My wife and I have returned 2 weeks ago from a 4-week holiday in Europe. We attended the Lords Ashes Test Match (a bucket list item for me, and my wife enjoys cricket), a week in Paris doing off the tourist track things, 10 days in Croatia (including a 7 night cruise from Dubrovnik to Split) which was just amazing, and then 2 days relaxing in Singapore to break the journey home.
I have written in my book, INTEGRATE, about the importance of a holiday, and taking regular time off. I outlined how my wife and I have established a ‘Rhythm of Life’ that enables us to manage our energy throughout a busy year. That rhythm includes a week off every quarter, a long weekend every 4 weeks and at least one full day off each week. In our Australian summer we have always extend the week off to close to 3 weeks. This structure has worked very well to make sure we do not run on empty, and so we always have energy reserves for when we need it.
There is a big difference between a short holiday break and being totally disengaged from work.
What I realise now, after 4 weeks totally disengaged from work, is that we have not had this kind of holiday for about 7 years, when we last took a month off in France and Spain. This was what I call a real holiday.
It took me about 5 days to unwind, to stop looking at emails and stop thinking about what was happening in my business and with my clients. My wife was smarter and had disconnected her email and all other apps from her phone, except Instagram and Facebook to show off her holiday pics to family and friends. It helped that we had set things up well with our clients and our support staff. It helped that we were in fascinating places, doing amazing things, and that we had anticipated this holiday for months. After those first few days, and a little English rain disrupting the first day of the Test Cricket, we switched off and became totally absorbed in our adventure, together.
The benefits of being totally disengaged from work for 4 weeks
- Total clarity of mind – My mind is at rest. Not lazy or dull, in fact quite alert. The difference is I am not distracted and carrying all kinds of details and clutter. I did not realise I had been until I returned and looked at my planner and was able to focus easily. I am a person who, when I am tired, stupidly tries to multi-task. I sometimes become aware that I have 8 windows open on my computer and I am trying to do something in all of them. This can make for a very unproductive day. That deeper tiredness has lifted, and my mind is free to focus on ONE thing, and get it done. My productivity has skyrocketed.
- Priorities are very clear – With a clear mind, it is so much easier not just to focus, but to prioritise. I can easily see what the most important thing to do is, and to get on with it without distraction. My mind, over-tired from cumulative months, and years, of never totally disengaging from work, was struggling to prioritise before I went away.
- Capacity to be fully present with my clients – I noticed this with my first 3 or 4 client sessions. Even though I was battling a head cold I had picked up on the plane, I was so able to focus, to be present, with great recall and problem-solving creativity. I wonder for how long had I been a bit distracted, and diminished in these things before my holiday?
- Renewed energy at a deep emotional level – I feel like I have been healed up on the inside from a lot of little bruises and wounds that I had absorbed over a long period in the hustle and rough and tumble of business life. This energy has spilled over into all the parts of my life. The garden is getting my joyful attention, I am excited for the start of the new cricket season, I have joined a new networking group and am enjoying meeting new people, my times with my family have been more fun, and my exercise regime is getting ramped up a several notches.
- My body feels stronger – I had my first workout with my Personal Trainer yesterday and was surprised how strong I felt after 4 weeks with no formal exercise – just lots of walking and swimming and rest.
- I am rethinking my short breaks and holidays into next year – I realise we have been taking breaks each quarter, but not really disengaging from work. We often use the time to reflect on the past quarter and plan for the next. Almost a working holiday. We realise now that we need to make sure those weeks off, and long weekends every 4 weeks, need to be time to switch off. We need to do things that help us to switch off. That requires a little bit more planning and anticipating, not just booking a hotel and packing our bags.
I speak with many business people for whom the idea of being totally disengaged from work for 3 or 4 weeks feels impossible. They have not set up their business in such a way as to operate well without them. Or they cannot imagine life without working every day or at least being in touch with their office and clients. Having been through a burnout experience 12 years ago I am very conscious of our human need to replenish and recreate. As someone who has studied this subject, and written a book on it, I can say I am still learning about what I need and how to make life work well for me.
I urge you to do the same. Living on the edge of burnout is a totally unfulfilling way to live. Living to work is ultimately counterproductive. It is vital that we all find ways to take time out where we can be totally disengaged from work for 3 to 4 weeks at least once every 2 years. Even better to make it happen once a year. The benefits are well worth it.