Rest and Recovery Strategies for Busy Leaders

We all know the cliche of the always-on executive: rising before dawn, racing between meetings all day and flipping through financial reports late into the night. If you spend all your time working, sooner or later your mental and physical performance are going to suffer.

As we touched on previously, rest and recovery play an important role in allowing leaders to perform at their highest level on a sustained basis. This can take many forms, from regular exercise
and family holidays to short mental breathers or simply sitting on the couch watching TV.

What you do to rest and recover is much less important than finding an approach that works for you and a way to integrate it into your routine. Here are
a few strategies that can help you make rest and recovery a regular feature in your busy life.

Make a plan

High-flying executives typically have a never-ending to-do list, so if you don’t plan for rest and recovery, there’s a good chance it won’t happen. In
other words, you need to actively make time to unwind.

One way to do this is by applying periodization – a training strategy used by athletes – to plan your time in blocks with different
objectives and levels of intensity. To use this approach, try dividing your day into 30- or 60-minute blocks. Depending on the nature of your role,
you might assign a few blocks in the morning for meetings and status updates with your team, a block or two for administrative duties, and so on.

With this approach, you can build protected time into your schedule for rest and recovery. For instance, you might block off 30 minutes of distraction-free
time (no taking calls, no checking emails!) in the early afternoon during which you go outside for a walk and gather your thoughts.

Since your brain will likely be tackling work problems subconsciously in the background, this is not ‘wasted’ time. On the contrary, this time will
likely give you the energy boost and mental clarity you need to have a more productive afternoon.

Involve the team

Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your own. If you’re struggling to incorporate rest and recovery into your life,
get your team to help.

For example, if you apply a periodization approach to your daily schedule, don’t keep this to yourself. Instead, share this info with your team so
that they understand how your day is structured and can help you plan with this in mind.

If you have young children, you might make it a priority to be home in time for dinner with them on weeknights, after which you work another hour or
two in your home office. This mealtime with your family is an important recovery period for you, and making your team aware of this will ensure
they don’t disrupt it for anything short of an emergency.


Smartphones and laptops are valuable tools when you’re running an organisation and trying to keep up with many people and events, often across different geographies and time zones. But the endless notifications can also cause your attentional intelligence to suffer and make it difficult to ‘switch off’ work.

Giving up your smartphone or laptop probably isn’t realistic, but what you can do is unplug. How and how long depends on your responsibilities and personal preference – the key is to give yourself a break so your body and mind can recharge.

What might this look like? It could mean ensuring your phone and computer are off (or at least on silent) during mealtimes. It could mean setting yourself a rule of no emails and messages after 9pm. Or it could mean committing to a day- or weekend-long digital detox once per month.

Say ‘no’

No one can do everything, and anyone who tries to do so is setting themselves up for failure. You know that rest and recovery are important, so from time to time you have to learn to say ‘no’.

That invitation to speak at a conference next month? Why not send a VP, or just politely decline? That partner meeting in New York? Why not suggest a video conference? That offer to sit on the board of a charity? Why not tell them you’d be happy to consider taking on the position in a year or two?

Sometimes, saying ‘no’ means turning down things that you really would like to do. But given the importance of rest and recovery, this is at times a necessary sacrifice.

Take a break to improve your leadership

As a leader, your team and organisation depend on you to lead by example. This means performing at the top of your game through good times and bad.

The strategies outlined above will keep you mentally and physically resilient by integrating rest and recovery into your busy routine. A well-rested leader will be a more effective leader over the long term, so go ahead and take the weekend off!

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