Picture this.

A steady breeze from the northwest cools the warm Caribbean afternoon. Framed between a palm tree and the turquoise water, you notice a man sitting comfortably in the sand. He's working, which seems strange given his appearance: shaggy blonde hair, linen shirt, surf shorts, and flip-flops.

You squint and realize the man is Richard Branson, founder of the multibillion-dollar conglomerate, the Virgin Group. He's working from his usual "office" of Necker Island, a 74-acre retreat he owns in the British Virgin Islands. What a life, huh?

Branson is far from a negligent founder on a semi-permanent vacation. He has highly-qualified managers running the various businesses that make up the Virgin Group, and he visits his companies regularly, but he no longer manages the day-to-day operations of any of his businesses.

Most of us aren't going to find ourselves wealthy enough to enjoy a private island any time soon, and chances are your aspirations have less to do with that kind of life of luxury and more to do with community value and long-term impact. But regardless of your ultimate aims, what would you do if you were given your "in the weeds" time back—if you no longer had to spend any of your daily hours on daily management or operations tasks at all?

The train conductor vs. the thinker

Your role as a CEO can be divided into two buckets: one for managing and the other for thinking.

The managing bucket is where, metaphorically speaking, you ensure the trains all run on time. In this role, you're establishing goals for your employees and holding them accountable for achieving their targets. You're ensuring your products and services are of high quality and that your biggest customers are happy.

When you're wearing your manager hat, you're scouring your company, looking for small opportunities for growth every day. This obsession with continuous improvement is what big companies call "six-sigma thinking," but you probably just think of it as building a great company.

The other bucket is reserved for thinking, where you create your company's future. During this vision-dedicated time, you get to design new products, imagine new ways of serving customers, and contemplate where you could take your business in the years ahead.

Your visionary hours are spent dreaming and building towards what your business could be instead of zeroing in on and finetuning what it is today.

The most valuable companies

The question is, how much of your time should you devote to each role?

Whether you hope to sell your company one day or plan to steward it faithfully to the next generation, you should probably be looking to increase the time you can spend wearing your thinking hat. The owners of the most valuable businesses tend to hire managers dedicated to ensuring the trains run on time, so they can spend their energy thinking and dreaming about their company's bigger picture and future!

Starting the shift from managing to dreaming can be a challenge. Check out these additional resources to begin rebalancing your time today.

Hallie Knox
Post by Hallie Knox
August 17, 2023
Hallie Knox graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a Bachelors in English Literature, and quickly followed her passion for words and story into a career in content writing. She's loved working on everything from blog posts to marketing emails to internal reports for clients in consulting, education, tech, and beyond. Hallie has been involved in various writing projects for Acumen since April 2022, and is thrilled to officially join the team as our Content Writer! Aside from her writing and editing work, Hallie spent a few years as a literacy and special education teacher, and continues to serve part-time as an educator for a fully outdoor forest school on the side. A "missionary kid" who grew up moving all over Europe, Asia, and the Balkans, she is now settled in Boise, Idaho, where she reads avidly, cooks experimentally, attends St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church, and spends time with her twin daughters, husband, and their two big goofy dogs.