By Bonnie Hutchinson
Do you need s “Schultz hour?”
A reception after a guest speaker. People mingling, picking up snacks, noticing people they know, introducing themselves to people they don’t know.
“Hi, how are you?” my friend says to someone she hasn’t seen for a couple of years. “Busy!” the woman replies. She says a few more words and moves on.
Ah yes. Busy. A badge of honour.
I flash back to a day I was rushing to the airport, in danger of missing a plane because I’d been busy trying to finish one more thing before I left, asking myself, “What is the terror of an unstructured moment?”
I appreciated a New York Times article by David Leonard called “You’re Too Busy. You Need a Schultz Hour.”
Back in the 1980s, when George Schultz was U.S. Secretary of State, he carved out one hour a week for quiet reflection. He sat down in his office with a pad of paper and pen, closed the door and gave instructions that he was not to be interrupted unless one of two people called–his wife or the president.
Schultz is now 96 years old. In his interview with Leonard, Schultz said his hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job. Otherwise, he would be constantly pulled into moment-to-moment tactical issues, never able to focus on larger questions of the national interest. The only way to do great work, in any field, is to find time to consider the larger questions.
Anyone in a leadership position–family, work or community–has probably experienced that pull. It’s easy to be so caught up in detail, moment-to-moment, that there’s no time to think about bigger questions.
Once in a conversation with an elected person for whom I had great respect, he talked about how that week’s meetings were scheduled back-to-back from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and there was still a stack of material to be read and absorbed before the next day of meetings that began at 7 a.m.
I said, “When do you have time to think?”
He smiled wryly.
It occurred to me that many of our most important public decisions are made by people who don’t have time to think. That’s not intended to be a criticism of the people. It is an observation.
Back in the 1980s, George Schultz had tumultuous pressures coming from around the globe, but he did not have a smartphone pummelling him with distractions 24/7. Even before smartphones, in the environments I was aware of in non-profit organizations and government departments, and that I heard about in corporations, frenetic busyness was highly prized. The busier you were, the more important you felt.
I did notice that sometimes the most senior people appeared to be less busy. That was not just because they had people around them to handle details. It was also because they carved out time to clear their minds. One senior boss I knew went for a walk every day at noon. No matter what the weather or lunch invitation, he was not available during that hour.
Leonard’s “Schultz Hour” article quotes psychologist Ampos Tversky as saying, “The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”
Leonard says, “The science of the mind is clear about this point. Our brains can be in either ‘task-positive’ or ‘task-negative’ mode, but not both at once. Our brain benefits from spending time in each state. Task-positive mode allows us to accomplish something in the moment. Task-negative mode is more colloquially known as daydreaming, and, as Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University has written, it ‘is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable.’ ”
I’ve now decided that the hours I “wasted” yesterday were actually clearing my mind!
I’d love to hear from you. If you have comments about this column or suggestions for future topics, send an e-mail to Bonnie@BonnieHutchinson.com and I’ll joyfully reply.