The Sweetness Of Doing Nothing


Ahhh, summertime!

The time to take a vacation: to get away from the office; to relax; to spend time with the family and enjoy the important things in life.

Alas, it appears that yet again most business leaders will not take their full vacation. And when we do take vacation days, most of us still check E-Mails, answer the phone, and remain tethered to the office.

The reasons for not taking a vacation vary, but usually include some of the following:

  1. The economic crisis and/or challenging business conditions
  2. As the leader, we are too indispensable to the business
  3. We just do not have the time; there are too many things to do, and there is too much going on

Author Katherine Crowley suggests another reason: taking a vacation is not part of the identity of who we are as business leaders. As she writes, “we are a work-identified nation, that’s the badge we wear–where we work, what we do–that’s how we define ourselves. As such, we have a hard time giving ourselves permission to take vacation time.”

By contrast, I believe that as business leaders we must have time away from the pressures of work. That means taking vacations and taking at least one day off a week.

My reasoning is quite simple; vacations and downtime away from work are vital because they make us better leaders while making our companies better.

There are three reasons why downtime away from work is so important:

  1. Refresh
  2. Get Fresh Eyes
  3. Improve Effectiveness



Consider someone who has been up 48 hours straight. It could be a medical intern. It could be a student cramming for a test. It could be an investment banker working on a multi-million dollar merger. It could be an attorney preparing for a big case.


  1. During hours 46 to 48, were they performing at peak potential?
    1. Were they efficient?
    2. Were they effective?
    3. Were they creative and insightful?
  2. What is the one thing that these people most want to do?
  3. What is the one thing that these people most need to do?


The answers are obvious. While these people may have gotten work done, they were undoubtedly not particular efficient, nor effective and certainly not creative. And the one thing that they most want to and need to do is sleep.

Yes, sleep.

Sleep gives their brains the downtime to process information, to re-charge, and to re-connect. After a refreshing sleep, the person will then be able to get back near peak performance.

As an obvious parallel, consider the business leader who has been working for 52 weeks a year often 7 days a week often 10, 12 or more hours a day.

  1. Are they at their most efficient?
  2. Are they at their most effective?
  3. Are they at their most creative?

Most likely, the answer to all three questions is NO. They are more likely to feel over-worked and on the verge of burnout.

It is at this point that the business leader needs to take the time away from work in order to refresh themselves. By doing so, they can re-charge their batteries storing up the mental, physical, and emotional reserves that they need to draw upon each day.

Get Fresh Eyes

The biggest challenge in any business is seeing the reality as it is really is. As I discussed in my blog “Change and Business Turnarounds”, vacations and downtime give you the ability to re-evaluate and see the business reality (the true truth) with fresh eyes. With time away from work…

  1. You have a chance to vacate, to get some fresh air to evaluate your life, your direction, and your priorities.
  2. You gain a perspective on the business that you will likely have missed while fighting the daily battles. Instead of operating at 10,000 feet, by stepping back from the daily demands, you get the chance to fly up and see the business at 35,000 feet.
  3. When you take a vacation, you get the chance to see your team in action without you. This lets you evaluate your team and business.
    1. Is your team strong enough to handle the business while you are gone? If so, who steps up while you are gone to lead the business?
    2. Or are you so important to the business that the business begins to fail without you?
    3. Are you the problem in the business (dictator, micro-manager, etc.)?
    4. What are the fires in your office that you have to deal with when you come back? Where are they coming from? Why were they not resolved while you were gone?

In all these situations, the time away from work gives you a fresh view on the business and where it is going.

Improve Effectiveness

“The key in business as in life is not in being efficient; it is in being effective, in doing the things that get you closer to your goals.” Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek

Taking a vacation, taking the time away from work to do nothing, improves effectiveness in three ways:

  1. Sharpens focus on the right goals
  2. Forces prioritization
  3. Increases delegation

Sharpens Focus on the Right Goals

Taking a vacation and taking one day off each week (a weekly “sabbath” or sabbatical from business, the phone and E-Mail) naturally limits the amount of time that you can devote to your business. As such, you will likely not be able to do everything that you want to do. This is a good thing. It forces you to make choices and to order your business and your life better. Without the freedom of unlimited time, you will need to sharpen your focus on only the right goals, the most important goals.

This will serve you well and your company even better as an endless series of priorities from the leader of a company or business unit usually just exhausts the employees in the company and distracts them from their key roles of serving the customer, etc. The sign at the Crab Cooker Restaurant in Newport Beach, California says it well. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Forces Prioritization

Even with a sharpened focus on just the right goals, you can still get distracted by the unimportant urgent. But, you do not have unlimited time to get it all done. That means saying no to doing different things. That means creating a “stop doing” list. That means limiting the amount of time spent on certain activities. That means fighting the “tyranny of the urgent.” In short, that means prioritizing.

Prioritizing means that not everything will get done. Balls will be dropped; just make them unimportant balls. I quote Tim Ferriss again. “It is necessary to let small bad things happen if you want to get huge good things done.” In short, prioritize to give yourself the time and attention to do the main thing extraordinarily well.

Increase Delegation

Let’s say that you have prioritized well, but still do not have the time to get everything done while still taking your weekly day off and your vacation time. If this is the case, you must delegate more. You need to increase the amount and importance of the tasks that you delegate to your team in order to reduce your workload.

Magically, this increased delegation has the great good effect of focusing you on your essential leadership tasks while developing the skills, morale and confidence of your team. And it makes it even easier for you to take your time away from work. So, delegate well, get the main thing done, and see your team develop.

In summary, except when there is a crisis or a turn-around situation requiring your leadership and your presence, taking the downtime away from the office, away from the E-Mail, away from the phone is vital for both the health and longevity of you as a leader and your business.

That is the true “sweetness of doing nothing.”

Until Next Time.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Personal Success and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Sweetness Of Doing Nothing

  1. Pingback: Foster Fresh Perspectives | David M. Shedd – Move Your Company Forward

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