Your Competitive Advantage: REST
Refueling the jets… Learning to Value Time Off
By the time you read this I am off on my 10-year wedding anniversary vacation trip through the South of France and Italy. In that honor I am republishing an article I wrote on high-performance productivity a few years back. Enjoy!
How does America regain its supremacy in the productive world?
How do YOU improve your personal productivity?
ANSWER: Go on vacation.
438 million. That is the number of vacation days Americans failed to take in 2007, according to Harris Interactive research group—more than any other industrialized nation.
Here is the result: America ranks No. 1 in depression and mental health problems. Americans are experiencing burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, failed relationships, stress or stress-related ailments such as depression, heart disease or stomach ulcers in record levels.
Our entrenched puritanical conditioning, being valued on how “hard” we work, fear of being replaced or left behind, and our addiction to always being “busy” are actually not only destroying our mental and physical health, but also destroying our creative productivity.
This is especially true in our new global economy, where our advantage and future is as knowledge workers, not laborers. Our future, your future, lies between your ears—your mind and your ability to think: creatively, innovatively and productively.
When you are working 80 hours a week, your mind gets cluttered and stale. Like a pressure cooker, if you don’t give your mind some time to clear some steam out, it will boil over, causing the ailments above and loss of effectiveness and real productivity.
We get paid to rest. Since we get paid to perform and we get paid more if we perform better, rest and recovery is an important part of our training regimen. It is NOT a good strategy to steal time away from your sleep and rest. Recovery is essential to operate at the level of your best self.
Sadly the need for recovery is often viewed as evidence of weakness rather than as an integral aspect of growth and sustained performance in our society. The reality is we become flat liners mentally and emotionally by relentlessly spending energy without sufficient recovery. We slowly but inexorably wear down and become ineffective—regardless of seeming movement.
During the 1960s Russian scientists resurrected a concept written in training manuals for Greek athletes in A.D. 200 and applied it to their Olympic athletes with stunning results. The formulas involved work-rest ratios. The studies concluded that following a period of activity the body must replenish fundamental biochemical sources of energy. It’s called compensation. The more activity, the more compensation or rest is needed. When we don’t get the rest and recovery we need then long-term toxins build up inside us. With overtraining, or overworking, we wear down, burn out and eventually collapse… or get very sick.
I am not suggesting you need to take a vacation to better “enjoy life,” “find your bliss” or have “life balance.” I am telling you time off is an important component of hardcore achievement and productivity.
Benefits of taking time off:
1. Recover—Just like building muscle, after you work out one of the most important parts of productive muscle building is giving it recovery time. If you don’t give a muscle time to recover you will actually be tearing the muscle down and weakening it.
2. Refuel—Even a machine, an automobile, and a jet plane have to stop – to REFUEL.
3. Regain control—I took a weekend-long meditation course once. Francis, the yogi-like instructor, explained how meditation helped build back up our “satua,” or ch’i in Chinese philosophy. He explained that satua is the psychic buffer space between cause and reaction. If we don’t have any built up we lose our ability to consider our reactions. We snap, lash out, “go postal” and other forms of overreaction. Again, like the pressure cooker, when we are at full boil, it doesn’t take much for us to blow our lid.
4. Improve Your Mood and Attitude—When we clear the frenetic energy from our minds and bodies it will dramatically improve our mood and attitude. This alone will improve your productive time at the office tenfold.
5. Strength of Presence—If you are working all the time, you are not really present—at home or at the office. Taking the needed time off will help you regain your bearings and allow you to fully be there, wherever that is—at the office or with your family.
All right, many of us might have already known the above; let me share with you something you don’t know—HOW to do it!
I have known the value of taking time off to refuel and re-energize for a long time now, but I still struggle with it. Why? You read my Overachiever Series—I am a freaking addict!
To get a handle on this, I first needed to understand the productive benefits of time off to “unhook” myself from my working = good, not working = slacker conditioning. I then needed to implement taking time off into my productivity strategy.
Here is how I do it:
1. Reframe it. Every aspect of my psychosis fights against the words “time off.” I know, sick-o, but it is what it is. So I call my “time off” Rejuvenation Time. That sounds more purposeful, more productive, thus, more worthwhile. Self-mental-manipulation? You bet!
2. Schedule it. What gets scheduled gets done. Just like any other critical appointments, you have to plant your time-off flag on your calendar. Now defend it like you would a meeting with the Queen (or Oprah, whatever works for you!); it is an unmovable appointment. Also, like during a meeting with the Queen, get completely off the grid—turn your e-mail and crackberries off and block out all other interruptions – you are with the Queen for cryin’ out loud (aka wife, kids, friends, self)!
3. Declare it. Don’t feel guilty, thus try and do it in secret. It will be far more productive if you:
a) Lead by example and show others how to make rejuvenation part of productive priority, and
b) Set expectations and communicate your schedule. You will be amazed how the world will reorganize itself around your time-off spaces, whether for two hours or two weeks.
4. Measure it. Keep score. What gets measured gets improved. You measure your sales calls, transactions, revenue, cost per acquisition, etc. (you do, don’t you?!). This is an equally important, probably more important measure. Measure the number of times you get home in time to eat with the family, run on the beach, take a nap, meditate, read pages of a good book, watch movies, nights in the hot tub, rounds of golf, number of ski days, etc.
Make time off or “Rejuvenation Time” one of your crucial, uncompromised, devoted productive priorities.
CAUTIONARY TIP: If your free time is boring, your addiction will get the best of you and you will start working. Why? Because working is more fun than your free time. Trust me, I know. You will be like a new nonsmoker caught in a room full of smokers puffing away and drinking coffee.
It is crucial that you have your time off filled with fun and exhilarating plans and activities. You won’t be able to go from workaholic guy/gal to one sitting in a lotus position breathing “OM” right away. You are going to have to start with alternative activities that fully engage your mind, and maybe body, to keep yourself from getting “sucked back in” to working.
Geoff Godbey, Professor of Leisure Studies at Penn State University, says it this way: “To be most satisfying, leisure should resemble the best aspects of work: challenges, skills and important relationships.”
Here is how I schedule my rejuvenation time:
• At least one two-week vacation, ideally international (that’s what I’m doing now!)
• A three-day getaway out of town each quarter
• Every Saturday
• One to two hours each day to run, work out and sit quietly
• At least two hours each night off the grid and with the family
I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it is 400X more than it used to be and my goal is one of constant, never-ending improvement in this category. I will testify that this has made an
incredible difference in my creative capacity, focus, effectiveness and productivity.
In the comments below, tell us what keeps you from staying committed to your time off and how you are going to overcome this going forward. Declare to all of us what your new rejuvenation plan is!