Enforced downtime

January 28, 2019

Kumar looked in bewilderment when he was told that he had damaged his knee ligament and needed surgery and rehabilitation, which could keep him off work for a few weeks. In his world of tight schedules and deadlines, could he afford to fall sick?

Most managers are driven by the myth that time is money and they need to be productive every minute. I would strongly advise them to read How to Live on 24-Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett. They must realize that the number of hours in a day is finite and besides the eight hours each they devote to work and sleep, they need to optimize the rest meaningfully—effective time management is crucial.

It is essential to realize that our body is not built to perform for a lifetime without downtime. ‘Can I work from home, doc?’ is an often-asked question. This is because it is not uncommon to see appraisers rewarding those who take less medical leave. This mindset has to change and genuine sick leave should be looked upon as a downtime opportunity to rejuvenate one’s thought process rather than as poor performance. Consider it as a blessing in disguise and do something completely different from the routine—read a book or simply catch up with family members.

When the face in the mirror resembles the photo embedded in your driving license, it is time to take a holiday. India tops the list as one of the most vacation-deprived countries in the world. Kumar’s previous annual vacation to Egypt was a tight schedule. After catching an early morning flight and arriving at the destination in the evening, there were enough events to engage him and the family. As a result, he was exhausted and by the last day, he wanted to return home. The typical annual holidays, which are meant for relaxation, are filled with even more tense schedules—to visit maximum tourist spots. It is better to approach tour operators who can help plan a balanced schedule, making it a relaxing vacation.

Sometimes, getting laid off gives one the opportunity to get out of the uncomfortable comfort zone where one is unhappy and barely successful. A change in career direction by following your passion and making a bigger contribution to society make a difference. You might also be much more successful and happier if you had stayed in your previous job.

Certain institutions have sabbatical courses as a part of their curriculum to encourage lateral thinking and infuse fresh ideas. If you are offered such a break, grab it. Steve Jobs toured the world for years, away from his routine work, and the knowledge and the experience he gained during the period helped him shape into a unique person, whose achievements we all are benefitting from.

History has shown that great men who had spent time in confinement for political reasons came back with even greater ideas and have been more successful. Being away from the usual routine is the best stress buster and helps one to come up with innovative ideas.

Eight hours of sleep each day is an essential and natural way of giving the human body the much-needed downtime. It helps us get ready for the next full day of work. Sleep deprivation and working overtime can be quite harmful to the body. Less than six hours of sleep can cause serious health issues. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality night-time sleep, a 20-minute nap can help mitigate tiredness and improve mood, alertness, and performance. Renowned leaders like Winston Churchill and John F Kennedy are known to have valued a midday nap.

Terminal illness is another instance where people suddenly realize they had not optimally used their downtime and that the supply of time is cruelly restricted. We must learn to invest time on ourselves, pursuing things we cherish, even as we burn the midnight oil. And yet, when I suggest to my patients that they exercise regularly for a few minutes in a day to keep fit both physically and mentally, they say there is no time.

So, this New Year, resolve to take a weekend break for a start, but with a caveat: No mobile phones, iPads, or any sort of digital device to accompany you. Just you and your dear ones—go ahead; give it a try. Maybe you will come out energized, stronger, and at peace with yourself.

* https://www.thehindu.com/education/careers/sabbaticals-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/article20640178.ece