In April, David Leonhardt at the New York Times wrote a column about the need to take a Shultz hour. For those unfamiliar, it comes from George Shultz, who was the Secretary of State under President Reagan. The concept is to carve out one hour a week to sit undisturbed with a pen and paper and reflect on the strategical elements of the job vs. the transactional. In theory, building in some reflective time allows for concentration on larger issues vs. spending time putting out a lot of little fires without the benefit of thinking big.
Leonhardt’s challenge was to persuade his readers to build in a Shultz hour each week and thought I would take him up on the challenge. It’s been just over two months since that column was published. Using some very dodgy PR person math, I would estimate that to be about eight weeks, so a theoretical eight Shultz hours. A Shultz day, cumulatively.
Spoiler alert, I failed spectacularly. I’ve maybe managed to Shultz-hour-it-up about three times over the past two months.
That said, those three hours have been extremely beneficial. Especially in PR land.
A colleague once off-hand remarked, “Agency PR people like to talk about the summer as quiet. Our quiet is other peoples’ hectic; our hectic is other peoples’ crazed.” It’s true. As a director, I juggle multiple accounts with multiple action items conducted over multiple teams and it’s very easy to operate in the land of the transactional: Answering a client question. IM’ing with my office lead. Emailing my staff. Monitoring the news. Occasionally, eating lunch (#joke).
However, a successful team is not a necessarily transactional team, especially for clients. Clients aren’t in the habit of hiring traffic cops. They are looking for counsel. For ideas. For advice. For help. To solve for any of these, dots need to be connected to form the bigger picture.
All those transactional elements I listed out a couple of paragraphs ago are the dots. Each one of them as a little bit of information in them that doesn’t make sense when executed one at a time, but if given some quiet thought, start to reconstruct themselves. My office lead’s IMs on a client ask inspires me to think of a news story I read. Elements of that story remind me of a pitch we worked on for another client weeks ago. Can I leverage that? Maybe not, but without reflection, I wouldn’t have even arrived there.
We do elements of a Shultz hour naturally. An idea comes to us on the train ride home or in the shower; when the mind is free to wander a bit. However, those times and the degree of distraction can’t be banked on. The train stalls. The shower turns cold. Back in the land of the transaction.
Shultz hours may be hard to get the hang of at first, especially from the scheduling side, but they do work. I was skeptical at first, but I’ve found reflection to be a very useful and underused tool in my week.