July 10, 2011

Value of Vacation: Rest, Read, Recharge, Retool

I was thinking back to college the other day. It struck me that I’ve been out of school for as long I was in school (22 years each). And then I was reflecting on how great semester breaks were. The month off around Christmas and the long summer. There was always an opportunity to rest, play, visit with loved ones, regain perspective and re-energize before diving in again.

I think too many of us are missing the value of vacation these days. More people seem to be taking less vacation. And when they do vacation, well, they really don’t get the benefit because they’re not able to unplug – or maybe disconnect is a better word since all our connectivity tools are wireless today!

My wife and kids are thankful that I was mentored by some wise men (CEO bosses and older guys from church) who really understood the value of great vacations. What’s interesting is that their motivation for encouraging valuable time away wasn’t simply because they were nice guys and wanted me to enjoy time off. Sure, even the most driven business leaders give lip service to the importance of balance in your life and investing in your family. But I truly believe that these great men selfishly wanted their key people to take long, genuine, unplugged vacations.

Why? Because these business leaders knew that time away creates a healthier, more productive, recharged associate. Beyond that, they also knew full well that our brains would still be working business problems. Isn’t it true for most of us that our best thinking occurs away from the office — in the shower, on an airplane, sitting on the beach at sunset watching your kids play? [I love that picture of my 3 fav kids above 🙂 ]. One of my former bosses strongly believed that our subconscious minds continued to work issues while away from them and he regularly encouraged us to put projects down so we’d be more effective when picking them back up.

It was a great first half of the year. The consulting practice took off much faster than anticipated. A great problem to have and I’m not complaining. But the reality is that when things are really good, they move really fast. The result is that we spend almost all of our energy, intellectual bandwidth and time working “in” the business, doing what must get done. And while it’s wonderful to be busy and productive, what usually suffers is big-picture thinking, strategic planning and creativity.

We took some time off a few weeks ago and the benefit was so powerful it prompted me to write this post. I knew I was craving time away, but didn’t realize how much value I’d get from it. Twenty minutes into the flight out of STL I cracked open the previous month’s Entrepreneur magazine. Story after story gave me ideas. My mind started to race. I stared out the window and began thinking new thoughts. Amazing what some time at altitude away from email and twitter can do! Throw in a brilliant magazine, a book by a guru who specializes in helping people just like me and some FREE TIME to read it, and holy vacation Batman, I’m ready to conquer the northern hemisphere again. Yes, it was a powerful week off.

Let me leave you with these challenges:

  • How long has it been since your truly unplugged from work for at least 5 days? Unplugged means you were not calling in or taking calls, not checking, responding to or initiating emails.
  • What would be the worst thing that could happen if you were really “off the grid” for a week?
  • What huge benefits might result from intentionally getting away with a purpose? Do those benefits outweigh the downside risk of the previous question above?
  • How are you investing in yourself to sharpen your skills, master your craft or gain fresh perspective on what you do?
  • In what ways are you doing damage to your own mental, physical and emotional health by not taking sufficient time off from your high pressure job or business? How about damage to your family (sorry, I know that hurts)?
  • Do you believe you’d be significantly more effective upon return from a great full vacation than you are right now?