Your Out of Office: Scale Lessons in Planning
Do you get enough downtime?
Do you get time to reflect, recharge, refocus?
As entrepreneurs, we are all like the fable of the frog in the boiling water.
As a quick reminder, if a frog is suddenly put into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water, which is then brought slowly to a boil, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
I had one of those moments back in 1997…
This time of the year, I was nine months into my new role as Commercial Director. Back in the previous September, I had sold my business to my existing supplier.
I had pretty much worked 24/7 leading up to and since selling up. Initially, my girlfriend and I took a two-week break. During that time, we moved the business, the staff, and our belongings across the country.
I was twenty-nine and starting a new chapter.
The new role was exciting, challenging, and fresh, and my days were long but enjoyable.
Over the following nine months, the water was being turned up to the boiling point, and like the frog, I was oblivious even though there were plenty of warning signs.
I went from the excitement of moving to the south coast and living with my other half in a converted pub, to then breaking up and finding myself on my own.
‘But relationships break up’…. I justified to myself and threw myself even more into my work. There was always so much to do.
It was June 1997, my birthday week, and I was sat in my office around ten o’clock in the morning. Simon, one of the owners, walked in and what he did that day gave me a whole new perspective on life balance.
He picked up my keyboard as I was typing, unplugged it, and said, ‘you need a break.’
See, while I had not sensed the water around me starting to boil, he and others had.
He continued, ‘you have become a pain, and you need to recharge.’
He literally escorted me from the business and said, “see you in a few weeks!”.
This was a significant time for the business as we had just been approached by a company looking to potentially acquire us. But it was very early days, and I needed a break; I just didn’t know it.
As I was driving home, the weight of the previous nine months started to unfold, and I got a little emotional. A failed relationship, and I’d lost touch with a lot of my friends due to work. To be honest, I felt a little alone.
You know when you meet up with people, and they say, ‘hey, if you are ever in x, then give us a call.’? So, I did. The previous year a mate of mine had some friends over from Boston, and I got on well with Lynne.
So, a few days later, I found myself getting a taxi from Logan airport to Lynne’s apartment. I called her that night after leaving work and said I was coming to America. Could I use her place as a base? As luck would have it, she had a bit of time off, so it was perfect.
Over the next few weeks, I hardly thought about work. I did touristy things like watching the Red Sox at Fenway, walking around Harvard, going to that bar where Everybody knows your name, and even a four-day trip to New York to see sights like the Twin Towers, Statue of Liberty, etc. Lynne even organised a road trip with some of her mates to Rhode Island, the rich and famous playground, and the set of one of my favourite films, ‘High Society.’
Four weeks later, I landed back at Gatwick a completely different person. I had not realised how stale I had become over those nine months working around the clock and justifying to myself that is what the business needed.
I reckon I accomplished more in the next four months than I would have in the preceding year.
And it was a critical four months as of December 1997, we sold the business to Glass’s Guide for a substantial seven-figure sum.
From that day, I have always planned my time out. We all know if we don’t plan it, it won’t happen. The water will start to boil, and it’s too late.
Weekly I don’t work Fridays, and being honest, Wednesday’s now…
I do a monthly three Rs: Reflect, Recharge and Refocus.
One of the first things we do with our clients is plan out for them to NOT be in the business on a Wednesday. You thought I was going to say Friday, didn’t you?!
Why a Wednesday? It is straightforward to get sucked into the doing in your business. But we all know that companies will grow quicker with strategy, NOT tactics.
Wednesdays are our strategy days. This is the day we take time out to ask essential questions, which helps us become the lighthouse for our business. Casting our light across the business, looking for those dangerous areas, and then fixing them. The challenge for most business owners is they NEVER do this and therefore have lots of micro-challenges which they keep fixing instead of taking time out to see what’s causing them in the first place and fixing that.
We also, in our business, take time out on a monthly basis to reflect. Before Covid, this was a monthly trip to the local Spa (I must book that again soon…).
Last month I was at Lily and James’s School Sports Day. It was the last day before school holidays, and as a volunteer coach, I was privileged to attend. What I saw that day was a lot of kids at ‘boiling point.’
Why do schools have so much time off? The kids are only at school for around six to seven weeks before having a week or two off to recuperate. There is a Lesson there for us all.
We all started our businesses to fit into our TERMS, including the breaks, holidays, and timeout. This contributes to our Sanity and to those people around us.
So, when are you going to set your next out-of-office message?