A few recent rough patches, however, slowed my pace. It’s not that catastrophe struck, but I have yet to find a consistent rhythm this year. And after nine straight days of committee and board meetings, I have a profound sense of how little fuel remains in my tank.
Fortunately, there is a natural ebb and flow to board work. My boards meet quarterly with a natural build-up throughout the weeks preceding each meeting. February is a blur, but March promises rest, particularly when I recover with intention.
Taking a break may sound decadent, but these recharging sessions inspire some of my most intense focus and effort. And I’m not alone. Top business leaders dedicate hundreds of hours to deliberate learning. Bill Gates sets aside a Think Week to read technical papers and envision the next big thing. Google employees dedicate 20% of their time to exploration outside their job descriptions. Concepts like creative rejuvenation and revival of purpose may seem indulgent, but moments of insight arise when our minds are wandering.
Although some leaders physically get away for their sabbaticals, I can’t enjoy such a luxury (yet). Instead, I remain in my daily life and turn every available minute toward refilling my well. Setting aside as much work and distraction as possible, I turn inward and soak up knowledge, energy and clarity.
When you are ready to join me, consider these four steps to refuelling your board career.
Prepare and plan
Work and life continue whether we want them to or not. A sabbatical is only possible if we plan in advance. Book your vacation time, dial down your client commitments, and develop a plan for handling e-mail during your break.
Next, I frame how I will use my newfound freedom. I like to identify a handful of themes and assign days (or even weeks) to each one. In March, mine will include Streamline, Learn, Create, Connect and Re-enter. Although it may be tempting to juggle multiple interests at once, research suggests that we are better off focusing on one thing at a time.
Finally, consider ways to structure your days with time reserved for sleep, exercise, nutrition and family. If we can’t find time for these foundational activities during a break, we will never integrate them into a routine when reality resumes.
Before I can absorb and create, I need to address the clutter. I’m looking forward to tackling my neglected bookkeeping, clearing my physical and e-mail inbox, and refining my workspace. (I’ll refer to these inspiring examples as I do.) Some may interpret my washing a few windows as procrastination, but that meditative chore literally changes the view of the world from my office.
Assured by a streamlined to-do list and workspace, I hunker down with my reading list. I work through my bedside stack of governance journals. And I end each day with a few TED videos, which are conveniently curated into themes like recovering from burn out and creating one’s leadership legacy.
A sabbatical is also a great time to tackle an online training program or invest in leadership development. If you have been meaning to complete something like the StrengthsFinder assessment, do it now.
Reflect and re-enter
One of my business school classmates kept a whiteboard in every room of his apartment, so he was already ready to visualize the thoughts in his head. Billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely is known for her journals, where she records daily lessons learned. Whatever your preferred medium, a sabbatical is the perfect opportunity to brainstorm new board opportunities, craft your personal development plan, or write your way out of a lingering problem.
Before returning to reality, it’s important to create a re-entry plan. Identify ways to incorporate new practices into your ongoing routine. Build time in your calendar to maintain your work space, clear your inbox, and stay on top of your reading list. If your sabbatical inspired a new project, identify the resources and timelines that will yield consistent results. This planning will turn your break from the everyday into the start of something big.
In case you are wondering, I plan to continue blogging during my upcoming sabbatical. I can shrug off certain responsibilities, but I can’t give up activities that sharpen my saw. Rich with many benefits, blogging is an excellent means of marking progress in any activity. I encourage you to begin writing and to share your experience with me throughout your sabbatical experience!
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