By Dan Coughlin
When times are tough, the tough get going. Unfortunately, sometimes they go too hard for too long and wipe out their creative juices. One of the worst habits people develop during bad times is working constantly without a break. They can be working to keep the business alive, working to justify that a current job is deserved, or working to get a job. In any case, nonstop working generates dramatically negative effects.
Imagine a baseball player who plays 500 games a year and takes batting practice eight hours of the day of the year as well. That is the unsustainable pace many business people sustain themselves during dismal economic slumps.
Does the word “burnout” come to mind?
With the Labor Day holiday gone, many people may think it is too late to consider time away from work, but it is never too late.
Vacate to Accelerate
Repeat after me, “I need great energy to do great work.” All together now, “I need great energy to do great work.” And now just the men… And now just the women…
When times are good, most people take breaks. They go on vacations. They get refreshed. And their renewed energy contributes to the upward cycle of greater performance at work. When times are bad, many people avoid taking necessary breaks. They try to work themselves into a frenzied state of being in the name of “We’ve got to plow through this and find a way to succeed.” Their reduced energy contributes to the negative cycle of lowered performance at work.
For the good of your organization, take regular breaks. Take your vacation days and get away from work. During the work day, take a break and go for a walk. Clear your mind. This is critical to long-term success. If you really want to accelerate your achievements in a meaningful way, then vacate your work setting and let your mind rest. You’ll come back to work ready to climb the next mountain rather than want to drive into the nearest ditch.
The Power of the Unfocused Mind
Ironically, the people who supposedly never take a break end up wasting a lot of time at work being “half in and half out.” Really get away from work so that when you come back you really come all the way back.
Take ten minutes to really daydream about a particularly happy time in your life. Let the good memories soak in and clear everything else out. Then, when you mentally come back to a work issue, you will come at it with a fresh mind. Rather than worry all day about things you can’t control, give your mind the rest it deserves.
We’ve all heard people say that they get their best ideas while taking a shower. That’s because they’ve relaxed their minds and, lo and behold, good ideas pop out. There is great value produced from the focused mind, but there is also great value generated by the unfocused mind. Once you’ve clarified an issue you want to resolve or an outcome you want to achieve, mentally let it go. Get away from your work. Take your family on a vacation, even if it means checking into a local hotel on an inexpensive night or going to a movie.
GET AWAY FROM WORK! (Did that help clarify my advice for you?) Amazingly, you will find that better ideas will come to you the farther away you get from the issue or desired outcome.
Have the Courage to Avoid Busywork
With the best of intentions, people love to ask, “So what have you been up to lately?” During a recession, the respondents to this question seem to be on the defensive to an even greater degree than usual and want to make sure that everyone knows how hard they are working. So the tendency is for the respondent to create a massive amount of busywork so that no one will ever think he or she is not a hard worker.
Remember that business is not about “busyness” but rather about “creating and delivering value to customers that improves key results in sustainable ways.” The best way for you to create and deliver this type of value is not to fill your day up with busyness. The best way is to carefully preserve your energy and then place it on the fewest things that will have the greatest positive impact on creating and delivering great value for your customers.
A friend of mine named Karen encouraged, inspired, motivated—ok she pestered me—to read a book called The Shack by William Paul Young, and I’m so glad she did. Before I recommend this book, let me give you two warnings: one, it begins with a profoundly sad story, and, two, it is a deeply spiritual book. Having said that, the reason I’m recommending this book in this article is that the concept of the shack is exactly the point I’m trying to get across in this article.
The main character in The Shack endures a long-term great sadness and finally decides to return to a place called “the shack” where he can regain himself. This is exactly what I’m encouraging you to do. When you have been under enormous stress you simply have to get away from the pressure or it will eventually break you.
If this recession has created enormous stress in your life or if you’ve worked so hard that you need time away, then I believe you mentally need to go to a “shack,” a place away from work, home, and community responsibilities, ere you can regain perspective on your career, your life, your purpose, and so on. As the main character in the book did, I believe you will come back with an extraordinary and renewed sense of focus in your home and work life. And that renewed focus, which paradoxically happens as a result of intentionally becoming unfocused, will ultimately drive better business results for your organization.
A Note of Interest
One of the biggest management insights I gained from studying professional auto racing for my new business book The Management 500 is that there are three key strategic moments in every auto race. They occur during caution flags, turns in the track, and pit stops. The way in which the drivers use these three key strategic situations invariably determines who wins and who loses the race. I share these insights in Chapter Six of my book.
About the Author(s)
Dan Coughlin is a teacher of practical processes that improve business performance. He is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, executive coach, and author of three books, including his newest, The Management 500: A High-Octane Formula for Business Success (AMACOM 2009).