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Meetings Should be Mindful But Not Necessarily Fun

mindful_meeting_cristina_fernandez

Productive meetings

There’s a burgeoning trend in some management advice circles. Employees are disengaged, so the thinking goes, because the work environment isn’t stimulating enough. They don’t participate in meetings because they’re not fun. Tell some jokes, devise some games, bring in snacks, a bit of music and then you’ll get more energy in the room. Make meetings more like a cocktail party and people will want to attend them.

Sorry to be a pooper, but I’m not a fan of putting fun first. Attendance in a party-style meeting doesn’t usually make the meeting productive. It might make time pass more quickly for some and for many others – your best employees – it might just cause irritation and frustration.

“Fun” meetings bring to mind the television series The Office. Both the British and American versions feature an office manager who is entirely unfocused, undisciplined and quite attention-deficit-hyperactively-disordered. He spends most of his days recounting recycled jokes and hackneyed comedy routines and forcing impromptu festivities on his employees, most of whom just want to get on with their jobs, sell some paper supplies and ensure their long-term livelihood by helping the company succeed. So it is with many employees in the real world.
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How Was Your Holiday? Did You Have a Good Break? High-Performance Vacation Planning

Taking Control of Your Life
merry-christmas-2015-2
How was your holiday? Did you have a good break?

Whether your answer to these questions is “great” or “so-so” or somewhere in between, now — right now — is the time to start planning for next year. You can improve on the year-end break, maintain a status quo level of satisfaction, or leave it to chance, the choice is yours.

Many people don’t get around to specifically planning for the December 20th to January 5th period until late September, when they are settled back in after a summer break. In the U.S., some planning refuseniks, don’t really focus on the year-end holidays until after Thanksgiving, meaning they have a mere three weeks to get ready.

Obviously it’s as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow that the world will slow down a bit at the end of December 2015. You’ll be tired from a hectic and hopefully high productivity October, November and the first two weeks of December. It will be hard after December 10th or so to make progress because colleagues and clients will feel similarly. And there are all the distractions of parties to contend with. So don’t fight it. Go with the flow, and the flow at that time of year is toward rest and renewal.

How much time do you dare take off around year-end? My suggestion is that you be bold but subtle. The French have a nice expression that means “To live well, live hidden.”

Would it be so crazy and reckless to have your last day of work be Thursday the 17th of December and your first day back Tuesday the 5th of January? That’s a total of 18 non-work days. Six of those are weekend days. Depending on which country you are based, around four of those are national holidays. That leaves you taking off eight work days, i.e. Not that much.

The key is advance planning and providing your key colleagues advance warning. Slide those dates into the team’s holiday diary as soon as you can but in a way that doesn’t attract notice. Of course put them in your own calendar right away, and with a reminder that goes off every week or so. The anticipation is a key part of the cure; knowing that something desirable and important is coming up can make this period truly transformational, a process of inspiration that gathers momentum as the weeks go by.

Can you organisation live without you between December 18th and January 5th? Of course it can. Many wouldn’t even notice you’re away.

The same isn’t always true with relative, but if you calmly, politely inform them around Sept 10th that you won’t be around for the holidays, they will eventually adjust and come to accept it as bearable.

In my 15 plus years of coaching people at senior levels, I have seen dozens of executives who were thought completely indispensable leave at short notice for weeks at a time. Often it’s because of a serious medical problem but regardless of the reason, most organisations prove themselves surprisingly resilient.

Obviously it’s a lot less disruptive if you plan for your absence, finish up projects, write contingency plans etc.

To be sure, sometimes people are reluctant to plan themselves out of the work flow for a significant period of time precisely because they realize they are readily replaceable or otherwise won’t be particularly missed. Some of that is an irrational anxiety. However part of it, is down to a paradox: People can often grind away at a job not adding much innovation or special value precisely because they are uninspired, even burned out from too much time doing the same things, not enough rest, rejuvenation and exposure to new stimuli that would create new ideas and renewed energy. The solution is to be rigorously “planfull” in taking reinvigorating and inspiring breaks.

Here are some ideas:
– Travel somewhere interesting but not-too busy at year-end, like Ecuador, Romania or Burma
– How about a tropical “semi” paradise; e.g. Puerto Rico is surprisingly low-key despite reliably good weather
– Pick a slightly unusual travel window to save money, like Dec. 17 to Dec. 29
– Try a Buddhist retreat; many centers are fully operational over the Dec./Jan. time period
– Take up a winter sport big-time in a key center, i.e. Cross country skiing in Canada
(Pro-tip – start preparing in the gym for intense sports at least three months in advance)
– Stay at home but work on something new; e.g. schedule 3 hours a day of pottery; hire a local tutor well in advance
– Resolve to do all your holiday shopping and correspondence over one intense 48-hour stint in early December (e.g. The weekend of Dec. 5-6; put it in the diary now)
– Plan to read 6 to 10 great books over the period; set aside 6 to 10 hours a day for reading (including audio books that can be listened to while exercising)
– Hire a fitness coach for intense workouts every other day for two weeks

What ideas do you have? Let me know via glenn@mindfulyourownbusiness.com
Key terms: vacation planning, holidays, planfull behavior, diary management, time and task management, work stress management, healthy leaves of absences