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More Than A Vacation

Can you believe it’s August already? Kids are headed back to school, and the end of summer heads us into a new push in our work as well. Hopefully you’ve taken some time away for vacation. If not, why not? Really, the stress and constant demands of leadership make time off not optional if you are going to lead well. Truth is, some of us who have been on vacation are already feeling the need for another vacation right away.

But as much as my vacations mean to me—I just had a great one away with the family—I learned a long time ago that simply taking a vacation won’t solve my problems. When I come back, they are still there. It seems like too often the relief we felt on vacation dissipates in 1.2 days or less. Maybe that’s hours. Vacations and time off are just not what we can count on to “fix” us.

One of my favorite mentors through podcasts and blogs is Carey Nieuwhof. He addressed this issue recently, and I think he is dead on with his insights. I want to share them with you with a few thoughts of my own.

First, Carey says that time off doesn’t work if your problem is how you spend your time, and that is true for most of us. Many of us are living at an unsustainable pace. We think that more work must mean working more hours. The crisis we are facing around the world is prolonged and there seems to be no end in sight. Time off will not fix it. We have to be wise and strategic with time on.

Then he tells us, “First, when you’re off, take some time to take stock of what happened. You have been through so much and my guess is you’ve hardly stopped to process it.” He says we all have been in crisis mode leadership (agreed!), and we need to stop and take time to figure out what exactly is making us so tired. What are the things that are weighing exceptionally heavily on you? Name them. What are your losses? Name them. Then grieve your losses.

Life is a series of ungrieved losses. He asks, “Have you thought about how much you have lost since March?” Wow. That is a mind-boggling thought. He advises, “Take some time to pray through them, grieve through them, and maybe even sit down with a good friend or therapist to process it all. You’ll be glad you did.”

Carey says then to make some categorical decisions—instead of deciding one at a time, think in categories. For instance, you may normally decide whether or not to do events one at a time. He said for clarity’s sake, he just decided that all requests that are not necessary for his organization to do to survive would be declined. It simplified everything. They only made a couple of decisions. The world didn’t stop turning, people understood. Life was manageable, and they were able to work on the big things that really needed done. So simple, but so smart.

So as you head back into leadership this fall, what are some things you can eliminate? What meetings don’t need to be held? What trips can be cancelled? You will force yourself to create systems to make things run more efficiently and without you. You are eliminating some things to focus on something that is more important. You can make these time-limited if it seems wise. Like I won’t take any outside requests or speaking engagements until after the first of the year. Making a proactive categorical decision will free up time and energy.

Next, Carey reminds us of a word we hear often and rarely take seriously. SIMPLIFY.

But, simple is not simplistic. As Woody Guthrie is quoted as saying, “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” Work on your idea or problem and reduce it to its simplest form. Again, ask yourself, “What things can we stop doing so we can start doing the most important things?” Cut out anything that you or your team have to cook up and manufacture energy to do.

A really big issue since the Covid-19 changes is that the boundaries between work and home have gotten unbelievably blurry for most of us. If we don’t get a handle on it, work will overwhelm and overtake our lives and relationships. Technology has made it possible for us to work from home, but it has also made us constantly accessible at work, on vacation, at home—anywhere anytime.

Carey gives us some real honesty that probably many of us could grow from. He says, “Because I love what I get to do, I’ve had to force myself to make hard stops, putting my laptop away, turning off all notifications on my device, moving my phone out of my bedroom at night, and deciding that some things can wait.” What would it take for you to do that? How would it help to do that? He even suggests that you get a hobby to break your work/technology addiction. He says if you make a good choice you’ll get so engrossed in it that you’ll lose the desire to even check your phone!

But his great advice is that whatever your distraction is, you must figure out a way to live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow.

I fully agree with that. I am trying to do that myself. The future needs me to be as healthy as I can be. My family needs me to be here as long as I can be. The challenges ahead of us are not a series of short sprints. We are collectively in a marathon. Managing our time ON and our time OFF will give us the ability to stay in the race and win.

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