How getting away from your desk can make you a better leader

leadershipContributed by Jan Bednar , CEO and founder of ShipMonk.

Many business leaders pride themselves on perpetuating the “workaholic” lifestyle. They assume that an always-on, always-available mentality is a prerequisite for success, so they slog through 80-hour workweeks and glue their eyes to their desks, laptops and cellphones.

I take a different leadership approach. Instead of constantly immersing myself in work, I try to take several breaks every day, limit my availability for meetings and make time to travel. This allows me to get in much-needed rest and relaxation. More importantly, it helps me become a better leader and more innovative entrepreneur.

When I unplug from the minutiae of daily business, I develop fresh ideas and perspectives.The line between a business leader’s personal and professional life is growing blurrier and blurrier with each passing day. A 2019 survey revealed that 26 percent of work is done outside of regular working hours. You can be sure that the COVID-19 pandemic and telecommuting have only made matters worse.

If you aren’t vigilant about unplugging from work, you could spend your entire day putting out small fires instead of focusing on the big picture.

These three tips will help you avoid falling into this trap:

1. Build a trustworthy team.

To truly unplug, you need to know that work will continue to get done in your absence. Strive to hire self-motivated individuals who enjoy working autonomously and do not require constant supervision.

Search for people who have led initiatives in the past. During job interviews, ask them to showcase their creative problem-solving skills. Research suggests companies that conduct problem-solving sessions with teams that are at least somewhat fluent in creative tools and resources brainstorm at least 350 percent more ideas than their counterparts—and those concepts are 415 percent more unique.

Leaders must set a good example so that the trust flows both ways. For me, this means empowering my employees to take vacations, refraining from calling and emailing them when they are out of the office and discouraging them from working after hours. I also encourage everyone to turn off their phone notifications from 7 pm to 7 am. If you want your employees to allow you to unplug, you need to return the favor.

2. Structure your day.

Routine and structure can provide the peace of mind needed to maneuver daily tasks with ease. Research finds that structure and routine can lower stress levels, boost productivity and increase focus—all of which can contribute to improved leadership.

I do my best work when my days are structured into time clusters. On a typical day, I will devote two significant chunks of time to my most pressing tasks. I block these clusters out on my calendar so that my team knows I am unavailable, and then I tune out all distractions. I silence my cellphone, close Slack and ignore my email inbox until everything is done.

Outside of these clusters, I make myself available for emails, phone calls and meetings. I also use this time to take breaks, unwind and have a little fun. Sometimes I will shut off for a few hours to watch a movie, spend time with my family or play video games.

Regular clusters help me plan my engagement and focus levels accordingly, ensuring I’m at my best when my team needs me.

3. Step away from time to time.

According to scientific studies, traveling broadens your mind and enhances your creativity. I love to travel—both for work and for fun. I believe that experiencing fresh environments and learning about different cultures helps me refocus my mind and develop new ideas. When I return to work after a trip, I always feel more productive and present.

I try to unplug as much as possible when I travel. On my last trip, for example, I was in the Rocky Mountains without any cellphone reception, so I had a pretty good excuse to not look at my phone. I was traveling with a client, and we talked a lot about work. But because we were both outside of our typical office environment, these conversations felt different and more productive.

It was refreshing to be in the mountains, sitting face to face with an entrepreneur who is absolutely crushing it in his field. We formed a friendship, and we learned so much about each other’s businesses. I must have come up with a half dozen new features for my product in the short time we were together.

Don’t get me wrong: It is important for business leaders to be intimately involved in the day-to-day details of their companies, and sometimes this does mean working crazy hours. But if you make this the norm, you will miss the forest for the trees. Build a team that allows you to step away to recharge your batteries, and you’ll open yourself to new ideas and perspectives that can help your company thrive.

Jan BednarShipMonk is the CEO and founder of ShipMonk, a technology company reimagining third-party shipping logistics. Bednar—a native of the Czech Republic—moved to America to attend Florida Atlantic University, where his entrepreneurial interests piqued enough to start BedaBox, a shipping startup that became the ShipMonk’s predecessor. Bednar lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida.



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