How To Do Better By Doing Nothing


A few weeks ago, a colleague forwarded to me a sales coach’s June newsletter that admonished readers to avoid “laziness” and “overcome the dog days of summer.” He basically shamed his readers for taking time off.
This glorification of “all work, no play” has become fairly pervasive in our American society. In 2015, more than half of American workers didn’t use their allotted vacation. Alamo, in it’s 2016 Vacation Survey, reports that 59% of millennials feel a “sense of shame” for taking time off. Many of us have forgotten the value of rest. For leaders, this is a problem.

It’s counterintuitive, but taking time off can help you lead better.

This isn’t a new idea. Shabbat, the Jewish ritual observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, derives from the Hebrew verbs “cease,” “stop,” and “keep.” We see Shabbat exhibited in the Genesis account of creation (God rests on the seventh day). Later, He made it a law.
Today, many Jewish people still practice Shabbat. Likewise, Christians, the Sabbath. We see this notion of purposeful rest continued outside the synagogue and church in the concept of a sabbatical.
Rest helps leaders. Check out these findings from Scientific American: “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life…. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”
Did you catch that? The potential return on investment in rest includes:

  • Increased productivity
  • Higher creativity
  • Greater ability to perform and produce
  • Improved ability to form and store memories
  • Strengthened moral compass
  • Healthier understanding of identity

Most importantly, you enjoy the journey of life, living in the present, as opposed to saving it all for the ever-future destination. I know leaders who have died at an early age without figuring this out. A young widow of one recalled to me that her husband’s last words to her as he was wheeled into the ER following a massive heart attack were “Call the office!”
Smart leaders are listening to the research and being intentional about rest for their workers. At the beginning of this year, JP Morgan initiated a policy called “Pencils Down,” encouraging its investment bankers to take weekends off as long as they don’t have a live deal in the works. The Advisory Board Company sets email blackout weekends and provides flex hours during the summer. And, the folks at TED simply shut down for the first two weeks of August.
Lead better by incorporating time to unplug (and by encouraging your employees to do the same!). If you haven’t already, use these last five weeks of summer to dial it back a bit so you can be at your best come September. Take a week off. Take Fridays or Friday afternoons off. Do something different in the name of refreshment. Project: Time Off exists solely to encourage…time off! Check out this storehouse of great information if you need further ideas.
Surely by now you have heard of the Broadway smash-hit musical, Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda, its creator and star recently tweeted, “It’s no accident that the best idea I’ve ever had in my life — perhaps maybe the best one I’ll ever have in my life — came to me on vacation.”
Indeed, it was on vacation in Mexico that Miranda first conceived Hamilton. He read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and thought, “This is an album —no, this is a show. How has no one done this?”
In the spirit of following my own advice, I will take a break from blogging during August and use the time to recharge. You can expect new leadership learning from me after Labor Day.
Effective leaders know how to balance work with rest. Join me this August in making space to do just that.