Joe Leech

The Definitive Guide to Taking Time Off

Truly taking time off work requires changes in mindset and skillset. I’ve spent years refining this approach alongside the CEOs I work with.

Listen to this post

I want to be clear. This will only work under two circumstances. 1. You really want to take time totally away from work 2. That you put the work in before you go, setting agreements with key people.

Watch the video, follow the steps below are the ones I set out in the video.

Work is addictive

There is a ‘dopamine hit’ we get from checking emails and from being ‘needed’ at work. It’s addictive! We need to overcome this habit. The first part of that is ‘name it to tame it’ That is understand that you will have a strong urge to stay connected. You need to actively work against that urge.

Ok, let’s do this, first we’ll start with…

Replace expectations and create agreements.

Expectations are dangerous and are your second largest barrier to taking time off. Almost certainly the expectations of what will happen while you are away will differ between you and your team, this creates uncertainty, friction and stress for all. Not a great recipe for a vacation.

Look for the common expectations

  • There should be no expectation that anyone can just call you.
  • No expectation that you’ll be checking email.
  • No expectation that you will be checking Slack or Teams.
  • That no news is good news.
  • “I don’t want to let the boss know about this as they are away, but the contract hasn’t been signed and the deal has fallen apart…”
  • And so on…

And set agreements

  • We need to create clear agreements with all your key reports on if, how and the subject they will communicate with you about.
  • Key triggers agreed on both sides that will lead to you being cancelled.
  • Below is a list of steps to create that agreement.

Time to put the work in with key people.

1. The Week Before: Laying the Groundwork by creating Agreements

  • Let all your direct reports know that you will be away.
  • Give them the exact criteria under which they can contact you.
    • The same with your assistant.
    • Set TRIGGERS, e.g., the contract is not signed by the 27th.
    • What you don’t want to contacted about.
    • What to do with exceptions.
  • Set an ‘urgent’ comms channel up. Be that a text message, WhatsApp. A place with no signals to noise ratio, i.e., where only important messages are received. Not email or Slack as there is too much noise.
  • Say that you will not be using Slack, or email.
  • If you absolutely must check-in, do that with one person, on a call. No casual checking-in!
  • IMPORTANT: Ask all your reports and your assistant to prepare a status update ready for 8 am the day you return. Project by project, division by division.
  • What of relevance has happened?
  • What decisions have been made?
  • What is outstanding?
  • What they need from you? (if anything).
  • If your direct reports are taking time off, ask them to do exactly as you are doing here and they can filter the status updates to you.
  • Block out the morning of the day you get back and set time aside to meet with key people in the afternoon.

BONUS: Close any Open Loops.

2. While You Are Away

It can be tempting to check-in, it’s harmless right? ‘Name it to tame it’ It’s an addiction. You can only truly enjoy the break by taking yourself truly away from work.

  • Don’t check your email.
  • Don’t check Slack / Teams.
  • Don’t break the agreement with your family, you are away from work so stay away from work.
  • Don’t break the agreements with your team, if they see you have checked-in they will expect you to check in again. Rigour!

3. When You Return

The first day back at work you should have no expectation of doing anything large or important. Do that tomorrow. You need to warm up and back into work. Sports injuries are caused by athletes not warming up properly!

  • You need time to get up to speed. No meetings until 11:30 am. (if you don’t block out this time you’ll work the night before doing this!)
  • Review the status updates from your key people, what do they need from you? Is it urgent? Plan it in.
  • There will be surprises, you will be irked by something that wasn’t done right, almost certainly it’s nothing urgent, but it might feel that way. Do not beat yourself up about it. What will you do differently next time? Write a note to your future self and set a reminder 2 weeks before your next vacation to review it.
  • In the afternoon, have meetings with key people to go through their status reports.
  • Make the day after the day you are 100% back in the game.

It’s about Desire and Rigour, but it’s worth it.

Taking time off requires rigour and a genuine desire to disconnect. By understanding the addictive nature of checking in (name it to tame it) set up systems to counteract this urge (agreements!). It takes practice, but it’s worth it. Good luck and let me know how you get on.

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I’m mr Joe and I help CEOs and their businesses thrive.

Success isn't incremental. It's a game of chutes / snakes and ladders; it's time to climb the ladders. I bring 15 years in tech, $20b in added revenue, experience with 30+ startups and FTSE / NASDAQ / Fortune 100 giants. Together we can do great things.

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