Same as many, I have a lot of demands on my time and various levels of stress and activity that builds throughout the year in ebbs and flows. This last year, in particular, has been a juggle – being Managing Director of SRJ Walker Wayland, the head of our audit department, along with being actively involved in our national network Walker Wayland Australasia and our international association BKR International. Not to mention the more important things in my life, being a husband and father, along with having a drive to push myself with running. Oh, and sometimes I have a social life!
I’m surely not complaining – I have a wonderful life and whilst I have challenges and stresses from time to time like anyone, I also have had many great experiences. I do play pretty hard though and push myself to make sure I’m in the best shape possible to do my best, which of course, is all that can be expected of me.
Being the avid runner that I have become in the past 7 or so years, and having gone through a number of training plans lasting at least a few months, I have come to realise that having your foot flat on the accelerator all of the time is not the best way to extract your best performance. In fact, it is likely to hinder your ability to be at your best and leads to injury. The magic happens during recovery after periods of stress and stretching your body beyond its current potential not while your body is under constant stress. When I am running, recovery comes in different ways whether that’s in the form of a short and easy run, or it may be some other activity like cycling or completely resting. After completing an event the recovery period may be one to two weeks or so before building back up to a higher performance training period.
The same concept applies to my working life, with my brain and work performance being the machine that needs recovery rather than my physical body. I have never really been that impressed with anyone that boasts how hard they work and for how many hours per week they work. In my view, if it is true, it is a sure way to crash and burn and unlikely to result in a strong and consistent work performance. For many it isn’t really true though and it is unlikely that they are in fact consistently working at a high level for a hundred hours each week. Whether it is running, or learning something new, or work, I have always believed in chipping away consistently with incremental improvements over time and a key part of this is making sure that there are breaks of recovery time to allow for a longer term sustained effort.
In the day to day, apart from running as a method of freeing up my mind along with dabbling in short meditation, I have consistently peeled my rear end away from my desk for a lunch break throughout my career rather than eating at my desk. Sure, there have been times where there has been no choice, but I have definitely been more productive after an actual lunch break, and even better, walked outside to get some fresh air. Even if the break is only for 15 minutes. I have been getting better at setting aside blocks of time to allow me to focus on tasks also. I have work to do still to make sure I recover properly though.
In the last week, I have been away on a vacation cruise that my wife planned. The thought of this was a little terrifying for me, not because of the potential for sea sickness, but it was the thought that I was going to be completely disconnected for 8 whole days. Ever since the smart phone came into my business life, it has really helped with keeping on top of things but has also resulted in a lack of real recovery. I generally have gone away on vacations in “maintenance mode” keeping one eye on my emails and notifications to make sure everything was under control. That’s not a real break and if anything, it annoys my family when I should be giving them my full attention. This time that wasn’t an option though and I have to admit it left me a little anxious.
So anyway, I did it. We boarded our cruise ship and had a fantastic time sailing the South Pacific, sipping cocktails, eating too much, being entertained, reading books and visiting New Caledonia to swim and snorkel amongst the fish and sea turtles. Plus, spending some valued quality time with my family. I even managed to keep running albeit on the dreaded treadmill. All the while my phone was set to flight mode. There was no reception anyway and although I could have paid for an expensive and slow internet connection, we opted to stay offline. After a couple of days, I forgot about it, relaxed and importantly, recovered. As did my family without the constant notifying distractions of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
After 8 days, we returned to Circular Quay in Sydney and we were back in range. A little anxious again I turned off flight mode. After 8 days offline, I had received 388 emails and probably 50 or so notifications from various internal and external social media. Not too bad. We got to the airport and had a few hours to kill so I waded my way through my emails and after using my delete key a lot to remove the general and spam emails, I got it down to just over 40. I’m pretty happy with that.
While I was going through this process I was thinking to myself “you know what, this is really a test of my leadership”. I really should be able to be offline for just over a week and expect that my team will be able to handle what comes up and, for the most part, I found that this is what happened. Phew! Nobody died, there were no tragic accidents and nothing terrible happened. There are some things that I need to handle quicker than others when I’m back to work but generally speaking it wasn’t nearly as bad as what I was expecting.
On this occasion, I was forced to switch to flight mode because of the nature of my vacation, but I think that on my next vacation I am going to do the same thing and switch to flight mode – even if there is reception. I have a goal now to beat in reducing the number of emails that I receive in the time I am away as a test for myself. Most importantly though, this is my recovery after an extended period of pushing my brain and work performance to the highest level that I can. Now I’m ready to get cracking and look forward to my next bout of switching to flight mode.