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Time to take a break from your customers this Christmas?

19th Dec 2016
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At this time of year, leaders wish each other a Happy Christmas, but how many take a proper holiday break?

In our hyper connected world, with at times still a ‘macho’ leadership culture, it’s easy to be tempted to continue working.

Do you really relax with your family or friends, or are you checking emails or fitting in more paperwork?

Although it does sometimes feel like organisations reward those who appear to work long hours and prioritise work over other commitments, in the long run, burnout does not win.

So, as the final full post of 2016, let me offer some reflections as to why I will be taking a complete break over Christmas and New Year. 

Nothing much happens in the office

Those leaders who are home or travelling over this holiday, may sometimes worry that they are missed at the office. Corporate life can encourage leaders to want to feel indispensable. Even if ‘micro management’ doesn’t help your team (as our new Prime Minister is finding out).

Quite aside from the benefits of effective delegation, I think this touches on another Christmas myth.

I mean the myth that teams need to ‘cover’ the Christmas holidays because important work will get done. Over my 25 years in corporate life, I’ve seen very little of substance get done in the office over this period. Despite appearing to ’sacrifice’ going into the office over this period, those leaders who do will probably find teams mainly eating Christmas food and playing games.

Lets stop pretending people are really working hard in the office over Christmas, or at least that they need to.

Get your work life into context

As I’ve mentioned before, leaders whom I coach often need to ‘reconnect with their why’. That’s a favourite phrase of Michael Hyatt, and refers to the need to know why we do what we do, in the context of our wider priorities. Sometimes only such clarity of motive will help us persist through tough times & not give up.

We’ve shared previously a book review of ‘Living Forward’, a guide to creating a life plan. That can be such a useful tool. To capture in writing who you want to be, your life priorities, your most important goals and the time they need given to them.

But, even if you don’t create a life plan, we can all benefit from setting things into a wider context. Looking afresh at the time you give to work, compared to the other priorities and relationships in your life can help in two ways:

  • It can highlight the need to protect more time for other things that matter;
  • It can put work difficulties into perspective & help problems feel less important (or at least less threatening).

Time for creativity to emerge

Just like we need to protect time for our priorities, it can also help to take time out to reflect.

You remember those times when you just can’t remember something, or just can’t solve a puzzle? How often did you find that a while after stopping thinking about it, whilst you were doing something else, it suddenly came to you?

That frequent experience (at least for me), is down to allowing the unconscious brain time to process ideas and sometimes come up with creative solutions. You can think of it as the positive ‘flip side’ of your unconscious behavioural biases that often result in poor decisions. As much as your behavioural habits may rule a majority of your quick decisions, equally your subconscious is a wellspring of potential connections & creative ideas.

But, just like you need to intentionally protect time for creative workshops (like insight generation) in a workplace setting, it can make sense to protect time to think. Except that your most effective creative thinking may also come from not trying to think about it. By giving yourself other contexts, other stimuli & expressing the other parts of your personality and social life.

Perhaps that business conundrum, you’re wrestling with, actually needs you to stop work & take a holiday?

We all need holidays to recharge

As much as there has been a call in recent years for more focus on sleep, we also need seasonal rest periods.

Evidence is mounting, as to the importance of 6-8 hours sleep a night, for your mental, physical and emotional health. But as human beings we also have rhythms that operate over longer time cycles than 24 hours. The rituals and routine of weeks, months and years also give us milestones & mean we need to consider what rest means over those time periods.

Any leaders who have kept sacrificing annual leave, because they are ’too busy’, can testify to the toll it takes. We just don’t operate at our best without breaks from the routine and time to recharge.

Fortunately we have inherited from previous generations the social norms of opportunities to take holidays at regular intervals during the year. Christmas, New Year, Easter, Summer holidays and many other religious or cultural festivals. Perhaps these have more benefit and anchoring for leaders' performance during a year than we give them credit for.

Even if we consider elite athletes or those looking to operate at the peak of their talents in any profession, these individuals understand the importance of rest and holidays. Knowing when to train and when to rest can be key to winning. I suggest the same is true for business leaders, including Customer Insight Leaders.

What are your holiday plans?

I hope that was encouraging, especially if you do plan to take a complete break.

Don’t feel guilty, embrace the wisdom of your choice and enjoy a great Christmas and New Year.

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