The high-achievers’ holiday: Making your time off effective

The high-achievers’ holiday: Making your time off effective

Most executives only notice that the holiday season is approaching when the pace increases from crazy to certifiable. Planning holidays is right at the bottom of your to-do list – if it’s there at all. 

Actually, for many people in executive roles, taking a break can be a huge adjustment. Suddenly, you don’t have meetings, or deadlines– or status!

And you’ve lost control of the agenda – partners, kids, family – chances are they have a shopping list of things they want you to do, or want to do with you. And there are the things you have been putting off until you get a break – exercise, reflection, a good book. 

Unlike your work role, you don’t have the final say in what happens. In many families, executives feel they have no say at all because their families feel that their job controls so many other family decisions at other times of the year.

And finally, you are going to struggle to completely switch off, anyway; there is always something happening back at the office that might require your input. You wonder if it’s worth the effort.

Breaks are actually necessary to your career success (not to mention your sanity).

First, long-term uninterrupted work stress is bad for our health. It reduces the efficiency of immune functions, and is related to weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and insomnia, to name just a few health issues. Taking a break allows your body to recover from the constant demands of high-pressure jobs.

Second, breaks provide time for you to reflect on work and career direction (like stepping out of the woods so you can see the trees). It can be a creative time when you gain perspective or have a bright idea that has been eluding you all year.

Third, and arguably most importantly, it’s time to reconnect with family. I cannot tell you how many people underestimate the extent to which their ability to focus at work is dependent on feeling confident about what’s going on at home.

And finally, I guess there is just a chance that it could be fun and relaxing.

So, how can you get the most out of your break? These are the tips our clients report as being the most effective.

1. Disconnect. Switch off the work phone, don’t look at emails, don’t read business news, and don’t respond to text messages. (‘He’s mad’, you’re thinking). In order to do this, you must have a deputy that you trust, or a system in place to ensure business happens as usual without you.

Remember, however, that empowering people to work without you demonstrates your trust in them, builds their confidence, and builds their skills. If you must, put in place an emergency strategy that enables one person from the business to contact you, but only in absolutely critical situations – that you define before you leave.

Lots of people really struggle with this because they feel nervous about being seen to be replaceable. My advice? Get over it. Everyone is replaceable. You are highly unlikely to be replaced if you continue to do your job well, and the business remains viable.

2. Connect with the family. Early in the holiday, or before, make a point of talking about what everyone wants to do with that time. Getting involved in what they want to do is vital to reinforcing your connection with them.

3. Time for yourself. Once you have heard what the family wants, work out how you can fit in something for you. Rushing straight into your own plans and ignoring the family can lead to major battles in the family. Ignoring your own needs can leave you feeling resentful.

4. Smell the roses. Don’t schedule an activity for every minute of every break. Downtime is important in that it allows for creative thinking. It’s often the time that people have their best ideas.

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