You know the feeling that creeps up when you’ve been sitting in your office for an hour too long and the objects on your desk start blending in with each other? You might show up in the morning ready for a productive day, then once you sit down it’s like you never left. I feel as though I’m told, “You need a vacation,” too frequently, but I’ve come to believe there’s some real truth to that statement.
We forget that we are all knowledge workers engaging our brains every day. When you’re stuck in one place for too long, you’re going to feel your creativity levels start to lessen, no matter how many cups of coffee you drink or collaborative meetings you hold. Factory workers in the industrial age had to give machines a break, but how do we give our brains a much-needed respite in today’s hyper-connected world? Being a great leader requires you to be an innovator now and inspire innovators for the future. In order to take on this role, it’s time to implement something you might have the tendency to put aside: vacations.
Wait! Don’t brush that off and think “I don’t have time.” There is a method to this madness. A study on neural pathways conducted by Adam Galinksy—a professor at Columbia Business School—found that our brains are influenced by environment and habit, so they are sensitive to change. This means that new tastes, smells and sights will spark different synapses in the brain. In my experience, my biggest leaps of focus have come after taking a break.
What did you do the last time you were stuck on a problem? Did you continue working through it—exhausting your mind of its memory resources? Nah, you probably walked away for a moment, took a lunch break or slept on it. Good job! There’s science in that strategy. Back in 1971, Isaac Asimov wrote an essay that explored our spontaneous moments of inspiration. In The Eureka Phenomena, Asimov found that human thought had both voluntary and involuntary components, and opportunities for both are required for effective processing. So, think of your vacation as a way to step away from the roller chair to give your mind an opportunity to breathe and have a larger opportunity for those “I’ve got it!” moments.
Before you take off on that great vacation adventure, take the time to follow these three tips:
Let people know
Obviously, you’ll be telling someone that you won’t be around, but talking about it way in advance will help your team prepare for your absence. This will help you offload work and give your employees the opportunity to set up a system for problem-solving when you can’t be reached.
If you absolutely cannot be unavailable to your business, set up some designated check-in times. That way your employees or coworkers know when and how to reach you without disrupting your adventure.
Transition to—and from—tranquility
Not only does the trip require planning, but letting go of daily work stress is also going to be a challenge. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings the day you get back or the day before you leave. Instead, spread them out during the week and make sure anything you need to have finished before you go is done. That way you won’t dread going back and you can allow your thoughts to stretch since you won’t be worrying about unfinished projects.
I’m sure you’ve talked to someone who came back from and said, “It changed my life,” and that’s what I want your next trip to feel like. Who wouldn’t jump on the chance to gain a creative, competitive edge by spending a few days in a new scene? In my travels, I have found a greater appreciation for the things I used to take for granted. So, go take that vacation and consider it an investment in yourself. Think of it as effortless ROI.
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