The Gift of Time and Space

In the hubbub of your holiday season, I hope there's been room for one very important non-material gift you can give your yourself: the gift of some time and space to get clarity.  

I'm a firm believer in downtime, but that wasn't always the case. In my first few years as a consultant, I bought into the idea that it was a badge of honor to not take all my vacation time. Everyone around me left unused vacation days on the table.

Then I realized that was simply crazy.

So I started making changes. I began taking more of my vacation days, but often stayed plugged in while I was gone. When I felt that I had built up enough credibility and earned trust from others, I began to unplug more and more on vacation. I quickly learned that the sky wouldn't fall without me at work, and that others would willingly step up.

From there, I began to make a stronger connection between down time and how it impacted my productivity. I began to view my time away as an important strategy to boost my performance, and I started to communicate how much getting away and recharging helped me do just that. I continue to honor a practice I put into place years ago, work-free weekends.

 650self-reflection

650self-reflection

At four different points in my career, I also took extended sabbaticals when I faced major life changes. During those sabbaticals, I made a point not to think about the big decisions waiting for me when I got back. Instead, I focused on doing what I enjoyed most and what energized me. I'm convinced that this kind of down time, the kind that reconnects you to who you are, truly unlocks our insights and guides us to the right answers.

Today, as a mom and business owner, it's much harder to take off for an extended break. I'm sure you can relate. But it's still important to regularly take time and space for ourselves, and the good news is that it's achievable. Here are a few ideas.

  • Schedule time to reflect. This is one of the best habits you can establish to increase your productivity and lower your stress. Start by scheduling just 15 minutes once a week to prepare for upcoming meetings and reflect on ones you've already attended. I'm betting that you'll see results quickly, which will inspire you to add even more strategic reflection time. Learn more about getting started with strategic reflection in the post "The Real Secret to Being More Productive and Effective."

  • Make time for what you love. While you're scheduling reflection time on your calendar, also block out some time for what you love. Think about the things that give you energy — time with friends and family, a massage, exercise, meaningful volunteering — and make sure they get time on your schedule.

  • Set regular practices. Keeping a log of your accomplishments or a gratitude journal will remind you to step out of the fray and think about the big picture more regularly.

  • Need more time and space? Listen to your gut: Is it time for a more extended break like a vacation or sabbatical? Start planning now to make it happen in 2015.

How we give ourselves “space” changes throughout our lives, but its importance never goes away. Take a few minutes this week to think about how you can create some space for yourself both during the holidays and in the year ahead. (My Leadership EDGE SeriesSM booklet "Staying in the Driver's Seat" can be a helpful tool as you do this.) Whether you can set aside a few minutes or a few weeks, know that this investment in yourself will deliver big results.