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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  • Dproulo

    Dan…I am one for sure that can say I do not do enough of this…for all the reasons you mentioned.  Too busy doing, answering, responding, and putting grease on the squeaky wheel.   I

    I also encourage everyone to make sure your work schedule is no more than 60-70% full for the week/month.  There are always emergencies and unexpected good things that come up.  How do you have enough time to fit them in if you are running at full capacity.  This is true not only physically, but mentally…with your thinking time.

    Wouldn’t the following  be great:

    Prospective hire asks, “tell me about the job requirements”.

    Employer responds, “we expect you to take 30 minutes a day, of company time, to just think.”

    Just THINK of the possibilities!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dan, I find that I get a lot of ideas when my body is engaged in activity but my mind is free to imagine. So when I exercise or mow the lawn or do anything where my body is working my mind is free to think. I also will often turn the car radio off and just think as I drive. Ideas seem to come to me when I least expect them to.

  • Taking that little time away is an awesome idea. When I’m writing and I look at the screen and get the “googly” eyes, I walk away, get my ipod on and start listening to some refreshing music. Music really helps me!

  • Dan, I get creative thoughts and ideas when I take my 2 mile walks in the morning, riding in the car to and from work with the radio turned off and playing word games. 

  • Mitch Kriegh

        I post caught my interest, so I took my 16 hour days and multiplied it times 60 minutes, and came up with 960 minutes per day. Then I wanted to see what my 5% turned out to be so I multiplied my 960 times 0.05 which equaled 48! Did you plan it that way!!

  • I love this time of year because I can relax on my back deck with a cup of coffee (without freezing my rear off). That seems to be the greatest place to me to think.
    For me, it’s also more than just a physical location that creates my environment. It can be music, a nice cup of coffee, and even certain outfits.

  • Johnnyrockets53

    Dan, I seem to get my best ideas and moments of clarity when I am engaged in physical labor thatt doesn’t require too much thought ie.mowing the grass, raking leaves, weeping the driveway. It never fails, i may have a problem that I am dealing with, but during this activity, I receive new insight.

  • Dan, thank you for sharing thoughts on your schedule AND on how you balance creativity and imagination into it. I love that a super successful business man such as you makes time for these two. We are generally not taught to believe that creativity mixes with business (at least not in the corporate world – my previous life ;)), but I love it. Does it count to meditate, or to just sit quietly, not move, not think, in the sun, letting ideas come and go, and clearing the mind (or attempting to do so)?
    Beautiful post, and I will be using it as a great reference in future blog posts.

  • Pieter

    Usually my best ideas come to me outside of work – when things are quiet enough for me to hear these ideas.  I used to drive the 1/4 mile to work, and when I started walking and getting my brain moving while i walked, I found the ideas came much more easily, and my day was much more productive because of it.

  • Getting OUT of my office and ON the busy street outside. Your mind can’t move unless you do first.