Refresh, Renew, Re-cycle

This past week marked the tenth rendition of my annual bike trek across the state of Iowa as provided by the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).  Each of these journeys have given opportunity to enjoy the heartland of America up close through farm fields, grain elevators, small towns, and the people of this surprisingly diverse region.  The ride, which some might describe as "summer camp for adults," also provides "decompression" time, a chance to interact with fellow cyclists, have contemplative time alone, and visit somewhat obscure and out of the way landmarks.  Most importantly while I always find myself returning home physically exhausted and sun baked, mentally there is somewhat of a recharge, refocus, rejuvenation.

The mind-body connection is remarkable.  If you are like me, I can recall days where I would sit at the desk for prolonged periods dumbfounded for the right words for a report or an appropriate solution or recommendation to a labor relations challenge.  Often times it was as simple as a walk outside, a visit to the gym, or something as ordinary as a visit with a colleague to dislodge the mental block.  A few years back a 30 minute run on the treadmill helped facilitate an answer for constructing an employer/employee premium structure for a $25MM health care plan.

The point is we all need time away, sometimes for a moment and other times for a day here or a week there.  A CNN report earlier this year found that most U.S employees don't use all of their vacation days, and those who do take a break are increasingly likely to work while doing so.  "Only 23% of workers surveyed said they used all of their paid time off in the last 12 months.  The average U.S. worker leaves almost half of his or her vacation days on the table.  Those who do manage to get away remain plugged in."


"We are seeing a push and pull situation when it comes to employees taking vacation and paid time off, in which people attempt to step away from the office for a break from work, but technology is keeping them connected with the simple swipe of a finger," said Carmel Galvin, Glassdoor Chief Human Resources Officer."

Employees also worry that stepping away will make them look dispensable, a valid concern in this age of downsizing and job instability.

For sure there are times when much devotion is required on a major project for periods at a time.  Yet, the 70 hour workweek is unsustainable for greater than a finite period; beyond more than a few weeks health, relationships, and I would argue productivity will suffer.  Especially in assignments that require accounting and fiscal transactions if it is not required, it should be, that leave time for key personnel be mandated from a financial control and audit perspective.

John Roa, Chicago-based serial entrepreneur and founder of AKTA, a digital engagement consultancy, estimates he travels around 190 days per year either for business or pleasure, and says some of his most important business ideas have come to him while sledding down an active volcano in Nicaragua or watching the sunset over the Sahara.

"When you travel--especially to developing nations or off-the-beaten track locations--you appreciate how different life is in other areas so when you come back to your normal life you can look at it with a fresh perspective that you wouldn't have if you were stuck in your office all day," says Roa.

Roa uses his holidays to renew his energy and focus.  He describes his working life like a glass that fills up slowly with perpetually dripping water--daily stresses, decisions, and pressures of work.  When the glass starts to fill, Roa's thinking becomes clouded and productivity declines.

Travel, for Roa is akin to dumping the water out of the glass.  "I come back completely re-energized. I'm ready for new challenges," he says.

As the days of summer begin to wind down the challenge to each of us is to make a healthy habit to get away from our norm, if not for a week, then maybe a day or two or a few hours.  If finances are tight there may be an inexpensive attraction just down the street--a ballgame, a museum perhaps.  Some of you will be in the path of a solar eclipse in less than three weeks.  It could even be time to pump up the tires, lube the chain, and take the bike out for a spin.

The Seed Sower at the Mississippi River after pedaling 455 miles across Iowa.  


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