On the way up, Winston fletcher - A five-point plan for unwinding - The secret is to switch off. Here is a tick-list that will help make your break a guilt-free pleasure and take the trepidation out of your return to the office.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So goes the old proverb. Back when I was in kneepants, it was quoted frequently but I've not heard it for years. Perhaps I mix in workaholic circles. 'All work and no play', the people I meet nowadays are more likely to declare, 'makes Jack a thrusting and successful high-flyer.'
With the holiday season upon us, the question of the right balance between work and play is high on the agenda. Many people get nervous about what will happen back at the ranch when they go away. And everyone has read about self-made billionaires who deplore holidays and despise those who take them. Equally, everyone has read contradictory articles insisting that breaks are essential to avoid stress, broken families and a premature key to the great executive washroom in the sky. Or wherever.
The issue has grown increasingly acute in recent times. With the spread of mobiles, laptops, e-mail and palm-size PCs, it is easy-peasy to lug your work with you wherever you go, to consult your files and spreadsheets every time a thought occurs to you, and to keep in touch - even when you're thousands of miles away and supposed to be wallowing in sun, sea, sand and whatever else takes your fancy. Worse still, even if you don't contact your office, your office can all too easily contact you. You're on a leash for 168 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. As they used only to say of terrorists: you can run but you can't hide. Turn on your mobile phone for just a moment - and they'll get you!
Does it matter? How important is it to go away and switch off completely? To some extent it depends on your nature and personality. Some people can push themselves harder than others and can go for years without a holiday, without it seeming to harm them. But the evidence suggests there will be a backlash eventually. Anyone who tries to keep going, day-in-day-out, year-in-year-out is driving themselves headlong towards a breakdown.
When you are on the way up, you should aim to take three full weeks off each year, in two bites, one of a week and one of a fortnight. Whether you take the week in the summer and the fortnight in the winter or vice versa is immaterial. But you must cut yourself off completely. Stay in contact and you'll stay in stress.
Most hardworking managers suffer immediate withdrawal symptoms when they go on holiday. And if they don't switch off, the symptoms continue. My own pangs usually last about 24 hours, while I fret about all the things I belatedly remember I forgot. During that time I'm fairly intolerable to be with. Thereafter work fades away and devil-may-care nonchalance kicks in. (Having a powerful ability to concentrate on present trivia and little memory for strategic anxieties has its advantages.)
To minimise your withdrawal pains, you must prepare for your departure as thoroughly as possible. Things going wrong because you failed to tie up loose ends before leaving will endear you to neither your bosses nor your colleagues. Worse still, you will probably face a ghastly mess on your return. I've seen holidays turn into catastrophes - in the holidaymaker's absence - faster than you can say poolside bar.
To avoid such disasters you should adopt this five-point plan:
Make your main holiday a spring-cleaning time: make a special effort to complete as many jobs as possible before you depart, and try to avoid undertaking new tasks in the days beforehand.
Prepare an 'in-progress' schedule: projects still in the pipeline should be listed and detailed in a status document or a round-robin e-mail, noting who is doing what and by when.
Send a 'possible problems' list: this should go to your superior(s), in confidence, warning them of potential spanners in the works, with suggestions on how to deal with them.
Speak to all and sundry: insecure managers keep everything under their hat, for fear of other people interfering while they are gone. Nothing could be dumber. Make contact with every spanner-thrower before you depart, and ensure they foresee no problems you have not foreseen. If you are in any doubt about their co-operation, confirm the situation in writing.
Hang around a bit: do not, as most people do, scuttle off early on the day before your holiday. It may temporarily upset your holiday partner but it is wise to stay a little later than usual to ensure there are no last-minute glitches. (And you'll be more relaxed and better company when you do, at last, get home).
When it is your colleagues' turn to buzz off, you should persuade them to implement a similar five-point plan. It may seem marvellously Machiavellian - especially if you are not too fond of the colleague concerned - to allow them to botch their departure if they know no better. But such schemes have a nasty habit of rebounding. You'll find yourself spending their holiday sorting out their cock-ups. So while they're off sunning themselves, you'll be doing two jobs - yours, and theirs.
Winston Fletcher is chairman of Bozell UK, the advertising group.