Last year ChapmanCG did around 520 HR searches across 42 countries. With a team in most key parts of the world, and with our market space on a very fast growth trajectory, I have always felt the need to manage my energy. I have tried to be good at 'switching off'; as much for myself as to also imbue similar behaviors in our team of around 100.
Like many Type-A leaders, I rarely switch totally off, preferring even on holidays to dumb down my workload to several hours a day or even an hour a day, to keep an eye on priorities. The collection of pictures at the top of this article, were snapped by friends, of me on a past holiday in Spain; glued to my phone between yoga classes, on the beach, while enjoying the sun, and even late night in a bar. I got the point; I wasn't really switching off!
Take two. A short five day summer break in France last month. I put on my out of office on work email. I developed a handover plan and briefed everyone involved. I diverted my phone to my assistant. I deleted my Skype app. Deleted my WhatsApp app. The company Yammer app was taken off my phone. I retained Facebook and the Facebook messenger app, but after one day of business messages (many friends are also business contacts) still finding their way to me there, both were deleted. LinkedIn proved to be another busy channel. Delete. Text messages continued to chirp through my phone. Only way to stop this: switch the phone to airline mode.
So what was my final conclusion on how to truly switch off on a vacation? Perhaps just don't take the phone at all.
Switching off, in general, with 24/7 technology, is now harder than ever. Especially if you love what you do; have a global or regional role; or you are vulnerable (or expected to) being sucked into work matters outside of hours.
As HR Leaders, I'm keen to hear what you're doing personally to "switch off" but also innovative ways you are encouraging this in your companies. In seeking your views, I also share my own personal strategies for balance and switching off.
1) Some of us like to have one phone for work/personal to not carry two devices. The answer is separate the two. Put down the work phone when you want to put down your work. On your personal phone, keep work email off it and all forms of work.
2) On my work phone, I don't have email. Slightly unconventional, but I only send email from a computer. I don't like email and if it's on my phone, I seem to waste time. I do, however, maintain messenger functions for my company which I do find efficient. Email can be replied to in a 24 hour cycle, rather than hourly. Encourage people who need fast responses not to use email.
3) Avoid email replies longer than two sentences and only respond to emails that are absolutely necessary. Fast calls to solve problems ultimately work out quicker. As does leaving WhatsApp or voicemails with clear instructions.
4) Finish each day with a plan for the next day. Keep it simple. Before switching on your email or phone, review this plan again after waking up. I find it so much harder these days to keep focused and this little exercise helps me.
5) Review your diary a week ahead. I usually eliminate 30-40% of booked meetings or calls and force myself to think about whether what is in my calendar adds value even if I, or my assistant, accepted the invitation in the first place. I ask every meeting has an agenda and if any prior reading can help speed up the discussion. This is even more so when multiple people are on a discussion.
6) I use a concept called "white space" for my week. I want as much unblocked time as possible in my calendar rather than being a slave to too much planning. Linked with point five, as someone who is used to loading my calendar to the brim, this has taken real discipline. The upside is I have more time for reactive matters and more time to think, rather than bumbling from one calendar appointment to the next.
7) Reverse engineer your personal schedule with your work schedule. I am more likely to miss personal appointments than I am to miss work appointments, as is anyone who places a precedence on giving their all to their work. So I take my personal life more seriously and put it in my calendar first.
8) I find a regular exercise regime critical to balance. Again I reverse engineer all my fitness plans (yoga, running etc) into my calendar. Clearly I won't be prioritizing a yoga class if a major work issue arises, but experience has taught me if I'm not disciplined about proactively managing my fitness, work will take precedence. Without our health or strength, no amount of work success is going to matter in the end!
9) Find a way to keep a master list of your work and personal priorities. There are many ways to do this and no right or wrong way. The key is to have perspective of what's important and what's not. I currently use a platform called Trello for this. But there are many tools. Find what works for you. Don't become a slave to updating the tool and focus on measuring how organised you can be with the priorities in your life.
10) My colleagues Stefanie Cross-Wilson and Alan Mait just finished this article on meditation. Thanks to Anis Baig, Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Teva and Victor Khannan, from Heartfulness Meditation, for their support on this journey. Although I am early into the virtues of meditation, those of you who do it know that the crux of it is merely switching off, letting your thoughts fall away, follow your breathing and relax. As I started to meditate it was a wake up call how little timeout I had been taking.
Developing your own strategy for "switching off", I feel is more critical now than ever. Many of us are leaders and have strong influence over how our direct or indirect teams also cope with switching off. As HR Heads we share a valuable link with global, regional, and local business leadership teams on developing "switching off" strategies.