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Getting Away February 6, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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As much as I love my job (and I really do love my job), it is good to get away from the day-to-day activity of the office and think big thoughts. I’m writing this in Reagan National Airport, waiting to fly home after just such a get-away.

In this case, I was attending a one-day seminar sponsored by the CIO Executive Board. They provide CIO-focused research and strategic advice, as well as opportunities to meet with other CIOs facing similar issues. Today, 15 of us met to talk about business engagement and fostering innovation. I know: pretty compelling stuff!

Subject matter aside, it is good to engage in these kinds of meetings. As one of the attendees put it, the sessions are part inspiration, part therapy. Executives at any level are often isolated from their peers; CIOs are no exception. Sometimes it is good to get together, share ideas, and commiserate. Isolated from the office and the constant pull of dozens of urgent issues, you get a chance to think at length about things and really put your thoughts in perspective.

While the topics at hand were interesting, my naturally short attention span allowed me to consider other topics throughout the day. Organizational issues, strategic planning, and technology challenges all seem clearer and easier to tackle after a day of reflection.

This kind of break is not uniquely suited to CIOs, of course, or even just C-level people. Everyone needs to get away every so often to consider the state of their world and how they plan to deal with their challenges. To do so in an environment with your peers, where you can bounce ideas around and see how others are doing things, makes it that much better. You come away feeling good about the things you are doing right, and with potential solutions to the things that you need to improve.

Unfortunately, we rarely schedule time for this kind of micro-sabbatical. Once I found myself working from home for a day while waiting for some repairman to show up. What a productive day! With laptop and cell phone at my side, I cleaned up all sorts of nagging issues, got ahead of a bunch of others, and came away feeling great. It made me wonder if we all should intentionally work in isolation once or twice a month just to boost our productivity.

All things considered, we should, and we should plan it well in advance to ensure that it will happen. There have been times in my career when I’ve had to block out time on my calendar just to work, ensuring that there would be no meetings to interrupt my time. Even now, I block out 8-9 AM every day just to start the day with time to get my world in order. I also set aside two hours every Thursday when I promise my team that I will be in my office, available for whatever they may need to discuss. These little oases of time make a big difference in maintaining my sanity and focus.

Time is precious, and focused time is invaluable. Intentionally setting aside time to focus and reflect is an important way to ensure that we stay effective and happy, no matter what we do for a living.

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