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How sitting on a beach in Mexico for a week changed how I work.

About ten years ago I bought a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. I love it and I hate it. The beach is beautiful, the water is turquoise and the views are fantastic. But, convincing myself to actually use the timeshare is a battle. It’s like slaying a dragon. Intellectually, I know that taking time for recovery and renewal is important. Every time I facilitate leadership training I insist participants schedule regular down time. But, giving myself permission to take time off and relax feels like going to war.

I find myself negotiating with my “monkey mind” for at least six months leading up to my vacation. Can I afford to take a week off? Is it OK for me to turn off email? What about my crazy long list of things to do? Who needs a demanding boss when you have your own monkey mind to deal with?

When I told my husband I was taking a week vacation in Mexico alone, he raised his eyebrows and said, “Really babe? What will you do everyday? Won’t you get bored or lonely?” To which I responded, “hell no, hear me ROAR!”

Despite my hesitations, I knew I had to take some time off to unravel. The constant sprint, chronic stress and task list that magically kept getting longer and longer was definitely taking a toll. I had increased my caffeine boost to 2x a day from a strict “no caffeine” regimen. I was tired all the time even though I was getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night. And, my “wind down and go to sleep” routine had become a major production. Even a long hot bubble bath, generous sleep aids, essential oils, meditation and exactly the right pillow weren’t working anymore. My body and mind were screaming “Go on vacation!”

Sitting on the beach alone for a whole week was definitely a game-changer.

Here are the 3 lessons I learned that will change the way I work.

Lesson #1: Clutter causes stress.

The simplicity of getting up every morning, putting on a bathing suit and flip flops and strolling down a few stairs to find my favorite lounge chair for the day was a relief. My toughest decision was whether to sit on the beach, relax at the pool or indulge at the spa. Believe me it took some negotiation with myself to choose the right one.

What I discovered is that the clutter of my life — constant barrage of emails; annoying computer alerts; social media obligations; meetings; traffic; and pile of chores were causing chronic stress. I realized that without the clutter, I didn’t need any caffeine to rev up in the morning or special accessories to go to sleep at night.

Lesson #2: Stillness sparks creativity.

The first few days everything aggravated me. I walked around the resort with my fierce “Get-out-of-my-way-I’m-in-a-hurry New Yorker” look. It sounded like there was a busy Sunday market square inside my head. I could hardly slow down and relax in between thinking about all the things I had to do.

Then, sometime around Day #5 I started to quieten down. I slowly started to relax and stopped giving a damn about checking email. I had a huge epiphany. The world would continue just fine without me.

In the stillness I had some of my most creative ideas. In between dips in the ocean and long massages, I gained clarity about what to focus on. Ideas came fast and easy. In fact, I wrote this blog in less than 15 minutes. (Typically it takes me about a week to develop the ideas, write and edit a blog like this.) As if I needed more validation, my crisp thinking was additional proof that being quiet has enormous value.

Lesson #3: Taking time for renewal is non-negotiable.

Everyone has different ideas about how to relax and renew. For me, sitting on a beach alone for a week seems like a luxury, but it’s really a necessity. Now if only I could get permission more easily from my boss. The value of time for recovery and renewal is priceless. If only we would make vacation time “non-negotiable.”

As I packed up my bathing suits and flip flops for the trip back to Houston, I couldn’t help but wonder how long I would remember these lessons. How long would I be able to maintain the sense of peace and calm before I get buried in the clutter again?

These are some of the changes I am making. Feel free to nag me and hold me accountable!

  1. Manage email vs letting email manage me. Limit checking my inbox to 30-minutes in the morning and 30-minutes in the afternoon.
  2. Turn off all alerts on my computer and smartphone. I don’t need to be notified every time someone on my team sends me a message or posts a task on our project management app.
  3. Take back my lunch. Stop eating while I’m working or on the run.
  4. Prime every day. I always insist participants in my keynotes and ROAR leadership programs take a few minutes first thing in the morning to reflect, meditate and prepare themselves for the day. Now it’s time for me to do what I say.
  5. Make vacation non-negotiable. Yup, I’m going to book my timeshare week for next May. This time without the struggle, hopefully.

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