“Sitting” for ideas — here’s how

Henry Ford once said he didn’t want executives who had to work all the time.  He insisted that those who were always in a flurry of activity at their desks were not being the most productive.  He wanted people who would clear their desks, prop their feet up and dream some fresh dreams.  His philosophy was that only he who has the luxury of time can originate a creative thought.

Wow!  When’s the last time your boss told you to quit working and do more dreaming?  Unfortunately, our culture glamorizes being under time pressure.  Having too much to do with too little time is a badge of “success.”  Or is it?

This week I heard from a gentleman who has spent the last three years hiking and living in an isolated old farm house.  He said he had experienced the “perfect storm” – divorce, unfulfilling job, nasty boss and a 33 year dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  After three years of “sitting” his thinking is now clear, his energy is renewed, his anger is gone, his creativity has been revived and he is ready to map out the next season of his life. 

The Apostle Paul took long walks between cities, using the time to think and talk.  Even when shipwrecked, instead of calling in a helicopter to get him to his next gig, he simply used the unexpected time to create with his mind.  Andrew Carnegie would go into an empty room for hours at a time, not allowing any interruptions, as he was “sitting for 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.  Without long walks, an hour here and there of bush hogging, tinkering with my cars, or playing with a grandchild, my writing to bring inspiration to others would very quickly be reduced to dry theories and lifeless words. 

If you are feeling stuck, your solution may not be in doing more, but in taking a break from the “busyness” of life.  Want to be more productive — try doing  less. Go “sit” somewhere for a while!”


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  —  Henry David Thoreau

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13 Responses to ““Sitting” for ideas — here’s how”

  1. The Car Blog » Blog Archive » “Sitting” for ideas — here’s how Says:

    […] See the rest here: “Sitting” for ideas — here’s how […]

  2. Toni Says:

    Wow! Just this week I realized that I ‘ve spent my whole adult life “running” in an effort to do things for other people. Now I want to deliberately make time for what I want to do too. And that involves creating a business of my own. I decided that I need more unhurried time to dream and plan. “Sitting” for ideas reinforces my decision. Thanks!

  3. podritske Says:

    This speaks to the fact that thinking is the hardest work of all. If humans don’t learn to make the choice to think they become drones in a collective. One of the reasons great thinkers stand out is that they have learned to focus, to understand, to reduce the dizzying array of concretes in daily life to a few abstractions and come up with great ideas. This is creativity, at once both difficult and the hallmark of a flourishing life. In order to think, a conscious choice must first be made and the concentration to follow through requires quiet time without distractions. Those who claim to “multi-task” these days are fooling themselves as well as everyone else in the “hive”.

  4. Chuck Says:

    Isn’t it strange how we rely upon creativity, innovation, and fresh approaches, but we often forget to budget the will and time to think? Several business owners have mentioned in sharing thoughts that their greatest wish is to be able to be free their mind enough to think and to find their imagination again.

  5. Andy Says:

    Edison at the water’s edge with no bait. THat’s genius b/c he knew he wouldn’t be distracted by a fish on his line! Thanks for another good one Dan.

  6. James Says:

    Incredible advice. I know I get so busy trying to get new things rolling that often I forget to think about what I’m actually doing! Thanks Dan. I think I’m going to plan a some quiet ‘sitting for ideas’ time for Saturday!

  7. Roy Simmons Says:

    W. H. Davies


    WHAT is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare?—
    No time to stand beneath the boughs,
    And stare as long as sheep and cows:

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance:

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began?

    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

  8. Wendi Gordon Says:

    Thanks for this, Dan. I’m going to include a link to your post on my blog for clergy (http://www.betruetoyourself.com/blog). It is far too easy to get so involved in doing our many tasks that we forget to take the time to just be. Our culture does indeed encourage us to define success in terms of how busy we are; having a full schedule proves we’re in demand, so we must be important people. In reality, all it proves is that we haven’t learned how to say “no” or spent enough time thinking about who and what truly matters to us.

  9. Wendi Gordon Says:

    Oops…the link to my blog should be http://www.betruetoyourself.com/blog/

  10. Rob Clinton Says:

    How true this is. Our real productivity comes not necessarily by always doing, but sometimes by just being. Taking time to think, and sometimes not think at all will allow more room for effortless creativity to emerge. Beautiful post, Dan!

  11. David Hooper Says:

    Earl Nightingale talks about “sitting for ideas” a lot. He suggests starting each morning with a pen and pad, waiting for good ideas to come and writing down how you can bring value to people and their lives.

    This is the power of ideas…and why Warren Buffett reads for eight hours a day. It’s why guys like RIchard Branson take so many vacations, etc…

  12. Victor Encinas Says:

    Beautiful message, Dan. I will be “sitting” for 2 weeks this month. I am in need of off time and since I am a solopreneur, I can do it! Will see you in CO.


  13. Tim Says:

    I involuntarily went from a salary to part time hourly wages this autumn. Today after a busy week so far I was anxious to get going on writing for pay. But I was anxious, and felt physically ill. So, I went for a nap. Three hours later I feel much better. Again God told me, “Watch me work.”

    See my comments about thinking outside the box at http://slownewday.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/thinking-outside-the-box/

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