What can you learn about becoming more effective or productive from one of the most accomplished U.S. secretaries of state in recent times?
George Shultz was secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan for six and a half years. He helped implement foreign policy that led to the end of the Cold War and the development of better relationships between the United States and the Asia-Pacific region.
In 1989, Reagan awarded Schultz the Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.
Every Friday afternoon, Schultz set aside one hour for reflecting on problems of state and strategies. New York Times journalist David Leonhardt reported this hour enabled Schultz to focus on his priorities without getting pulled into daily crises.
It's relatively easy to cultivate your own Schultz-hour.
Book One Hour A Week Into Your Calendar
Your calendar is a ledger of how you're spending your time.
A vague commitment to reflect on work or your business isn't enough. It's fine to set an intention Monday morning, but you must honor it come Friday or Sunday.
Book a recurring hour into your calendar and defend this time from other people's priorities.
Schultz typically reflected on his work on Friday afternoons. Many successful executives rely on Sunday evening for this kind of reflection too.
The day or time is less important than having a consistent routine for reflecting on problems at work.
Brook No Interruptions
During this designated time, Schultz asked his secretary to decline anyone who tried to get his attention apart from his wife or the president.
Presuming your boss doesn't have access to the nuclear football, you can probably whittle your list down even more.
Other types of potential interruptions include social media, phone calls, instant messaging and so on.
Sure, you could take that phone call, click on that notification or answer a colleague’s query. But it will take to approximately 23 minutes to get back into a state of flow.
In the grand scheme of a 40-plus hour work week, 60 minutes isn't so long that you'll miss out on something important.
Keep A Pen And Paper Nearby
Honoring that commitment means removing distractions from the immediate environment, including your phone, email and even other people.
If that's not possible where you work, consider moving to a meeting room or another quiet place for the hour. A coffee shop or nearby library both are suitable.
If you find it difficult to sit and think for an hour, you're not alone.
According to a 2014 research paper, 64% of men and 15% of women self-administered electric shocks when left alone to think.
Beforehand, these people said they'd pay to avoid receiving a shock.
To avoid this problem, go for a long walk with a notepad. Leave your phone behind, and stop only to take notes. Getting your heart pumping will enable better thinking.
Embrace Monday With A Clear Head
Schultz once said, "He who walks in the middle of the roads gets hit from both sides."
The secretary of state might have been referring to middle-of-the-road politics, but taking an hour to reflect each week will help you to plan a route for the following week that takes you safely toward your destination.