This is actually a view of creativity at work.

Leverage #SummerBrain for Inspiration

Sure, shut your brain down on vacation, but keep a pad of paper handy because your next big idea is probably lurking nearby.

If you’re wise and fortunate enough to grab some time away this summer, be serious about it. Get away from the digital distractions of everyday life. Be sure your email “out of office” notification is set, deputize a teammate to handle pressing questions, then focus on living in the moment with whomever you’re with. Then…be on the lookout for inspiration.

In my profession, I work directly with leaders, ranging from hospital and high tech CEOs to non-profit directors, and they’re some of the busiest people I know. They’ve ascended to leadership roles because they’ve proven capable of thinking at a high rate of speed as they process the challenges that come flying at them during pretty much every waking moment. Emails time-stamped at 3am are not unusual when we’re lobbing speech revisions back and forth.

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend: their biggest ideas (and our biggest opportunities to help them succeed) typically take shape when they’re on vacation. Whether they’re fly-fishing on the coast or snowboarding in the mountains, I know that forward-leaning leaders are most likely to return from summer or winter break with a bucket full of ideas and a short timeline for their delivery. (That’s why I make sure to be available when they get back to work.)

So, if you’re able to get a moment of peace this summer, here are a few pointers on how to welcome inspiration into your life and return to work refreshed & ready to dominate.

  1. ACTUALLY RELAX. Inspiration and the associated ideas you seek do not live near the surface. They’re not the sort of things that are easily accessed or captured. Instead, they typically lie buried under the layers of stress thinking, high emotion and fatigue that accumulate during working hours. (When you’re the boss, working hours are pretty much on a par with waking hours.) So get away, play with your kids, eat nice meals prepared by someone other than your partner (he or she is on vacation too…), attempt something that scares you a little (parasailing, climbing & horseback riding can shake things up a little), laugh at a dumb movie or revel in a community theater production of Grease. Don’t feel guilty about it — not only have you earned the break, the paradigm shift will make you a better leader.
  2. DON’T FORCE IT. Your job might require you to occasionally check work stuff (setting a daily 7am email check before the family is awake is one option…but that time is also great for fishing, meditating, idly reading…) but don’t think you have to book brainstorming time. Inspiration doesn’t care for structure. Instead, it likes to sneak up while you’re doing something else: chatting, napping, playing a mindless game of gin rummy or checkers. So keep your schedule open for inspiration to swing by when it’s ready.
  3. BE READY FOR IT. Inspiration doesn’t like to be chased, but it appreciates an enthusiastic welcome. So keep a small pad of paper & a writing instrument nearby to record ideas if/when they hit. Don’t use your phone or tablet or laptop for this because you’ll be too tempted to check your email or go down a Google-searching wormhole of curiosity and distraction. A pencil & paper will allow you to record words, sketch images, or even play some tic-tac-toe as you dawdle.
  4. BE GENTLE WITH IT. Don’t crush inspiration with too much detail. That comes later. Instead, record your inspirations then be willing to walk away for a bit. That time away from your idea might last an hour, it might last two days, but it’s ok. When you return to it, you’ll often find your idea has grown stronger or morphed into some even better because you gave it room to breathe.
  5. CAST A VISION. Take a moment to visualize what will happen if the idea, when implemented, is a home run. Allow yourself to fantasize a little about the positive impact it will have on your organization then write that down. Make THAT your goal, identify that as your VISION, because the inspiration’s real purpose was to alert you to that possibility. Then commit to making it a reality.
  6. TEST YOUR VISION (CAREFULLY). Remember that you’re the keeper of an idea and, like your own child, you want to expose it to the proper influences in the proper manner. So, don’t go to the Debbie Downer in your life for a soul-crushing discussion of tactics and why it won’t work. Instead, gather the optimists and enthusiasts on your team and START with the VISION before you move onto the tactical discussion.
  7. MAKE A COMMITMENT. Schedule simple tasks ranging from a) scheduling a creative planning meeting to z) pondering how to celebrate your win. Then, share with your team and get rolling.

While the daily life of a leader is filled with tactical decisions, those brief breaks provided by vacations not only provide vital time to reconnect with family, they also offer a view of life beyond the next quarter’s financials or the next skirmish with a competitor. So make your vacation a vacation and let your mind unwind (and celebrate your case of #summerbrain), but don’t shut down inspiration when it comes calling. Welcome it, cherish it then put it on track to transform your organization.