I was walking through the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose one day last week just before 6 pm, feeling a bit bleary after three consecutive weeks flying back and forth across the country to visit five different cities.
The question at hand was whether or not to attend a cocktail party being thrown by my corporate hosts. Then I spotted the spa. Impulsively, I walked in and asked if I might be able to book a massage. Minutes later, I was lying on a table, unbelievably happy to be there. When I walked out an hour later, I felt incredibly relaxed and rejuvenated.
It was a powerful reminder of a core principle we teach our clients: The greater the performance demand, the greater the need for intermittent renewal. It’s just common sense. If you’re spending down more energy than usual, you need to refuel yourself more than usual.
Of course, most of us do just the opposite. When we’re facing a tough deadline, or a difficult set of demands, the default behavior is to hunker down, push the envelope, stay the course, burn the midnight oil. The clichés abound because the practice is so common.
If you spend any time traveling for business, the overwhelming likelihood is you struggle with delays, get to sleep late in your new city, wake up early, and pack your days with as many meetings as possible. If you take any time at all to relax, it’s usually over dinner, and you’re likely to eat too much and drink too much (especially if someone else is pouring).
My massage last week reminded me how vastly much better I feel — and subsequently perform — when I take time on the road to truly renew. Here are my six key strategies:
1. Do whatever it takes to get enough sleep. There is no more critical form of renewal, period. Only one out of every 40 people requires less than seven hours of sleep to feel fully rested, so the odds are that person isn’t you.
When I travel, I calculate how many hours I’m going to be able to sleep when I arrive, and if it’s less than eight, I try to make up the difference on the plane. I always bring a mask and earplugs. If you struggle to fall asleep, try a non-narcotic sleeping aid, such as Melatonin. Even a prescription sleeping pill is fine occasionally.
2. Get at least 20 to 30 minutes of physical exercise in the morning, because if you don’t do it then, you won’t do it. (But don’t do it at the expense of sleep.)
You already know how healthy it is to exercise. It’s also an incredibly reliable mood-enhancer. Choose a hotel with a good fitness facility, unless you’re happy to exercise outside.
A walk is a reasonable option, but you’ll get more bang for your buck, and likely feel better if you do some sort of aerobic exercise. At the simplest level, that means raising your heart rate enough that you’re truly exerting yourself.
As a stopgap, bring a Dyna-Band, which you can learn to use in a few minutes and allows you to get a full-body workout in your room.
3. Never, ever take the key for the minibar. There’s nothing good in it, trust me. If the minibar doesn’t have a key, consider asking that it be removed from your room before you check in. So long as you have one available, you’re more likely to eat or drink something you don’t need.
4. Breathe between meetings. Obviously, you’re always breathing, but I’m talking about something more deliberate. Take at least one full minute to breathe in through your nose to a count of three, expanding your abdomen, and then out through your mouth to a count of six.
By extending your out breath, you get more renewal. It’s possible to clear your bloodstream of cortisol — the most insidious of the stress hormones — in less than a minute by breathing this way. It’s also a great way to clear your mind.
5. Call home. It’s incredibly important to stay connected with the people you love – for you, and for them. It’s also best to call when you’re feeling reasonably relaxed and unrushed, because it will go better, and that will make you feel better.
6. Don’t let airport delays get you down. They’re unpredictable and inevitable. Always leave the day before your meetings, and be sure you have at least one backup flight. Travel with plenty of stuff to keep you happily and productively occupied on the plane, and if you’re delayed.
I bring two or three books, so I have choices about what to read, depending on my mood. I also carry a journal, because I’ve found there is no better place to think reflectively, without interruption, than on a plane, or in a quiet corner in an airport. Quiet time alone is precious, so savor whatever you happen to get.
Reprinted from Harvard Business Review
Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony’s most recent book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance, was published in May 2010 and became an immediate The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Follow him on Twitter @TonySchwartz.