Why you should add a ‘Shultz hour’ to your weekly schedule

Written by Ellen Scott

Modern life and work is so full of distractions it can be hard to get anything done. A ‘Shultz hour’ might help, says expert Cassie Holmes. 

You need to come up with a big, brilliant idea. You’re trying to get in the zone, but just as you make a start, you get a message from your manager asking you to add something to your to-do list. You reply with an, “Absolutely, will get on it!” and then turn your attention back to your blank page, but your mates’ WhatsApp chat is blowing up. They’re planning a trip and need confirmation of your details, ASAP. OK. Done. Back to it. Except now you realise you really need to defrost tonight’s dinner. You can see a pile of unread messages in your inbox. And actually, maybe you should do that thing your manager asked for first – she seems to think it’s urgent. 

This is modern life: desperately trying to wade through a sea of distractions and interruptions, with no time to just think

And that’s a crying shame, because – as obvious as it may sound – we really need the time and space to ponder, process and mull. It’s when we’re able to do nothing but think that the best ideas strike and the breakthroughs finally hit. 

As much as we might like to sack off all responsibilities and have endless hours to let our minds drift, we know that’s not a realistic option (and not one that would go down well with our workplaces). What might be a good solution, then, is a ‘Shultz hour’. 

The former US secretary of state George Shultz credited his ability to get stuff done to one simple thing: having one hour a week that was entirely dedicated to thinking. “He sat down in his office with a pad of paper and pen, closed the door and told his secretary to interrupt him only if one of two people called: ‘my wife or the president’,” writes David Leonhardt of Shultz. “[It] was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job.”

Few of us are secretaries of state or concerned with big foreign policy decisions, but Shultz’s approach could benefit us all. After all, we could all do with a little more time to think and strategise; whether that’s for work or personal needs. 

Cassie Holmes is a professor of marketing and behavioural decision-making at UCLA, and she’s done extensive research into time and happiness. She’s a big proponent of us all having a regular ‘Shultz hour’. 

“Carve out some time for quiet reflection,” Holmes writes in her new book, Happier Hour: How To Spend Your Time For A Better, More Meaningful Life. “It doesn’t even have to be an hour – start with half an hour or even 15 minutes dedicated to letting your mind brim with thoughts.”

We need to do the modern-day equivalent of Shultz shutting himself in a room and asking his secretary to hold his calls for this to work. Block out your calendar as ‘busy’ during this time. Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode; better still, lock it in a drawer if you know the temptation to scroll will be too much to bear. And consciously have this time as a regular, respected routine. 

“During the Shultz hour, it’s imperative that you protect yourself from distractions,” Holmes tells Stylist. “Put your phone away out of sight, log out of email, you might even consider stepping away from the computer altogether and getting outside so you don’t get tempted to react to seemingly pressing tasks.”

It’s wise to plan this in at a time when you know you won’t be bombarded with requests and when you feel most awake and creative – a night owl won’t find an early morning Shultz hour particularly helpful. 

The benefits of this practice are major. 

“It’s crucial in our hectic, harried lives to carve out time to think,” Holmes tells us. “In the hurry, all we can manage is to take in information and react to immediate urgencies. However, we need to protect time to then process that information and strategise for the bigger questions at hand.  We need this time to shift from being reactive in our thinking and behaviour to becoming proactive. ”

Yes, this is positive for your work, but it can benefit all other areas of your life, too. It’s during this thinking time that you can more deeply delve into big questions: should you be with your partner? Should you move to a different city? What goals for this year really matter to you? What are your dreams? What do you want out of life? 

“These decisions all deserve their own space in your time jar,” writes Holmes. “You shouldn’t hurry through them. Prioritise space for thinking.”

Happier Hour: How To Spend Your Time For A Better, More Meaningful Life by Cassie Holmes (£14.99, Penguin Life) is out now 

Main image: Getty

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