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Out of office - The challenge of switching off

Paul Surtees Sep 18, 2017

I recently travelled to Greece to celebrate my brothers wedding (Congrats Stephen & Hannah). This time was different. For the first time in three years, I was determined to shut down, unplug, close the lid and leave my laptop at home, for a few days at least.

We are all told by friends, family, newspapers and self-appointed wellness gurus that it’s essential to switch off from time to time. This mantra is so pervasive that it sustains a multi trillion dollar hospitality industry, complete with hotels, airlines, travel insurance, car hire, the works. But taking a break can be difficult when you’re running a business, with everything that entails - day to day operations, managing people, paying suppliers, managing cashflow, strategising, putting out fires. The works.

Which brings me to seat 17F. The four hour sprint to Greece and four hours back again seemed distinctly more palatable without being squashed into a plane seat with a laptop to content with. Sometimes it’s good to travel light. I was on my own - no wife, no children, no laptop, just me, thousands of miles and bags of time to think, reflect and perhaps even zone out.

Except, I found it impossible to switch off. Having replaced my elegantly assembled configuration of computer hardware with a Moleskine (which seemed like a strangely old fashioned, even romantic notion), I found myself still firmly in work mode. I figured that since much of my work at Capitalise is done via email, instant messaging, spreadsheets and product management software, work would be impossible without being connected to the Internet. I was wrong. In fact, the humble pen and paper forced me to confront a different type of work, one I had sacrificed in order to deal with the daily rigours of running a fin-tech startup.

Rather than working in the business, I set to work on the business. I went top down and thought about our product, our suppliers, partners, investors, our staff, our meetings, the hours we work, our operations and finance process, how we are doing marketing, our content, commission, our regulated processing, why even as a small team, communication is still too siloed… The list goes on. I cross-linked problems and opportunities and made a lot of notes that I am now slowly actioning. It felt good.

Perhaps I should have just switched off my mind, along with my laptop and my mobile. I probably could do with a proper break, and this was another holiday where I have worked. But it was cathartic to get the chance to properly reflect on the business and jot down every issue that’s been swirling around in my head. I need to get better at switching off. We all do. Maybe next time I fly I’ll leave my notebook at home as well as my laptop. But I’m sure I’d simply end up asking the cabin crew for a pen and paper! Such is life.

Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to switching off from work. For some people, leaving their work at home can actually create stress by hindering their ability to efficiently manage their responsibilities on the road. For others, a proper detox provides the mental and physical rest they need to recharge and come back stronger, more focused, more productive. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle.

Many business owners, myself included, find it hard to compartmentalise work and play, seeing a false distinction between the two modes of experience. Let’s be honest, the majority of founders, directors and decision makers see work as play. They don’t work to pay the bills, they work because they get a kick out of creating solutions to people's problems and turning a profit in the process.

I would like to get better at switching off, for the benefit of myself, my family and my colleagues. I guess there’s always next year...

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