We have the universe at our fingertips.

Want to know the fundamental laws of physics? Need a recipe for meringue? Learning a new language?

With a few taps of our fingers our smartphones, laptops, tablets, e-readers and even watches can transport us into a world of discovery.

But do you ever spend time just thinking?

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt reports that new business formation in the U.S. has declined over the past 15 years [1]. This is surprising in light of the digital revolution and all of the resources it provides for learning. In fact, the average person spends over five hours on their phone every day [2].

Yet with all of this information that we are bombarded with, do we have time to reflect on what we are learning?

This, David Leonhardt suggests, may be one reason why business development has stalled [1]. Our constant “on” switch means that we don’t have time to sit idle and let our font of creativity and imagination bubble up; something that is of fundamental importance for new ideas and resulting businesses.

Indeed, he cites past U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz who used to take one hour each week to sit, uninterrupted, with a pad of paper and a pen just to think and reflect.

Can you imagine doing this? It is difficult. We are so connected, so attached to our phones that the thought of an hour without checking emails, WhatsApp, social media and phone calls seems unrealistic. We are all guilty of using our phones as anti-boredom devices the minute we are not occupied by something.

The problem is that we rarely find time to finish a thought. Our minds can only hold so much information at once. Wandering through multiple unfinished tasks in our minds can actually affect both our mood and our ability to think clearly [3, 4].

As the New York Times suggests maybe we should all consider taking a ‘Shultz hour’, at least occasionally. If you consider how much time we spend aimlessly scrolling through our phones we can certainly fit at least half an hour in. Here are some suggestions:

  • One morning or evening commute as designated technology-free thinking time.
  • One weekday lunchtime when you don’t meet anyone, find a quiet space, turn off your phone and let your mind run free.
  • Delay going home from work for half an hour to give yourself thinking space.
  • Take one weekend morning before you get up to lie back and reflect.

Let’s be honest, giving yourself time to ponder something—be it an interesting problem or idea you came across during the week or just personal reflection—will leave you with a lot more headspace than you would get from scrolling through the latest photos on Facebook. Maybe a ‘Shultz hour’ will be something we’re all doing next year.


  1. Leonhardt, D. (2017). You’re Too Busy. You Need a ‘Shultz Hour.’ New York Times, 18th April 2017, p. A19. [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/opinion/youre-too-busy-you-need-a-shultz-hour.html – Accessed 15th May 2017].
  2. Andrews, S., Ellis, D. A., Shaw, H., & Piwek, L. (2015). Beyond self-report: tools to compare estimated and real-world smartphone use. PLoS One, 10(10), e0139004.
  3. Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932-932.
  4. Masicampo, E. and R.F. Baumeister, Unfulfilled goals interfere with tasks that require executive functions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2011. 47(2): p. 300-311.

Originally published at thepip.com