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NextGen Know-How: Prioritize Leisure Time


March 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 3
by Laurie J. Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR

To be an effective leader, we need frequent mental and physical breaks

March 12, 2014

I just returned from a relaxing getaway in Cancun with my family and it was just what I needed to recharge and refocus. One of my personal goals this year is to schedule more downtime. I can very easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, and sometimes neglect to take care of myself and ensure I am getting the time I need to recharge.

So what does this have to do with leadership? In my experience, many leaders get so involved in work, they leave little time for leisure. I used to be one of those leaders. I enjoyed my work, and would often work long hours. I would come home mentally and physically exhausted, which left very little time and energy for exercise, eating right and taking care of myself. I like to keep busy and, at the time, leisure time sounded unproductive.

I admit that I sometimes still struggle with prioritizing leisure time, but I have made consistent progress and continue to focus on making small changes. To be an effective leader, we need frequent mental and physical breaks to declutter our minds and recharge physically. We can't possibly run on overdrive and be effective. Attending to the physical, emotional and spiritual side will ensure we have the energy and mental capacity to bring the best to our work.

Below are some changes I am implementing to make sure I can work at peak performance and have the energy to bring my best to my work.

Pre-schedule vacations and getaways. I used to do this backwards. I would put all of my work commitments in my calendar, and then a few months before I wanted to take a vacation, I would try to fit it in. This caused more stress since I often didn't have room in my schedule for any time off. This past year, I started scheduling my downtime first. I blocked out several weeks I wanted to take off (even if I didn't have a destination yet), and committed to taking that time I need. I also blocked off at least two full days a month with no commitments so I could use that time for planning and creative thinking. Blocking this time in my calendar has served as a constant reminder that this time needs to be a priority.

Make health a priority. This is nothing new, and I think it's easier said than done. When I am busy, I grab convenience foods like unhealthy snacks. My family is working on cutting out most processed foods this year and planning our meals ahead of time. This can be challenging--like when my husband bought four boxes of Girl Scout cookies this weekend--but we are making small changes that are really adding up. I follow a website that has been an excellent resource called 100 Days of Real Food. I have used many of these recipes to make food on the weekends to have for the week.

Get some sleep. Unless you are a giraffe (they only need a total of 1.9 hours of sleep a day), you probably need at least eight hours of sleep a night. Nearly eight in 10 Americans say they would feel better and more prepared for the day if they got more sleep. Technology is one reason many people don't get enough sleep--they stay up surfing the Internet, watching television, working, or playing games on their phone. This is one area that is non-negotiable for me. I aim to get about nine hours a sleep a night (as long as my 3-year-old and 1-year-old cooperate!). If I get less than eight hours, I absolutely feel a difference the next day--I'm tired, sluggish, and have very little motivation to focus.

Get clear on limiting beliefs. I ended 2013 exhausted and ready for a break. I had been running at full speed all year, and felt like I didn't have the breaks I needed to regroup and relax. When I reflected, I realized I had a subconscious belief that work should always come first. This limiting belief was apparent in my decisions, and it was having a negative impact in my life. I would choose work over things I said were priorities, like exercise and meditation. If something for work came up, I would often shift personal commitments to accommodate my work schedule.

I realized this had to change. There will always be work. And if I treat the personal needs as optional, they will never rise to the top of the list. Now I schedule my personal needs in my calendar months ahead of time to make sure they get the focus they need. Sometimes I will need to shift something, but I am making a lot of progress in prioritizing my leisure time.

Small habits lead to big changes. As a leader, you  have a very busy schedule. Adding more commitments probably seems impossible. Start with small changes and build from there. In my work with leaders, I find that the most successful people are those who make small habit changes, stick to the changes, and focus on improving and making better choices in each moment. It's great to have a big plan, but it's even better to get results.

What is one thing you do to recharge and re-energize?

Laurie J. Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC, Rockville, Md. She was also an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or lmaddalena@envisionexcellence.net.

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