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The lost art of relaxation

Travelling in to work after a relaxing three-day Bank Holiday weekend, I smiled as I opened The Times and saw the headline ‘How the cult of being busy has ruined our weekends’. It seems that we are all so busy with a blurred work and home life that we are scheduling far too much into Saturday and Sunday and have lost the art of having a relaxed weekend. 

factory sunset

The knock on effect can be hugely negative on the rest of our lives. It was a scenario I recognised instantly:  as part of a dual career couple with two young boys the normal two-day weekend can be a chaotic whirl. Trying to find a ‘free’ weekend in advance is virtually impossible; the feeling on a Sunday night of “where did that go?” is all too familiar. We are often far too tired on a Monday to really be our best selves in the working week and the UK’s poor record on productivity backs this up.    


In her book The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Two Days Off, Katrina Onstad details the problems we face as the world of work continues to change. We are always on 24/7; we place huge social value on the cult of busyness as it makes us look needed and powerful.


It is an endless cycle and we are too tired to engage in any meaningful activity that genuinely helps us relax.  Instead we fill the time with more shopping and bingeing on Netflix and box sets. It’s a short term fix that stores up problems for later.


Onstad recommends making the time to connect face-to-face with your friends in a relaxed setting, as even weekend lunches and dinners can be highly organised and socially competitive. Take up a hobby that tends your identity beyond your work self; this mastery can become a key part of your emotional wellbeing and happiness. Try some team sports or physical play instead of rigid ‘working out’ in the gym. Get outside in the fresh air. And when you do need to work then give yourself a specific time limit to do it in. In short, seek separation: make the weekend a state of mind that is radically different to your working week.


When I think about this challenge and about the skills of seasoned interim managers it led me to wonder if they might be better at having relaxing weekends than the rest of us. 


The key premise of an interim manager is that they land in an assignment, quickly define what needs to be done to put out the fire, pull together a plan and a team of people, execute the plan and quickly facilitate the return to a steady state. Work becomes a project with a defined start and end point and an outcome to be achieved. A successful assignment can engender a sense of achievement and closure that permanent employees frequently miss. It’s a very specific skill set. 


Imagine if we all approached each working week with the mindset of an interim manager: where are we at on Monday? Where do we need to be by Friday? What will we do to get there? Plan. Execute.  Complete. Switch off. We could then enjoy a genuinely rewarding and restful weekend before starting again on Monday, refreshed and raring to go.


It is a Utopian ideal and I am going to give it a try. Ask me next Monday how it went. But with TV shows as good as Line of Duty to catch up on please don’t ask me to give up the box sets quite yet!


I would love to hear your thoughts (and experiences), please share and comment below.


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