5 Simple Changes That Can Make You Better Thinker In the Next 7 Days

“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.

And yet mostly, as a lead pastor, the most important part of my job involves thinking. I’m always trying to work through:

My relationship with God

The next series/next message

Team health and dynamics

Reaching our community

Encouraging and helping people grow in their relationship with God

Our future

I don’t know about you, but my life get so crowded with people asking me to do things that, left unchecked, I would have zero time to think in a week.

Add to that crises, solving urgent things, and by the tedium of email and my own undisciplined responses to whatever is going on around you…and a week goes by in a heartbeat.

It’s not a very inspired way of living.

idea concept

So Exactly How Much Time Have You Budgeted To….?

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 fail to budget time to think, it triggers an unseemly 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?

And how do you do it in the next 7 days?


If Edison Figured it Out, You Probably Can Too

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.

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 Reynold

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.


5 New Patterns to Embrace

Here are 5 new patterns you can adopt this week to get you thinking better within the next 7 days:


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. The equation is simple. Better thinking leads to better leadership.

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

What helps you think better? Leave a comment!


  1. Jerry Carter on April 14, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    Like breathing exercises, taking a walk allows our brains to free associate as they are not burdened with the immediate mental task of, say, writing the current message. While walking or gardening or whatever you can be running your message ideas through your mind, playing with them, and the most amazing thoughts connections and associations are produced.

  2. […] Reposted from Carey Nieuwhof’s blog. Click here for link to his excellent blog […]

  3. Lawrence W. Wilson on April 8, 2014 at 7:31 am

    For me it’s mental space more than physical space, though a change of scenery often produces both. I think bigger thoughts when the day-to-day doesn’t clutter my head, so getting out of routine is good. Libraries are a cheap (free, actually) venue for doing this.

  4. gentry on April 7, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Great stuff sir. Thanks so much.

  5. Gary Davis on April 7, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Physical activity, such as excercise in any form, is essential to healthy stimulation of creativity. Writers block for instance, is nothing more than the fear to move forward. Excercise massages the creative part of the brain into hyper drive and helps us find creative ways around whatever we have allowed to bring that fear to the equation. There are unlimited ways to exercise!

    Thanks Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      As a cyclist, I’ll vouch for that. So true Gary!

  6. Chuck on April 7, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Writing as a chemist, I must say the Edison example should score huge points with us for multiple reasons that are relevant to this post. (1) Edison didn’t always succeed. A lot of his own research would be seen as failure. Which is true for most researchers. You only hear about the stuff that works. Edison is credited with saying “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 things that won’t work. (2) Edison was an awesome thinker in his own right. He was practically a philosopher in that area. “Five percent of people think. Ten percent of people think they think. The other 85% would rather die than think.” (Edison) (3) His work ethic was noteworthy. Like you said, Carey, look at the man’s lab. (P.S. Carey, if you get down to Florida much…. go see the OTHER stuff at the Edison Home in Fort Myers! It’s loaded with additional artifacts of his chemistry research, inventions, and such. Worth the visit!!) A mandatory shout out: I’m in NW Ohio, so have been to the Edison site you spoke of. It rocks!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      Chuck I love this. Particularly the quote about 5% of people being thinkers, 10% thinking they’re thinkers and 85% who would rather die than think. Wow! I will check that out in FLA next time. 🙂

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