Why You Need to Take Timeouts to Be Successful, and How to Plan Yours

Picture of Ken Larson

Ken Larson

Name a sport that doesn’t have some sort of timeout built into it’s rules. You can’t, can you?

That’s because it’s a critical component of all sports. Timeouts have long been recognized as an essential part of the overall framework for success, for both the team and the fans. Hell, even NASCAR racers need to gas up, and golfers need a break to go to the latrine.

As a basketball player, it was during those brief timeouts where we received critical points from our coach to help refocus our efforts and play our best.

As a college-level basketball coach, I remember even better the “on the fly” strategic thinking that went into the conditions and timing of calling a timeout. Not too early. Not too late.

Without these brief moments to pause, recalibrate, and adjust before getting back in the game, present day sports would not be what they are today. Games would get out of control, players would become exhausted, and performance would deteriorate to levels that no one would want to play, never mind watch.

My Personal Experience with a (Forced) Timeout

About six weeks ago, I was in Southern California to drive my daughter Nikki, her dog Kirby, and her truck and camper back to Calgary. She had a three-month stint in the equestrian business. At 5:30 am, I was leaving the local Motel 6 I had been warned not to stay at (which was surrounded by a barbed wire fence). Though it was in a shady location, I thought, “I’m 6’8” and 245 lbs … I can handle myself!”

As I was descending the outdoor stairway — arms so full of luggage I couldn’t see my feet, plus Kirby on a leash — I got to what I believed to be was the bottom step and decided to hop down. Oops! I learned I had two steps to go.

Something happened in my knees and I go down hard.  On my back, legs bent, and unable to get up, I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs for help. The first guy who came to my aid quickly realizes I can’t stand. He took my wallet and bolted. Nice …

Long story short: I get assessed at the local hospital (and get my wallet back sans the U.S. cash that was in it). I flew back to Calgary that afternoon and prepared to receive bilateral knee surgery the next day.

Thus, my deep timeout began. And it has proven to be nothing less than a gift.

The Universe (or however you want to see it) and my body have been trying to get my attention for some time. I was working too long and too hard, thinking my life was balanced in most areas. I wasn’t listening, so the Universe provided me with a gentle smackdown.

But now I’m seeing daily the myriad of benefits a deep timeout provides. Because I simply can’t work like I used to, I’m forced to do other things — things I’m not used to nor seek out very often. So, I guess I’m saying, “Thank you Universe!”

How to Plan Your Own Deep Timeout (Before the Universe Makes You)

Having worked for several years with many levels of leaders, I’m always curious to hear of their own respective strategies to take time off, rest, recover, rejuvenate — take a time out!

By “enough” I mean a depth that relatively matches the level of intensity of your normal work week. High performers require high performance timeouts (HPTs).

Just like high performance teams, strategies, meetings, and overall business performance require careful planning, so do HPTs. They need to have a purpose, a set of desired outcomes, and careful planning to deliver the outcomes.

Think about it: If your goal for a deep vacation, a HPT, is to totally detach from your business role and life, how might you design it? What I suggest will make most business leaders cringe, but hear me out:

A clipboard showing 13 ways to plan a deep timeout from work
A clipboard showing 13 ways to plan a deep timeout from work

Following these guidelines will certainly help you take a true deep vacation. But don’t take these guidelines lightly. When I say to leave your phone at home I mean, at a bare minimum, turn it off upon arrival and lock it away in a safe or something once you’ve reached your destination.

By “take NO work” I mean do not take work in any shape or form. No computer. No files. No reports. No notes. No business books. Nothing. Nada. Ziltch.

Active rest means to make plans to do things you have never done before.

Having worked for several years with many levels of leaders, I’m always curious to hear of their own respective strategies to take time off, rest, recover, rejuvenate — take a time out!

When I mention these guidelines in my workshops, the room has a mixture of responses ranging from nervous laughter with a “Yeah right! Are you serious?”, contrasted by complete silence, wishing in an odd way they could really be strong enough to do it.

What If You Had No Choice?

What if, like me, you were forced to take a time out from your busy life for 10-12 weeks? Forced to rearrange your schedule completely? To say no (or not now) to work?

What would you do?

This has been, and still is, a hard lesson for me. I’m either in bed (like I am right now) writing my book, or reading, or napping, or I’m on my walker shuffling around the ward of the rehab centre. Otherwise, I’m in physiotherapy, or sitting down in the mess hall for something that might resemble a meal. And other than some amazing visits from my family, colleagues and clients … that’s it!

The simple truth is this: The intensity of the required depth of my HPT has yet to be reached and/or sustained.

So, I’ve decided to shut off my phone, as well as my computer, for at least two days a week and focus on the things I listed above. I will just be on these days. Wow, even typing that does indeed cause a little nervousness, I must admit.

Then I remind myself, it’s a conscious choice that simply must be made. If you want need the depth of rest that your mind, body, and spirit require, you have to eliminate the option of opting out. Then, all that’s left is — I WILL DO THIS!

The Takeaway

If you want to be your best self on the job, you need to get used to being your best self off the job.

Ask yourself:

  • How has this article made you feel about the nature, quality, and results of your timeouts, if you even have any?
  • What might be the key components of your High-Performance Timeouts?
  • Could NOW be a good time to plan your next HPT?

Send me your answers, and let me know how I can hold you accountable!

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