8 min read

I did a Think Week on a remote Scottish island

Pete on Tiree

I was due some time off and thought I'd do a Think Week like Bill Gates does. I actually think I came across the term first from indie hacker Pat Walls! After doing a Think Week, Pat changed direction away from his Pigeon SaaS to focus on Starter Story, which has since grown to around $400-500k in annual revenue. So I figured if it worked for him, it could work for me.

What is a Think Week?

The idea is to give yourself some time off without any distractions. Bill Gates famously has a cabin in the Pacific North West that he goes to. The benefits that are supposed come about include having new ideas and insights while you are free from distractions.

As for me, I chose Tiree, an island in Scotland I had never been to before and which is fairly remote with only 600 inhabitants. I had to take a 4.5 hour train from Edinburgh to Oban via Glasgow and then take a 3.5 hour ferry to the island. I then had to cycle to the bottom of the island to a simple cottage.

It was a pretty perfect location for a Think Week - I couldn't get any WIFI in my bedroom, I didn't have any neighbours and there were no entertainment venues or shops for miles. I was on my own with my thoughts.

Tiree location

I did have internet so it wasn't like I was living as a hermit but I didn't check any email or Twitter all week. I did message some non-tech friends and family so I didn't go totally crazy!

What did I read during my Think Week?

I take a few books with me as my idea was to get lots of reading done while I didn't have distractions. I have a dozen unread books and I think we all know it's easy to build up a reading list and never get through them all.

I read two books while I was away: The Magic of Thinking Big, which is a motivational book from 1959 recommended by the money blogger Mr Money Mustache. Apart from the dated social references, the book was pretty good and covered lots of things like work ethic and mindset.

I also read Company of One by Paul Jarvis, the co-founder of Fathom Analytics. The big thing I got from this was I need to do more after sales customer-care. It's very easy to just bag a sale and think that's job done. But if you want repeat business you should be checking in with clients after the sale, seeing how it worked for them and reporting results to them. I'm going to do a lot more of that. I also considered the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, a lot after reading this book.

On my long journey back I also started to re-read Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck - improving my growth mindset and resilience is a priority. I'm going to keep working through that book now I'm back.

The house I stayed in 

I wrote a lot

Although I keep a journal, I decided to write in a new pad of paper and this had a very liberating effect. I feel I was a lot more honest in my writing as I wasn't thinking about if it would be read by me or someone else in the future.

Not writing for posterity freed me up to be more honest to myself. So for the first couple of days I really just wrote down lots about how I was feeling about business and various other things. It was very cathartic to do this.


Take people off pedestals

Although I look up to a ton of other indie hackers I'm realising now that I can get to their level with a bit of patience, work and the right mindset. I think I have to be a bit more ruthless and just more action orientated - I have a tendency to get overwhelmed with details whereas I should start with the smallest possible version of the product. I also need to put myself first and make businesses work for me and not the other way around. Great entrepreneurs are made, not born.

Re-committing to entrepreneurship

Just as some married couples do ceremonies where they re-commit to each other, I think it's a good idea to renew my commitment to entrepreneurship. I can take a lot of risk out of the equation by increasing my part-time contracting. If I do a part-time job and earn for example $15k a year from that I've already got half of the upside of a job: the ability to pay my rent and groceries.

I can then spend the rest of the time working on entrepreneurship and in that portion of my time, I have uncapped potential. So like Nassim Taleb says, "cap the downside, uncap the upside". I've talked a lot with my friend Lachlan Kirkwood about this and his friend refers to this as "infinite runway" - you will never have to quit your business if you have part-time work which pays your bills. The only reason to stop is losing your willpower, but you won't run out of money which is why most companies stop.

In hindsight, having a part-time job for the last two years would have meant I'd have a far bigger savings balance for a house deposit and a nicer lifestyle. Although revenue is trending a lot higher lately, my income at the moment changes a lot month to month. And I think the decision you would have taken in hindsight is what you should do now.

Lots of 6 and 7 figure entrepreneurs I admire like Ben Tossell, Scott Keys, Anne-Laure Le Cunff and many others have combined their startups with jobs or studies. We need to lose the stigma of part-time work.

Spending the rest of the week on entrepreneurship makes sense - no-one I know with 9-5 jobs earns anything like the indie hackers I follow. If you are earning a salary it's just so much harder to build wealth compared to running a business you can sell or grow yourself. I've seen lots of founders now make 6 or 7 figure businesses in a relatively short space of time and I'm positive over the course of my life time I can too.

I'm basically going to be working for another 30 years anyway if I was to do the 9-5 route. So my bet is within 30 years I can make more money from entrepreneurship. Hell, I think even in 5 years it would be possible to make a six or seven figure exit. I can then buy a house and invest the rest and let compound interest do the rest.

So along with the benefit of contracting or doing part-time work, entrepreneurship makes sense to me. If I have to work for 30 more years any way, I might as well take a shot of breaking out of that. As I'm frugal I could probably retire on about $1m or thereabouts. I don't want to spend my life doing a 9-5 I hate.

Focus more on No CS Degree and courses

I've realised I'm spreading myself to thinly at the moment and I'm going to focus more on No CS Degree. It's a lot easier to add a thousand dollars of revenue to something where you already have product market fit than to keep on trying new projects and try to make a thousands bucks from them. I'm regularly getting bootcamps message me now about working together so I feel getting inbound sales is a tipping point.

That said, courses have been really good to me financially as well. In July I made $1600 while I was on annual leave! I'm making a new course on newsletters at the moment sponsored by EmailOctopus and I've got some other courses planned for the rest of the year. Courses are very lucrative and once they are made I can just keep on selling them. Build once, sell many times.

Focus on my really close friends

In my personal life I'm going to be doubling-down on a small number of people who I'm close to and who I think have my back instead of constantly getting life updates on social media from people who don't really care about me and who I don't know very well. This is the Pareto Principle in practise.

20% of my friends provide me with 80% of the most fun, love and support. I shouldn't be wasting my time on social media keeping up with people who aren't in my close friends group or who I haven't seen since university. I guess this is a social media/ information diet.

Spend less time on Twitter

Although I love Twitter I've realised I use it pretty mindlessly. I don't need to be on there all the time so I'd like to experiment with using it less often.  I'd love to just chat to other makers all the time online but that's not going to make me money or secure my future.

There's probably a sweet spot where I can still tweet but not spend all my time there. An hour scrolling on Twitter could be better spent finishing up my Grow Your Newsletter course or writing sales emails to bootcamps. I'm starting my social media diet today by checking Twitter in the morning, lunch time and dinner instead of almost constantly.

I think social media is a lot like chocolate. The more I consume, the more you want. Eating chocolate all day sounds great to a lot of people but it's not exactly healthy.

Spend less time reading the news

This is a tough one because I love newspapers and politics. But really, there is nothing but bad news just now in the UK what with shortages, inequality and spiralling house prices and there's nothing I can do about these events. It just depresses me so there's no point in filling my time with the dread newspapers create.

the news headlines

About the island of Tiree

Apart from my thinking time, I also had a lot of walking and cycling time on the island. There were virtually no other visitors and it was common to go to beaches and find no-one else there! That said, the weather was appalling some days - on my second last day I had to cycle with 20mph winds and torrential rain. There was also a risk I wouldn't get the ferry on the way back due to strong winds. Luckily, everything panned out ok and I got back ok in the end. Islands are good to visit and the isolation served it's purpose but I can't imagine living anywhere else but a city.

If you want to have an island retreat on Tiree and don't mind wind and rain, it's a good option. You can read more about Tiree here . I'll definitely do another Think Week - if possible, doing one each year would be excellent!

Pete on Tiree hill