You Don't Have to Be Productive to Be Productive

United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, a no nonsense man noted for his concise decision making, is credited with the saying

“A moment of insight is worth a lifetime of experience.”

As a businessman it has been my mantra for many years, because it is that one Ah-Ha moment that makes the difference between the successful and the would-be successful. Have you ever wondered, however, why some people seem to get great ideas almost routinely while others draw blanks?

solitude yogatraveltree

As a young man I was fascinated by the historical life stories of the self-made like Madam C. J. walker, Andrew Carnegie, Ford, Einstein and Emerson. In their autobiographies I noticed how they all had a method for attracting brilliant ideas, and to my excitement I discovered that their routines were remarkably similar. I started copying them and never looked back.

What was their secret?

They disciplined themselves to escape daily far from the madding crowd of their homes and workplace to find stillness for a few minutes every morning. Simple. Henry Ford used to retreat to the derelict farm where he had grown up, sit in his father’s old rocking chair on the tumbledown porch and… do nothing. That is where he got the idea for making a motorized vehicle affordable to anyone. Einstein came up with his theory of relativity after sitting quietly in a chair in his office, the door locked against intrusion, the clock pendulum stopped from ticking. Today I begin every day simply sitting quietly in a chair for twenty minutes. I call it Taking Quiet Time. (See:  Three Simple Steps)

That is not how most people start their day. They jump out of bed and immediately engage with the technological world around them. They check their texts as they shuffle to the bathroom, flick on the TV or radio to get an early dose of negative news headlines. They check email as they make the coffee. They kid themselves that they are being productive. But the opposite is true.

stress management work yogatraveltree

The human brain contains 100 billion neurons capable of making trillions of connections a minute, each at the speed of light. Left alone it is a powerful tool, but typically it is never left alone. To coordinate our motor functions that allow us to take our large thumbs and manipulate the tiny keyboard of a mobile phone requires the brain to grind almost to a halt like someone just threw a spanner into the works. Airwaves sent from the TV speakers need to be monitored in the inner ear, and interpreted by the neurons as sound that become information we can understand. The brain’s focus turns internal and most of those neurons become redundant.

When left undistracted for 20 minutes, however,

those 100 billion neurons would instead make 600,000 trillion connections sending signals externally, connecting our minds with the universe full of information.

Without understanding the science, that was Emerson’s and Walker’s secret… to let the brain be all it can be for 20 minutes every morning.

For most people, this is a tougher task than it should be. The Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University performed studies about how the brain processes information, which were reported in the Denver Post in 2011. Their research has found that as the flow of information from external devices increases, activity increases in the region of the brain responsible for decisions, solutions, and control of emotions but only up to a point. When the brain is distracted with too much information, activity in the same region suddenly drops off. The center for smart thinking shuts down at a time when you probably need it the most.

This has implications for the way we live our lives today. People admit to an almost compulsive need to answer emails, texts, tweets, and voice messages, and get nervous when their own do not receive immediate responses. The study showed that people find it hard to take time off in our culture anymore without being anxious the whole time and with minds racing.

big idea stillness yogatraveltree

They concluded that “only when people take the time to quiet down the left brain, to forget about to-do lists and to unplug from all input, solutions often percolate up from the subconscious. History is filled with stories like this. A period of not thinking about the problem, then the answer simply appears.” It is what I observed in all those life stories of the self-made, and then discovered for myself.


1. Be alone.

Leave all electronic devices outside the door. Unplug the phone. No TV. No radio. No music.


2. Be quiet.

Find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed


3. Sit comfortably.

Do nothing. Think nothing.


4. Calm your mind.

When the brain chatter comes ignore it. Like the silences between the notes make the music, so the moments of stillness between the chatter make the magic of taking quiet time.


5. Twenty minutes of nothingness.

Let your brain out for a walk.


6. Stretch.

Engage with the world again


7. Pay attention.

Make note of the number and quality of ideas you have during this day compared to before.


8. Make it a daily, lifelong discipline.

The solution is taking quiet time every day first thing in the morning for twenty minutes.


What are some of your secrets to finding ideas? Have you found success by taking quiet time in the morning? Let us know in the comments below! If you think you want to be a contributing writer to, visit our Write for Us page and submit your article.


Trevor Blake is author of the New York Times bestseller Three Simple Steps: A map to Success in Business and Life. He is a successful serial entrepreneur who built two companies with just a few hundred dollars. He sold them for over $100 million each after just a few years. “Three Simple Steps is one of the few authentic self help books ever written. An author who actually practices what he teaches and used it to achieve success before writing about how to succeed!” Inman Times

Images via: Peace of Mind Wellness, Huffington Post, SC200 course blog