The 5% Challenge

I am very intentional about my use of time, working from a schedule that I create weeks in advance.  But that does not mean that I work head down for 8 hours without taking a break.  I once worked with a high-level financial executive that told me for 26 years at his previous company he had worked “head down, pencil up.”  And he was dreadfully out of touch with currents trends and opportunities.

Instead of working “head down” even 8 hours straight, I suggest you build in time for “head up.”  In Disciplined Dreaming, Josh Linkner outlines his 5% Challenge.  He suggests taking 5 percent of your time to get away from your desk and go to a place of inspiration.  Turn off your phone and turn on your imagination.  I just now came in from 20 minutes of weeding in front of my office.  The warm spring weather is causing everything to explode in growth and color – including the weeds.  And having done that I was ready to once again approach my writing with renewed energy and creativity.

5% of a 40-hour work week is only 2 hours.  In the always on, 24/7 business environment we tend to be overwhelmed with checking email, meeting deadlines, updating our Facebook status, keeping up with appointments, meetings and conference calls.  With that constant pressure how likely is it that you will come up with great ideas?

Thomas Edison would go down to the water’s edge each morning, throw out his line – with no bait – and then watch the bobber for an hour until his thinking was ready for the day. Andrew Carnegie would go into an empty room for hours at a time as he was “sitting for ideas.”  Henry David Thoreau wandered through the woods around Walden Pond, recognizing that the free time created fertile ground for original thinking.

What could possibly happen if you scheduled 5% of your time to go to an art museum, walk through the local park, work in your garden, split wood, take a small child to the zoo, or just sat quietly – expecting ideas?  Carve out this intentional time to think, create, explore, dream, and imagine.   I’m confident it will become one of the most valued times of your week – not wasted or stolen time but rather the most essential and valuable contribution to yourself, your company, your business and those you love.

What helps you find your most creative self and your best ideas?

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  • I get my best ideas while riding my bike. I get to exercise my legs and my mind at the same time!

  • Love it Dan! In my trainings, I often recommend people look at things in 5 minute increments..for example, getting up and walking 5 minutes a few times a day can do wonders to clear the brain. Personally, I love getting to walk in our MN warmer weather as it is so pretty with all the lakes that surround our area.

    • Thanks for the encouragement to take a walk. I love to walk down by Minnehaha Falls. We’re just two blocks away and haven’t made it down there yet this year. We get so busy once it starts to warm up. I’m adding this to my to do list this weekend 😉

  • Karen Ray

    Dan, thanks for the great encouragement to invest in our creative thought life. It is vital and I believe the lack of this dream time creates dull and uninspired automatons. Every child would benefit from time to daydream each day. This is even more true, not less, for adults. I take regular short breaks from computer work to walk around outside, dream and observe. This helps my thoughts develop, form and mature. Sometimes the rabbit trails our thoughts head down are the most intriguing mental work of the day. Also, occasional mini-retreats to a new experience, different route to drive or hike in the mountains or desert are catalysts to refreshed and renewed thinking. No guilt attached! Have a blessed day.

    • Karen – yeah we often lose the things that made us creative and peaceful as kids. Keep dreaming and observing!

  • Allen White

    Great thoughts here. I haven’t practiced this regularly, but when I have, boy, what a difference! I’m going to build this into my schedule.

  • PaulVandermill

    Greetings Dan,

    Oddly enough my mind seems to switch on in terms of insightful thoughts when I an doing Saturday morning chores like taking a load to the dump. Also, there seems to be a good flow of ideas when I am moving. So I have learned that there actually is a concept, kinetic thinking. Yes, perhaps odd ball curiosity. Nice to be in a place where that is welcomed. The trick, perhaps, is to schedule such times. Ah, there is that intentionality! Thanks Dan!

    • Paul – I really believe in that as well. Moving physically helps us break lose new thinking patterns. Sounds great.

  • Todd Hoffman

    My favorite thinking time is in the shower. No interruptions from kid’s and very relaxing. I also have my goals posted in the shower which helps me think about new ways to reach them.

  • Ryan Collie

    Interestingly enough, I actually ideate very well while cleaning. I mean scrubbing, wiping, polishing etc. I don’t mean organizing, which drives me bananas, but the act of getting a mirror shine on a faucet or making that grout gleaming white again. I can turn off my active thinking and within minutes my mind goes to a super creative place. I need to start keeping a notebook handy during these times!

  • Joeri Carty

    Great stuff, my best time is the quiet time in the AM, I wake up 20 minutes early before everyone else in the house (we have 4 kids). I take total advantage after my morning prayer and bible study, and take 10 minutes to reflect on what I need to get done. If I have a specific topic, I will write it down the night before, and let it percolate in my mind over night. You’ll be surprised the creativity that is released when your mind is at ease.

    • Joeri – great point. Our creativity is enhanced not by forced thinking but by being at ease. Love that!

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Part of finding my best ideas comes from spending time pouring into the younger generation.

    I shared this recently:

    “Enjoyed an awesome day off pouring into the next generation.

    Here with my sweet Madison. She’s 11 and just placed at the top of her class. She practiced intentional love today. At breakfast, she wanted to pay for the meal of a complete stranger who had a hungry little boy. And we did.

    When the waitress asked if she wanted to let them know she paid, she said:

    “No, just tell them God did it.”

    Wow. I absolutely love her heart. No need for the spotlight. Just pure, genuine love.

    She’s a true world class leader in the making.”

    Moments like this help me find that needed 5% for new creative ideas.

    Thanks for sharing, Dan!

    • Jevonnah – sounds like a wonderful use of that 5% time. How cool.

  • “The only position you can count on now is best in the world.”–Seth Godin

  • Donald S Young

    A long drive, a long walk, sitting on the deck and looking out at the lake are some of the things that help me think creatively. Problem is I seldom have a pen to write down what comes to mind. Maybe this will remind me to do this.