Listen to this article
It is not always easy to switch off when we go on holiday, so we asked business leaders, FT columnists and other experts to offer their insights into how they use the summer break to recharge mind and body.
Jacob de Geer, chief executive and co-founder, iZettle
As Swedish winters are longer and darker than most, many Swedes are experts at making the most of the few sunny weeks. Sweden, a country otherwise known for its work ethic and high productivity, completely shuts down during July — which can be annoying for international business partners.
The capital is emptied of people who flee to the countryside to swim in the still-freezing water, enjoy almost 24 hours of daylight and potter around their summer cabins. That is where you will find me this summer, playing with my kids and doing my best to avoid anything digital.
I often get asked how Sweden, a country with 10m people, is ranked as one of the most innovative nations on earth and breeds success after success — Spotify, Skype, Mojang, King, iZettle . . . the list of Swedish tech greats is long. It is an annual digital detox far away from computer screens and city noise. It might very well be the next big Swedish export.
Summer read: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling
Sarah Jones Simmer, chief operating officer, Bumble
This is a practice I am still refining. But I recognise the creativity boost that comes from real refreshment, so I am implementing a couple of small tactics:
Schedule time to check in: I am much better if I can check in every morning for 30 minutes versus trying to totally shut down. I know I have a dedicated window coming and that makes it easier to unplug at other times.
Turn off as many phone alerts as possible: I never feel great being too far from my phone in case of emergencies, so I need to come up with other ways to make sure my phone is not a distraction.
Stay active: If I am laying on a beach, I am tempted to check my phone. We planned our summer trip this year for Iceland as I am more likely to unplug climbing glaciers or diving in an arctic fissure when my brain and my body are focused on things other than work.
Block out half a day dedicated to catching up when I return: This lets me ride the vacation wave through to the end, rather than slamming right into a full day of meetings.
Summer read: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Dan Cable, professor of organisational behaviour, London Business School and author of Alive at Work
I try to shut off by staying switched on in “non-work” areas. I want to stay curious and enthusiastic and not become lethargic. So each day I usually include some little learning adventure. It might be a hike on a new trail, or a trip to a museum.
I try to keep the learning part of my brain working on some local interest that I can immerse myself in. So a practical tip is to take advantage of your natural curiosity by exploring and trying out new things on holiday, whether cultural, creative, sporting or other. This can help recharge your energy — and give some great memories.
I get a lot of energy and peace of mind from exercise. On holiday I try to move my exercise right into a main part of the day, rather than it be something that I squeeze in (like I do when I am working). I try to slot a nice generous hour and a half to savour and enjoy the exercise and stretch afterwards.
Summer read: Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky
Brooke Masters, FT’s comment and analysis editor
I am a bit of a smartphone addict — well more than a bit, if you ask my teenagers — so it always takes me a while to disengage when we go on holiday. I try to bring one addictive novel that I have been waiting to read. Then early in the holiday, I plunge right in and read hundreds of pages at a sitting until I am done.
It makes me antisocial at the very beginning but helps break the cycle of checking my phone, and I am a quick reader so it does not last long. I also find it much easier the farther away I go, both in terms of time zones and environment. Perhaps the most relaxing holiday each year comes when we go to my husband’s family lake cabin in Minnesota.
For many years, we had no cell phone reception at all, and even now we are six hours behind. By the time I wake up, most of the important decisions at work have already been made, and the flow of emails trails off quite quickly.
Days are spent on the dock and in the water, making it essential to leave the phone behind. Camping and hiking have the same effect: the more I immerse myself in nature, the less work intrudes.
Summer read: Grant by Ron Chernow, a biography of Ulysses S Grant, the 18th president of the US
Oded Ran, chief executive, TouchNote
Switching off is a never-ending struggle. Having two kids definitely helps. Running around after them on holiday is not only a nice way to get tired over the course of the day, it also means I rarely have a free hand to check the phone.
For anyone who finds switching off impossible, I would recommend going to places with poor WiFi and very expensive cellular coverage. This stopped me from using my phone on a recent family trip to St Lucia.
I typically have three or four books waiting to be read, so will always take one with me on holiday. That becomes the task I need to finish while I am away, which prevents me from turning my attention back to work.
We actually started hiking again a few years ago: it is pretty hard to concentrate on much else when you are walking in a beautiful place.
Summer book: Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip E Tetlock and Dan Gardner
Richard Boston, psychologist, coach and author of The Boss Factor
What you do with your precious time off makes a huge difference. Rather than simply sleeping and over-indulging, do enjoyable things. For me it is trail running, playing with my daughter and writing fiction.
Much of the discipline of leadership applies equally to holidays.
Be clear on the purpose of your time off — for me it is time for family and distance from work for mental and physical recovery. Clarity of purpose helps set boundaries for yourself and others. For example, I keep my phone in the hotel safe and try to check it only on Tuesday and Friday mornings while my family sleeps, so they rarely see me doing emails.
I tell people about holidays well in advance and ask that, if there is anything they know they will need before I am back, they tell me at least a week before I leave so I can make sure it is done.
This creates the capacity to take time off. You can add to this by ringfencing time on the days before and after your holiday to clear the decks. Few people do this, which is why stress levels peak just before and after their holidays.
Summer book: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
Emma Jacobs, FT columnist
My best strategy is poor WiFi, which I have managed to accidentally achieve on recent holidays in rural rented cottages. If broadband connections are good, however, I delete email and WhatsApp from my phone and use an app to block social media.
I used to dip into work emails on holiday, reasoning that I would not have a backlog to deal with when I returned to work. But in truth, I did it to feel important. In my forties, I have had enough reality checks to dispense with that idea.
I also bring stuff for the kids to do so that I can get stuck into a book as soon as possible. Immersing myself in a novel is the best way to switch off from work — doing one thing completely rather than spinning various things is a break.
Daytime drinking also helps. One glass of wine at lunchtime is enough to space me out.
Summer book: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Larry Gould, founder and executive chairman, The Big Word
My most relaxing leisure time is in my garden at my holiday home in the Hamptons where I love to busy myself with the begonias, petunias and geraniums.
On holiday, I tend to be a sightseer rather than a sun worshipper. Lying on a beach with no access to my phone can make me a little twitchy. Instead, my wife Michele and I like to travel to new places. We have many exciting adventures together, which helps me to relax.
Being an entrepreneur for the best part of 40 years, it can be difficult to truly leave the business behind on holiday. I try very hard not to be caught on the phone in front of my wife; sometimes I hide in the bathroom to make calls, but sometimes I do get caught when I am whispering to a colleague somewhere in the world. I should remember to send a text instead.
Summer book: M Train by Patti Smith
Richard Morris, chief executive, IWG
When I was younger, switching off was not something I was ever very good at. Since then I have found that keeping both my body and mind active on holiday is the key to relaxing. Fly fishing and mountain biking are both passions, if the location is right. But I also like the simple pleasure of being able to take the extra time to read a Sunday newspaper cover to cover.
My tip, especially for those of us who worry about coming back to a full inbox, is to allocate just a short period of time each day to check emails. Twenty minutes at the end of the day gives me enough time to feel on top of things, but it is important to be disciplined about it. Also, knowing I can be contactable in an emergency is reassuring.
Summer book: The Spider Network by David Enrich
Alex Rosenblat, technology ethnographer and author of Uberland: How Algorithms are Rewriting the Rules of Work
I leave non-essential electronics behind for a family vacation, replaced with notebooks and doodle pens. With a break from the day-to-day, I gain fresh perspective — and resolve. We meet friends and family at some of our favourite museums and sites in Canada, such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Manitoba Children’s Museum in Winnipeg and Mount Royal Park in Montreal.
We swim in lakes and read on beaches and always make sure to visit our favourite bookstores before vacation — our current one is Book Culture in New York City — so we have plenty of new books to bring along.
Setting an email alert that makes clear I am unavailable is the last thing I do at work before I sign off for a week or two. It helps me disengage mentally from my workplace. It takes a few days for me to transition into vacation mode, so I recommend taking a block of time off if you can, rather than a day here and there.
Summer book: Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy by Siva Vaidhyanathan
TJ Leonard, chief executive, Storyblocks
Everyone requires a different alchemy to recharge the batteries. Exactly what we need depends on a combination of family, team and timing. If you have been travelling nonstop and forced to miss major life events over the past six months, it is probably time to prioritise being present with your family.
While you should try to unplug completely, some get more from their time off with a few scheduled check-ins to ease any anxiety.
We get in trouble when we delude ourselves into thinking there is one “right” way to take a vacation. Even the best laid vacation plans will go off the rails when expectations have not been communicated in advance. For example, your family may want your full attention, but there might be one day when you need to take an hour to dial into an important conference call. Make sure they are aware that you need to do this. Your family and your team are very much alike — they do not want to be surprised, and it is harder for them to relax when you are a churning dark cloud of cortisol.
A couple of weeks before you clock out, take some time to think about what you, your family and your team need. Set up time to share your plan, and then block time in your calendar to remind everyone what is in and out of bounds while you are out of the office. It will only take you about an hour, and it will make a more pleasant vacation experience for both family and those back in the office.
Summer book: The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time, by Allen Gannett.
What are your tips for leaving the office behind when you take a break? Join the discussion in the comments below.