Break Time

Like many of you I’m on holiday this week so I thought I’d share an idea from ‘Indivisible Life’, the soon to be published book I’ve been writing for several years now which, amongst many questions/issues, addresses whether it’s appropriate to work on a holiday or not.

And the short answer is “Yes, But…”

The key theme of ‘Indivisible Life’ is obvious from the title: as Mahatma Ghandi put it, “life is one indivisible whole”. People try to segment and isolate parts of their lives but this isn’t sustainable and the effort required is a waste of energy. Instead, think about every dimension as being linked and part and parcel of the whole. For example, if you’ve had a great week at work and achieved all your goals and your plans are all ahead of target then you’ll arrive home on Friday evening with a spring in your step. Of course the opposite is also true – you’re likely to bring a bad work week home with your mood below par. The same applies to every aspect of your life – health, family, work, friends, hobbies and interests all impact on each other for better or worse. Albert Einstein summed it up well: “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space.”

Stephen Covey’s seventh habit is titled: “Sharpen the Saw” and is based on a story of a woodsman whose progress was hindered, despite working harder and harder, by his saw becoming blunt. So reluctant was he to take a break or to stop to sharpen the saw he eventually achieved in hours what had taken minutes previously. I remember Stephen telling the story and asking the audience, “have you ever been too busy driving to stop for gas (petrol)?!” Our productivity has peaks and troughs and the key is to optimise our energy rather than futilely attempt to manage our time.

Time away from work is, for many people, quite rare, typically less than 10%. And of this time, much is spent with the family and can actually be more exhausting than being at the office. So true holidays, “an extended period of leisure and recreation” might add up to a handful of days a year. And therefore these should be protected and savoured. But having said that, the work habits we have developed and the mobile technology we take with us everywhere makes it harder and harder for many people to truly relax and rejuvenate and additionally, the cultural norm is to always be available. So what’s the answer?

1. Treat your holiday like a project with well formed outcomes, what I call “desired results”, with each member of the family knowing exactly what they want to get from the time away. Do this weeks before leaving and enjoy the additional benefit of the anticipation.

2. Plan your holiday based on these desired results. Spontaneity is massively overrated in my experience – I can’t imagine anything less likely to succeed than setting off aimlessly with no real idea of the final destination. “Let’s find a hotel when we get there” is not a sentence you’ll ever hear me say. Now, if someone suggests a change of plan, another option, then I can be as flexible as anyone – that’s about being spontaneous within a plan.

3. Schedule your priorities. If you want to do certain activities then book them in advance, for example spa treatments, tennis or golf lessons and in particular restaurants. You can always change or cancel when you arrive but get them booked in advance into your holiday diary.

4. Allocate work time around your leisure time. Most often for me, it’s an hour in the morning before significant others have even stirred. Then put your devices away, lock them in the safe or suitcase.

5. Have your PA or someone at work check your email for you and ask them to send a text at the end of each day saying either: “Nothing for you to do” or “I’ve cut and pasted all you need to look at below.” By confining the messages to text rather than email it will stop you being distracted by things you really can ignore for your holiday. If you haven’t got a PA then do a deal with a colleague to help each other out in this way.

6. Allocate time to think. I’ve had some of my best ideas whilst on holiday particularly when I’m properly relaxed. To do this requires everyone else in your party to be occupied without needing your attention hence steps 1 & 2 above.

7. Take a notebook to write things down. As ideas enter your mind then capture them for future development.

Depending on how long you’re away for I reckon an hour a day of work is the maximum needed for most people – indeed this approach may well cause you to realise how much time is wasted when you’re back in the office. Of course if you can switch off completely then do so but if that’s not possible, and for many it isn’t a realistic option, then 23 hours a day for a week or two should be a good enough break.

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