The Quiet Hour & Explosions in Productivity

The pressure on my shoulder increased as the CEO of the Northwestern Mutual Insurance company squeezed his hand and pressed down on my suit jacket. He wanted to drive home just how important the point he was about to make could be to me. Still in my twenties, and speaking to a Fortune 500 CEO, he didn’t need to work to get my attention. 

I had recently read in a time management book about a “million-dollar research effort” conducted by Northwestern Mutual. The purpose was to discern how valuable, or not, it was to block time on your calendar with yourself, to have an appointment with only yourself, to work on non-urgent but highly important work. 


The research proved that such a discipline truly were hugely valuable to both the greater organization as well as to the individuals and teams in which people worked. So, I just had to ask the big guy if he actually did this himself. 

He said, “Mark, every single day, I close my door, turn off the phone and email alarms and focus. If there is an urgent matter that can’t wait one hour, there are ways that people can get to me, but we do this throughout the company religiously, and it’s made huge differences in our lives and in the company.” 

He went on, “Sure there might be some exceptions, but we expect most all of the employees to block an hour every day, but not to work the urgent projects but rather to solely work on high priority areas that have no imminent deadline.”

He explained how if they had not made it a policy, that many would quickly revert back to working on all the urgent fires that they are putting out, just to keep up and get home at a decent hour. He gave examples of opportunities that were birthed, only because people were given the room within that Quiet Hour alone, to work on things that may not yield fruit for quite some time. 


You probably have heard of Google’s policy that encouraged employees to spend 20% of their time on innovation, Google abandoned the practice back in 2013. But Northwestern continues the best practice and because they are known as “the Quiet Company.” 

I have worked with several hundred companies on strategy and growth initiatives and in most every case, we have discussed time management alongside strategy because without implementation a strategy is worthless. The Quiet Hour can have a lot to do with your strategy’s successful implementation. 


The science of quality and Dr. Deming proved long ago that every objective has one, singularly, most important, measurable activity; that if you increase that activity in quantity and/or quality, it will most accelerate your progress toward the objective. Those are often called Critical Success Factors or CSFs.  
Sometimes your CSF activities are urgent, but many times they are not. Regardless, you would do well to block more time off with yourself to work on your CSF activity in a Quiet Hour. In many cases the activity may be something as simple as research and thinking.

Bottomline, put time blocks on your calendar with some focus on non-urgent priorities, otherwise the tyranny of the urgent will catch up with you and innovation will go elsewhere.