems.

Ferran Adria an infamous Spanish chef opens his restaurant El Bulli seven months of the year. The other five months he spends experimenting with new cooking techniques and ingredients. As a result, El Bulli is one of the most successful restaurants, receiving two million reservation requests per year.

3M ensures that their engineers set aside 15 percent of their time to engage in any desired activity in the workplace. Scotch Tape? and Post-it Notes? were created as a result of this downtime.

With a little “think” time, the product manager is ultimately a better product manager for the company, the benefits of which manifest in profitable products that deliver greater business value and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Pencil In “Think” Time Now

Product managers must make a conscious effort to set aside some time in their work schedule to allow for “think” time. As a start, pencil in a two-hour meeting every month for “think” time and, as this activity becomes familiar, increase the frequency of “think” time to every week.

Spend “think” time reading an inspiring book, catching up on your favorite blogs, sketching new product ideas, tinkering with new software, and talking to leaders outside of the product management profession or to a leader working in a different industry. An essential aspect of “think” time is to step away from direct product management tasks.

More importantly, the product manager must commit to continue “think” time in busy periods. This commitment eventually derives results that are similar to those of 3M’s and others.

Product managers remember that always “doing” may not necessarily generate profitable results or lead down the desired path.

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