Work More Effectively by Taking Time Off

As with any busy executive, it’s hard for me to find time outside work for a personal life: hobbies, passions, relationships and all those other necessary “me time” things that make one feel like they actually have a life. It’s easy to get sucked into demanding work, and even easier, when you’re lucky enough to enjoy what you do. But it’s also extremely important for your mental health, and ultimately for your work, to take time for yourself. Easier said than done, so I’ve devised a plan that helps me make sure I take time for myself – I schedule it.

Your work life revolves around a schedule, in fact, we’re used to it and trained to follow it. So why not do the same with your personal life? If you don’t lock your free time into the schedule, work will always take over.

To avoid that, I sit down at the beginning of every year with my calendar and block time for my personal priorities – those few annual trips: college reunion weekends, 4th of July at a beach house, annual New Year’s Eve plans etc., those vacations you can block out and plan ahead of time. Rather than mapping these trips out haphazardly, this brings discipline to my free time. If work comes up, you don’t pre-empt your scheduled personal time, you relocate it as you would a business trip or meeting. It’s like that old adage… If you  get a jar and fill it with rocks, you can fill in the gaps with sand. But if you put sand in first, there’s no room for rocks. Put your rocks in first!

And there’s scientific evidence that it’s important to totally unplug. Just have a contingency plan for emergencies. When you’re away on vacation and unplugging, not checking your email, make it clear to anyone who may need you that if (and only if) a work emergency occurs, you are available via text or phone call and give them a phone number where they can reach you.

Don’t just do it annually, do it weekly. Every Sunday night, I look at the week and plan my workouts, personal dinners etc. I put them in my calendar as immovable appointments to ensure I escape the office and make them happen. This allows me to recharge throughout the week, not just on major vacations.

And lastly, the daily distractions. Here is where it is most important to set parameters. Early on in my career someone once told me that the best people managers are ones that see where your limits are and push you to them.  That seems like a harsh reality, but it’s true. If you are available 24/7 your first week on the job, you are setting the precedent that you are always available 24/7. Make it known when your work hours are, and set aside specific times for things like email.  An executive friend of mine answers emails in 2 hour chunks – from 8-9am and again from 5-6pm. Her employees are trained that they can expect to hear from her in those hours. If anything else is urgent, trust that someone will pick up the phone.

If you monitor your “me time” this effectively, your work will thank you.

-Pat Mastandrea