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Think Better. Lead Better

Think Better. Lead Better. Live Better

“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” – Sir Joshua Reynold

We don’t think enough.

If you were to look at your next seven days, how much time have you budgeted

to think?

to be creative?

to solve problems you haven’t been able to solve?

to work on it, not just in it?

to dream?

to innovate?

to truly advance your mission?

And “well we just had our annual retreat” probably isn’t going to hack it as an ongoing answer.

If you’re like me, your week can so easily get swallowed up by demands. By responding to crises, solving urgent things, and by the tedium of email and undisciplined responses to whatever is going on around you.

It’s not a very inspired way of living. And this way of working also has an important consequence:

Nothing changes.

You make little progress. You get stuck. And your effectiveness diminishes incredibly.

So how do you get out of that space that so many people get caught in?

You do this: figure out a way to integrate better thinking into your daily routine.

The results can be staggering.

Better thinking results in better leadership.

I saw this demonstrated early in life. One of my favourite trips as a kid was to Greenfield Village near Ann Arbor Michigan. It’s a historic site that houses various historic landmarks in American history. One of the highlights was stopping by Thomas Edison’s lab. (That’s a picture of one of Edison’s labs, above.)

Edison was a professional thinker. He organized his entire life (and factories) around thinking of things no one had thought of before.

He personally held over a thousand patents (a record). He had a placard made with the quote from Sir Joshua Reynold that sat on his desk. Something to look at every day:

“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” – Sir Joshua Reynolds

Edison knew the the default in life was to avoid the real labour of thinking. So he designed his life and his business around thinking. He created labs with dozens of workers whose job is was to think – to invent – to innovate.

If you’re like me, your best ideas rarely come when you are sitting behind a keyboard and your inbox is filling up.

Maybe you can’t have a lab like Edison, but with the right attitude and discipline, you and your team can become so much more innovative than you are now.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how you can create regular time for better thinking.

1. Limit meetings and email. Your best thinking probably doesn’t happen in ‘standing meetings’ or in the grind of email. I limit my meetings to two days a week so I have time to think, write messages, work on problems and solve issues. Similarly, don’t constantly check email. It will suck hours out of your day.

2. Schedule thinking and creative time. What if you scheduled a day a week minimum to work on it, not in it? What if you took an hour a day to try to solve problems you otherwise couldn’t solve?

3. Find out where your best ideas come from, and recreate that space regularly. I often get my best ideas when I’m not trying to generate ideas or even working. When I’m cycling, cutting the grass, shovelling snow or doing errands around the house I’ll often discover fresh insights into problems I couldn’t solve while I’m ‘on the clock’. Don’t fight it. Cooperate with it.

4. Develop a note system to catch your best ideas. I currently use Evernote. It’s on all my devices and is easily searchable. Even if I’m cycling, Evernote has a voice capture system so I just speak my idea into my phone or tablet and it’s there when I need it. No idea is ever lost.

5.  Change your Setting. Sometimes you just need a fresh setting. One of the reasons retreats are so memorable is because everyone is out of their natural element. New settings produce new thinking. Head to a new coffee shop. Switch up your routine. I keep two offices (a home office and work office) because it allows me to think far more creatively than if I was restricted to one space.

Whatever you need to do to think better, do it. Better thinking will lead to better leadership.

No one should be more committed to better leadership than church leaders.

What helps you think better?

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  • cnieuwhof

    So glad the hear that Eric. Encouraging! And Edi, I really started using Evernote a few months back. It’s unbelievable. Downloaded it years ago but committed to it recently and it’s amazing.

  • Carey, great post!

    Love the idea for note taking on Evernote while doing something. Some of my greatest ideas come to me while I’m exercising and hate the fact I can’t write and workout. I’ll definitely try.


  • Carey, Thanks for the reminder. I do pretty well scheduling everything except “Think Time”. When I don’t have time to think effectively, it seems my leadership is more reactionary and shallow. This is a great word that I’m going to share with my leadership team!