The highest achieving leaders make the time and the space to just THINK. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Arianna Huffington, Tim Cook and the Sheryl Sandberg’s of the world have one thing in common. They make the time to contemplate. They take the time to get their ideas and thoughts on paper. Many of them attribute their success in business and as leaders to this is a deliberate practice. And I use the word “deliberate” for a reason. You and I both know how fast your day, week, year…heck, your life goes. As leaders and as people in general, we have about a million things coming at us each day causing a great deal of stress – stress literally shuts down the part of the brain where creativity and innovation are born.

If you’re like me, you have several thoughts and ideas bouncing around in that nugget of yours all day long. They are often half-formed thoughts, some of which you forget about. They are still in there somewhere and then something will remind you of them from time to time. I don’t know how many times I have thought “that’s a great idea” or “I wonder if that’s something that work for our company” and that’s where it ends. Maybe I’m listening to a podcast on leadership and think, “I love that idea”. Again, it dies on the vine and is not explored beyond that thought because I’m on to the next thing, thought, or shiny object. Can you relate?

As leaders, we have many challenges to solve that require creativity and innovation, but it’s impossible to do that effectively when we’re stressed, distracted, on information overload and scheduled to the hilt. This is where the word “deliberate” comes back into the equation. The best leaders have a system to create the space needed in their minds to explore their ideas, turn those ideas into action and produce their magic.

Warning, this method has an unexpected side effect…it obliterates stress. The mind thrives on order. Think about this in your life – have you ever felt overwhelmed and then sat down to make a list? What happened after the list was made? Did you feel less overwhelmed? Did you feel like, “Okay, this is manageable; I see a path forward”?

Okay, now back to this concept of becoming more creative and innovative. By implementing a system to stimulate ideas and creativity, you will supercharge your results and success in your business and life. This one key practice in my weekly routine has literally changed the game for me and the many leaders I work with.

Here’s how it works:

4 times per week, you are going to carve 30 minutes out of your schedule to simply “Think”. So first, look at your schedule and find 4 times each week that work best for you. Pick 4 times that work for you consistently. The key is that they are times you can commit to religiously.

Next, grab a notebook or journal, find a comfortable, quiet place and simply “think”. Be still.  Jot down whatever comes to mind. Let the thinking session be very free form, with no agenda. You may want to use some prompts to help spur thoughts. For example, what did I hear today that I want to explore further? Reflect on your meetings and interactions – is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight? Is there anything that stands out from a podcast you listened to or a book you’re reading that you’d like to explore further? What comes forth will often be perspective and innovative ideas. They may be subtle, but profound or the start of something groundbreaking.

This is just the first step of what makes this practice powerful. It doesn’t just stop with getting your ideas and thoughts down onto paper, the next step is truly the difference maker and what sets this apart from simply journaling. This is where you turn the idea into action.

Once you finish your thinking session, you draw a line at the bottom of the last thing you wrote. Then list two things:

#1 Your takeaways – this basically recaps what you discovered.  Ask the questions – Is this an idea worth moving forward? How can I move this forward?  Why must I move this forward? When will I move this forward?

#2 – Your action steps. List the steps you need to take to move the idea forward. It may be as simple as doing additional research to determine whether it’s an idea you continue to develop or you may have a lot of clarity around the idea and know exactly the steps needed to begin executing.     

Now STOP, grab your to-do list and schedule the actions. Do not let it your idea die on the pages of your notebook. Scheduling the next steps is truly where the rubber meets the road.

In so many ways, these thinking sessions are when the magic happens as a leader. And it’s happening because you’ve created a “system” to stimulate your creativity and have created a deliberate practice. Your subconscious mind begins to depend on this system and responds with creative ideas that you may have otherwise missed.

I can say without hesitation that this has been life-changing for me as a leader and entrepreneur.

To be completely transparent, I struggled with this the first week I implemented it. I was so used to being in a reactive mode that when I slowed down to just think, I was stuck – as a matter of fact, I was more stressed because I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I had conditioned my brain to be reactive and my creative muscle had atrophied, so-to-speak. But by the second week, that changed. Because I knew I would be sitting down to do this exercise, my brain started looking for ideas and topics that would come up throughout the week in meetings, through books, podcasts, masterminds and just in day to day conversations with my team, clients and business partner. I started having so many ideas to explore that it is now part of my DAILY routine.

One of the ideas that was spurred was around the concept of offering and integrating high performance one-on-one coaching into our organization. As a result, we experienced a 25% increase in productivity, increased quality, and employee engagement is through the roof. It also spurred another business, Absolute Advantage Leadership, where we take our clients through the very same high-performance training that we received such amazing outcomes from.

This is one small idea that moved the needle big time and it all came from hearing something in a podcast episode I may otherwise not have paid attention to, but my brain was programmed to look for it because I had this system in place. That 30-minute session translated to real dollars and is transforming the lives of our employees and clients.

Think about the impact that this system could have in your role as a leader, in your business and in life.