Monday, May 11, 2015

A Full Four Weeks

The UK has fairly generous annual leave allowances at 25 days. Sweden leads the list at 33 and in the US the average is just 12. Despite not being that much, a lot of people I knew in the business world used to tend towards the US number and stockpile leave. If you work in a strategic job, you not being there doesn't stop work going on. You can't press pause. So when you are about to go on leave, you have to put in extra work, and when you return the initial period back is manic. So instead of a genuine period of relaxation, holidays can end up being more stressful. So stockpiling becomes an option. Some companies have started 'use it or lose it' policies to stop this.

I was guilty of stockpiling too. A few years back I broke the piggy bank and took a full 4 weeks in one go in order to do a Yoga Teacher Training course. I did it over Christmas when there were lots of public holidays and work tends to take a dip. Still, such a long period of leave raises eyebrows and so people don't want to do it. It was magic. Being out of contact with people meant the constant work conversations in my head could slowly wind down. By a week in, I was far enough out of stuff that I wasn't thinking about what had happened. I was far enough away from going back that I wasn't worried about what was going to happen. I could wake up and go through the day just thinking about what was going on. 

These periods are rare. When we meet with people that matter to us, those 'Stuff Conversations' are still going on in their head. And in ours. There isn't sufficient space to just kuier. Garr Reynolds suggest that when you are doing presentations, you should always plan to finish early. You should always leave people wanting more, rather than rushing to pack things in. This comes from the Japanese idea of 'hara hachi bu'. Only eat until you are 80% full. Leave space.


Tim Ferriss also argues that being busy is actually a form of laziness. His form of culling down to the essential tasks, that have the biggest impact, is pretty extreme. It is worth checking out his series of 'four hour books'. 

I am aware that this is pointing at a problem without offering a solution. Much of our busyness is structural. Taking 4 weeks of leave is an incredible luxury. Being in one place for that four weeks is an uber luxury. If you are a global citizen, you often end up having to do a lot of travelling to get around to all the people you need to see. A trip back to South Africa, for example, may require visits to Cape Town, Durban and Jozi. If that also entail packing up and carting around an entourage of little emperors, that isn't likely to feel like much of a holiday.

The solution might lie in rethinking what is enough. Or making tough choices to make sure you are only ever 80% full. Perhaps not taking days off and proper leave is lazy?
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