Retreat to Go Forward

leadershipToday, reflection time is almost viewed as wasted time. Done well, it’s the least wasted time you will spend all week. As a great piece in The New York Times Op-Ed section recently pointed out, some pretty successful people use it very well.

George Schultz is a highly accomplished individual and his ritual of “one hour per week” of reflection time that could only be interrupted by his wife or the president is the kind of time we ALL need. He set aside this hour for strategic thought, not tasks. No interruptions, no goals, no specific outcomes, just thought. What could we all accomplish if we dedicated this kind of time to thinking strategically? I suspect a lot. Most importantly, we would give ourselves the space for ideas, ways of doing things that we just don’t have when we busy “accomplishing” everything on our plates.

When I used to facilitate CEO groups with Vistage, I noticed that those CEOs who really “turned off” – no phones, no interruptions – were the ones who came away with the most “strategic” ideas for their businesses. Not just a task list, a new way to look or think of a problem. Those who were constantly tethered to their devices, were never really in the game, still being busy accomplishing “tasks” that were required yesterday. As David Leonhart points out, not all busy is good but we feel so much more productive when we’re busy. Sometimes we need to really step back to move forward.

I agree with Schulz that monthly is not enough, one hour per week keeps your brain on strategy vs. whatever you were focused on last month that you didn’t accomplish. Even if you come up with nothing, you will have given your brain one solid hour of thinking time. What would happen if your team was given this same freedom – with rules to turn off technology? You just might get more strategic thinking which ultimately solves problems. It gets you off the hamster wheel and on to the right road toward solutions.

Everyone has a creative brain but with our addictions to technology and the crisis of the moment, we never get to think about tomorrow’s solutions. Great leaders see around the corner and are solving for tomorrow’s problems, not today’s. Commit yourself to setting aside one hour per week and see what happens. Any outcome will be good, as long as you unplug. If nothing else, it will give you a brief respite from the hamster wheel. The possibilities, however, are great for so much more.