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Preparing For Pre-Holiday Pressure
How to avoid being burnt out on your first day of holiday + Office Hours
An announcement, before we begin:
Have questions about how you lead? Thinking about how you gear yourself up for the second half of the year?
This August I’m holding ‘office hours’ each week, for Spark readers only.
It’s a complimentary 20 minutes with me, one on one, to talk about your leadership and help you fuel your fire for the rest of 2023.
I’m setting aside two hours each Thursday, across timezones. It’s an opportunity to bring the writing into your real life and I’ll answer your questions, share insight on the themes you read about here, and help you tackle other leadership challenges you’re personally facing. There are a limited number of slots and as there’s no charge, book early.
As ever, thank you for being a valued reader and a vital part of the growing Spark community.
Preparing for Pre-Holiday Pressure
This post has been developed from a piece originally shared last year. It is a theme that almost every leader I work with struggles with at some point. Perhaps you do too.
As your summer break starts to get closer, you’ll start winding down and readying yourself for a rest. That's the theory.
The reality is often nowhere close. Exhaustion is creeping in and you’re on a mission to do three weeks of work in one, before you switch off. Ramping up before taking a holiday doesn’t quite fit the storybook approach, but it’s often what happens.
There’s a lot of pressure before going off on a break.
Pressure to balance your responsibility to the business and your responsibility to yourself. Pressure to get things done before you go. Pressure to leave things in a sustainable state for your team to oversee. Pressure to make the transition into ‘holiday mode’ in a microsecond for those around you. Pressure not to work whilst you’re away (“are you checking emails again?”). And internal pressure to have the perfect break and return feeling refreshed.
That’s a lot of pressure for what’s meant to be a relaxing time.
It's hardly surprising that many leaders struggle with switching off and really resting.
There's strong evidence to suggest that you should. People who keep in contact with work during their breaks show higher levels of stress and work-family conflict. But the reality is that at the leadership level, the line between working and not working is not a clear one. There will be times, that you need or want to stay connected.
The challenge is that in those final few days before you go, the opportunity to think intentionally about how to approach your rest doesn’t even make the list.
But the way you act sets the tone for the rest of the business. And that extends beyond checking your emails once or twice whilst you’re away. Working yourself to exhaustion trying to get everything done before you go, will set an implicit expectation about how your team should behave too.
One of the distinctions between good and great leadership is that great leaders act with intention, role modelling the behaviours they want to see in their teams, even under pressure.
Which means that the key is to make the way you act a considered and conscious choice too.
Here are five things to help you prepare for your break - as the leader you can be, when you’re at your best.
Know another leader who needs this? This post is free, and public, so feel free to share it.
Imagine: Take a moment and imagine you are up in the sky, in a helicopter, watching yourself in the weeks before, during and immediately after your break.
What energy and behaviour would you want to see in yourself?
Think about the time just before your last break away. How far did reality match your aspirational view?
What one thing could help you refine your approach?
Notice: Over a third of us report increasing levels of stress prior to taking holiday. Perhaps you find yourself operating at a million miles a minute or maybe you’re struggling to find the energy to get to the end of the week.
Whatever your stress looks like, to avoid burnout take a moment and think:
What happens to your stress levels in the days before you go away?
What signals do your head, body and heart send you?
And if they could speak that message out loud, what would they be saying, and at what volume?
Optimise: You won’t have got to where you are today without being good at working under pressure. In fact it is likely one of the skills that you are recognised for.
What other strengths, that given a little headspace, would help you navigate the run up to your holiday?
Imagine yourself on your best day, operating at the top of your game. What would your best self advise you to do, today?
Read: When you do need to keep in contact with work whilst you’re away, it can be helpful to set some parameters upfront.
Read it and then consider:
What will you be available for?
What won’t you do?
Who needs to know?
Prepare: It’s tempting to switch off as soon as you’ve tied off all the big items on your list.
Before you put your feet up, crack open a beer or pop the champagne, take a moment to plan ahead.
On your first day back, what needs to be your biggest priority?
What are the three most important things that you do?
What order do you need to do them?
It can take your mind a while to get back into gear on your first day back, so use this opportunity to help the ‘future you’.
What will take you five minutes today, will take significantly longer on your first day back as your post-break mind gets to grips with reality.
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