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Formally, a vacation is defined as a “suspended period from work.” In summer, many if not all of us are avidly seeking some much needed suspended time.

Vacations to putter at home, lay on a beach or explore new lands are for the lifestyle pages. The focus of this article is on the importance of taking a working holiday – aka a workation, or time away from the office for the sole purpose of thinking about your business.

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Many are familiar with CEOs who take one week per quarter to plan their businesses in isolation from family and friends. These are not physical adventures to trek through foreign lands – rather, retreats that ensure amenities and creature comforts so the mind can focus on the priorities at hand. What are those priorities? Essentially, the betterment of one’s business.

I’ve taken such focused breaks, and even at times imposed them on my leadership team and the postgrad students I teach who are planning their next steps. In each case, when the intent matches the commitment to focus during the time away, the results are remarkable. Working holidays offer much needed time to not only review and evaluate business and personal performance, but a chance to dream, plan and innovate away from distractions.

There are times in the year when “traditional” vacations make sense and we should take advantage of these. But in addition, as leaders we need to identify critical points in the year when we need to isolate ourselves and do some solid analysis and thinking. Typical junctures are midway through a quarter, before and after annual planning and following year-end. Assess the critical times in your business and plan accordingly.

With dates locked in the calendar, here are 10 ways to optimize the time:

Put on your “Out Of Office”

As a leader, you’re likely reachable even on holiday. Perhaps for time away, give your team a specific e-mail subject line to use if you are urgently needed. Otherwise, make it clear you are at a planning session – this is behaviour to be modelled.

No staycation: Get a room with a view

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If you stay home, you may become absorbed in chores, be distracted by loved ones or other work. Seek a location with amenities, book a room that pleases you and enjoy the setting.

Go five stars

Why not? Utmost comfort is critical so that you stay focused. Make sure the environment affords worry-free self-care and maintenance. Room service needs to be a button away.

Bring the tools to be productive

Pack a small roller bag that contains everything you need: a laptop and charger, portable printer (either tape ideas to the wall or lay them on the floor or extra bed), sheets of blank paper, extra toner, green painter’s tape for the wall while working through ideas, coloured markers, pencils and post-it notes.

Go hard, then break

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Research shows productivity is optimized when focused for 90 minutes followed by a 20-minute break. Follow this rule when working through a plan or writing; it works. Take 20 minutes to refresh, refocus and regain any lost objectivity. Complement the 90-minute focus with a playlist of music – ideally binaural beats, which produce sound waves that can help achieve and maintain a focused state of mind.

Have a plan

In the weeks and days preceding a workation, gather key documents and reading material and compile a list of things that you need to “sort through.” Upon arrival, lay everything in organized piles by topic and create the agenda for the week.

Structure the days

Rise early to scan the previous day’s work and check expectations for the day ahead. Go for a walk/run/workout, have a healthy breakfast and read something stimulating, related to what you’re working on. Head into the first 90-minute session, pause only for the 20-minute breaks to exercise, walk or refuel. Add in fun personal activities (a massage, a trek) for self-care, inspiration or a personal reward for a job well done.

Make it special

Eat well, light candles, set the table, get fresh flowers and ensure there are refreshments and treats at hand. The spirit should be comforted while the mind is on overdrive

Disconnect, sleep

It’s unlikely that the news or social media postings will solve one’s business problems, so check these mediums selectively while away. Most importantly, rest. The mind continues to work while sleeping. If there is a particular challenge to solve, paste it on the wall or lay it on the floor and do a scan before heading to bed. The mind will process while you’re asleep; in the morning, you will often have new ideas and perspectives.

Book them

Block off days in the calendar to plan and take a workation. What I once believed was a luxury, I now realize is crucial; regular workations not only ensure the survival of my business, but allow it to thrive.

We need to make the time to disrupt our thinking and look at our business from new and different angles, and a workation may be the very best medicine.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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