Here are some suggestions of how to maximize your downtime so you’re cranked up and ready to rock 2016.
The Obvious: Chill Out
By nature of this business you’re probably a hybrid of the energizer bunny and James Bond. You’re focused, driven, and relentless about achieving your mission, whether that’s growing the business, developing a new product, or closing just one more deal.
So I’m not suggesting that you go all namaste and spend the holidays meditating but you do need some downtime to recharge and reconnect to the world outside of work.
One person’s chill may be another person’s hell but a pretty important universal truth is to spend time with whomever it is that fuels your fire on a personal level - family, sweethearts, friends, your dog, your crossfit coach.
Most likely they’ve been neglected a bit this year as you scrambled for the top but now is the time, and arguably one of the most important times, to reconnect.
So let’s all agree that this holiday season we’re going to hang more with our peeps because in the end, they’re the biggest deal we’ll ever close.
Schedule Your Screen Time
It’s hard to turn off work completely and there are lots of situations where you need to keep at least one eye on the ball over the holidays.
To give yourself a bit of a break, and to save you from getting the stink-eye from Santa or your significant other, try to schedule a dedicated time during the day to make calls, check emails, etc.
Ideally you could do it early in the morning before your family is up, or in the evening after everyone’s gone to sleep. That way you’re not seen to be on your phone all day, there’s less chance you’ll be interrupted by cries of protest, and you won’t be voted Most Bah Humbug of 2015.
You won’t get the break your brain and business needs if you’re still mired in the weeds of a million emails, and be honest with yourself: only about 1% of those need ASAP attention. So get what really needs to be done out of the way and then join that Scrabble marathon or Walking Dead binge fest on the couch.
Read a Good Business Book
I love to read and I love books but there is never enough time in the day to get to all the reading I want to do. The last few years I’ve started a list of books to read on vacation.
I usually pick at least one book that has nothing to do with work, like fiction (highly recommended page-turner: The Girl on the Train) and at least one business/professional development kind of book.
There is a shelf-full of new business books out there right now that have piqued my interest but here's one I’m really interested in:
Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family It’s written by Anne-Marie Slaughter who was the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, hired in 2009. Working directly for the very supportive Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and with a supportive husband and lots of resources available to her, Slaughter assumed she could do, and have, the proverbial “all”.
But things didn’t work out that way and Slaughter ended up leaving her dream position to pursue a career where she could spend more time with her children.
Slaughter endured strong reactions about her choice (people were HARSH) and when she wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” for The Atlantic, it incited an intense international debate and became one of the magazine’s most-read articles ever.
"I've seen the results of Lean In. I think it is terrific, but you can not lean in too far without a really strong support system, or you will tip over." - Anne-Marie Slaughter referring to Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" message
I heard Slaughter interviewed on CBC radio and it was a really interesting, evocative conversation, raising lots of questions for women, men, and employers so I’m looking forward to diving into this book.
I just finished reading Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind by Biz Stone, co- founder of Twitter.
I admittedly picked this up from the bargain table and figured for $5 it might be a good read. I’ve read interviews with Biz Stone and was intrigued by his off-beat personality and how even though he’s made a dream boatload of money, he still lives a fairly modest existence and gives a lot of his wealth to charity.
The book is a quick, light read and sometimes gets a little hokey in the advice category but it offers a great behind the scenes look at the evolution of an idea, the sometimes insane world of startups, and the power of being true to yourself.
The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do is one of my favourite all-time business books.
Clotaire Rapaille is a world-renowned cultural anthropologist and marketing expert who has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands (Jeep, Chrysler, Folgers, Honda) to help launch products, design advertising campaigns, and connect with their target audiences.
His theories on how people think and act differently around the world, and the power of cultural influences on our buying habits transformed how I approach branding and communications.
This is a super interesting read for anyone but if you’re in the business of sales, marketing, or branding, this book should definitely be on your holiday reading list.
If you’re looking for more titles, here’s a list of the best business books of 2015.
Pick a Podcast
Everyone thinks they don’t have time to listen to podcasts but I’m here to tell you, you do and you should. Listen while you commute to work, workout, run, clean the house, shovel snow, or walk the dog.
Podcasts can transform the menial tasks in your life into the most educational and entertaining moments of your day.
Last year I, along with much of North America, was completely obsessed with season 1 of NPR’s Serial podcast about the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student, Hae Min Lee. My closets have never been more organized than during this time.
There are podcasts on just about every subject ever and there are some great business-related podcasts to discover over holidays. Here are a few I like:
Freakonomics: The Hidden Side of Everything The super smart team of journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt bring their ‘beautiful mind’ thinking behind their books like Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics to the airwaves with this endlessly fascinating weekly podcast.
This isn’t boring, dusty economics class. Freakonomics is about looking at questions by asking more questions and not accepting traditional assumptions for why we do the things we do, or why things are the way they are. These guys peel back the onion layers of issues you didn’t even know could have layers.
Recent topics include: How to Save $1 Billion; Should Kids Pay Back Their Parents for Raising Them; How to Create a Smart TV Ad; and The Economics of Sleep.
It’s smart, entertaining, and it will change the way you think about the behaviour of humans, government, consumers, and yourself.
Under the Influence with Terry O’Reilly Terry O’Reilly is a seasoned and celebrated veteran adman. He’s like a happier, funnier, and more successful version of Don Draper (and seemingly far more sober). Award-winning copywriter, director, speaker, and author, Terry has the real-life chops to explore the big issues in marketing today.
“The first 50 years of modern advertising was based on hard-sell. The next 50 years was persuasion through creativity and media tonnage. But as advertising squeezed into the 21st century, it was forced to shed its elbowing ways and become a delicate dialogue. The goal is no longer to triumph by weight, but to win by influence.”
At one agency where I worked, some of the team used to schedule a meeting so we could listen to this podcast together. We deemed it “professional development.” And it was.
Under the Influence was voted Best New Podcast by iTunes in 2011 but that’s not why you should listen to it. You should listen to it because it is truly an awesome show about marketing, pop culture, and human behaviour.
Agencies Drinking Beer I would be both remiss and undoubtedly placed on Santa’s naughty list if I didn’t mention Proposify’s own podcast on this list. And I do so willingly.
Inspired loosely by Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Agencies Drinking Beer is hosted by Kyle Racki and Kevin Springer, the co-founders of Proposify. They interview agency owners, marketing professionals, and entrepreneurs about all things related to the business of sales and marketing.
The guests are from around the world, the conversation is casual, irreverent, and informative, and the bonus is that guests are asked to join Kevin and Kyle in drinking a beer during the interview. Since we interview people in different time zones sometimes that means someone is cracking a cold one shortly after breakfast.
What I really like about this podcast is that the guests aren’t necessarily marketing moguls so big they’ve trademarked their own names. Our guests are passionate entrepreneurs in the throes of growing their businesses and are interested in sharing what they’ve learned along the way.
They’re like you and me, trying to make it work, driven by ambition, and focused on success.
More than once this podcast has inspired me with blog topic ideas, and more often than not, it’s made me laugh.
Think Big Picture
Most of the time you’re probably putting out fires, keeping things burning, and trying to ignite new business. All at the same time. It can be easy to be totally consumed by the day-to-day operations of keeping things between the ditches.
But if you really want your business and your team to grow, to evolve, you need to turn off the noise and get some good blue-sky thinking in.
Since the holidays are normally a slower time for your clients, you should be able to find the room to think, to dream, and to scheme.
Think about your vision for yourself, your career, your business, your team. Are you happy with the direction things are going in? What could make it better? What obstacles are in the way? How can you make things happen?
You don’t necessarily have to go to the top of the mountain and sit naked in the woods by yourself for three days to do this effectively. But try to find some alone time when you won't be interrupted. Go for a long walk, sit in a cafe, hide out in your basement. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE.
According to a survey, nearly one in five (19%) small business owners thought up their business idea while on holiday
So pull that thinking cap down over your ears, let your mind wander, and you might just come up with the next Twitter, Frozen sequel, or The Amazing Butter Stick.
Craft a New Year’s Message
Let’s face it. No matter how much you love your job, coming back to work in January kinda sucks.
January is my least favourite month of the year. It’s cold, it’s dark, everyone’s got these stupid resolutions like detoxing from all the holiday festivities so no one wants to have fun, and it can be hard to get back into the swing of things without Bailey’s in my coffee.
Now that you’ve done your big picture personal think-tank, imagine what you could say to your team when everyone reconvenes that would really get them excited for the new year.
Whether you have a meeting to kickstart the week or you deliver it by email, make sure the message is less of a scolding (“I expect everyone to be nose to the grindstone to meet our objectives!”) and more of an inspiration (“With the creativity, innovation, and dedication of everyone on this team, I’m excited about the certain success we’re going to see in the coming year.”)
Make it real, make it personal, and keep it positive.
No doubt about it, the holidays are hectic for most of us. So you might not be able to squeeze everything in but even if you pick one and really enjoy the hell out of it, your business and your mental health will benefit.
And if you just end up on the couch watching Netflix from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Eve, at least let us know what you’re watching.
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