Randy Dean's Timely Tips

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Timely Tips(c): Volume 2, Issue 4; April 2005 — Taking a Working Vacation (even if only briefly!) From Your Work

Dear Friends,

This month’s Timely Tips is short and sweet, and represents one of those tips that I’ve seen the most productive and results-oriented managers that I’ve interacted with utilize appropriately and judiciously throughout their successful careers. It is a simple tip that I feel far too many professionals underutilize, especially in today’s world of wireless hotspots, mobile phones, handheld technology, and laptop computers.

What these managers do (and know when to do) is to take a “working vacation” or “walkabout” from their work. When I say a “working vacation”, I mean that they (and sometimes their team) purposefully leave their personal workspace (and typically their company’s physical location) so they can get away from the day-to-day distractions and focus on a singular high-value project or task. This time away from the office may be an hour, or a half-day, or a day, or even a week, but their whole reason for doing it is to put all of their energy and focus on an important project or task, work or personal, that they simply cannot give appropriate focus to in the office (or home) environment. By moving yourself physically away from your day-to-day distractions, you can create an atmosphere conducive to intensive concentration and very high productivity. Think of a writer’s retreat or artist’s retreat, and you’ll understand the concept.

I have personally used this strategy several times throughout my career – to write important reports, or do the strategic planning on new projects, or begin developing the new annual marketing plan or budget. I have often found that I simply do not give these kind of high-level projects or tasks enough effort in the office environment because there are too many distractions to allow me to give several focused hours to the task – too many emails, ringing phones, talking co-workers, unexpected visitors, and files of other less important work that also are asking for attention. Right now, I am purposefully leaving my office space a couple days a week to work on my book draft (which is rapidly nearing completion), and also my next phase business and marketing plan. I have simply made the observation that these projects don’t move as fast as they need to if I try to work on them in my normal workflow, so I have to create the environment that makes them move forward appropriately and assertively.


Speaking of environment, try to build an environment for your “working vacation” that matches the task at hand. Sometimes, I need to get clarity to think strategically – I’ll find a secluded location in the woods, or by a river, or a lake, and allow myself to become fully immersed in the strategic thinking process. Other times, I might need to be creative, and if so, I might go to a coffee shop, a city square, a college library, or even a picnic table near a playground, where I can anonymously absorb the natural creativity and energy of vibrant and often young people at work and play. Sometimes it is simply a little-used conference room or empty cubicle on the other side of the building, where I can get a couple hours free of distraction and where my co-workers can’t find me. And other times, the very best place to be is at home, where I can comfortably put on some jeans, shorts or sweats, drink from my favorite soda mug, listen to some of my favorite tunes, and get to work on the important task at hand. (I do make sure to keep the TV and cell phone OFF to keep those distractions at a minimum.)


There is a little preparation that you need to do to take one of these little “walkabouts”. First, check both your schedule and your upcoming work (or personal) responsibilities. Make sure there are no urgent/critical tasks or projects that are due during or following your expected time away. Check to make sure all of the little stuff on your plate can wait a few hours, or a day, or a week, to get handled. And if appropriate, notify your supervisors and affected co-workers (and, by the way, if they are not supportive, you might want to seriously consider finding a way to do this anyway as you will likely be judged in the long-run on your performance on the important task at hand). Maybe this means not telling your co-workers what you are up to -- there are times where it is better to ask forgiveness later, and that is made much easier if you do an outstanding job on something because you put yourself in an environment that made your success possible. I even encourage people working for me to ask for time and take time away from the office if it will help them to get something important done in a more efficient and effective way, and we have also done team retreats to allow our team to realize the benefits of physically leaving our office.

So, next time you are feeling a bit overwhelmed with the “little stuff” and that you aren’t giving fair effort to the most important projects and tasks on your plate, think about taking a working vacation or walkabout from your work. Maybe you’ll actually get that big project done both well and on time for a change!


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