Nick Freer comment: The fine art of balancing revenues and relaxation

The annual summer vacation is here, time to relax in a Mediterranean breeze and put the trials and tribulations of 21st century life behind me for a couple of weeks.

Having set my out of office& when I do check the inbox my pulse level rises rapidly, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

But wait a minute, getting up at 4am, struggling through the airport for a delayed flight, then picking up a hire car in the searing heat dazed and confused suddenly doesn’t seem like a passport to a holiday chillout.

Fast-forward a couple of days and things are settling down towards something approaching relaxation.

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We’ve found a nice beach nearby, the pool in the complex is pretty decent, and in spite of being at the extreme end of the dermatological disadvantage spectrum on the pigment front, I’ve managed to escape serious sunburn so far.

Having set my out of office with what I thought was a fairly robust instruction that I was most definitely planning to get away from things for a while, when I do check the inbox my pulse level rises rapidly when I see that more than one client has been in touch to request some action or another.

I reflect on what a friend Gib Bulloch said to me recently: “Too many of us in the corporate world are operating in a state of semi-distraction, always online, acting, reacting 24/7. We’re so focused on what we’re doing that we seldom stop to think about where we’re going.”

Bulloch’s recently published book, The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a Corporate Insurgent, charts his experience of burnout, while a more recent post-publication chapter in his life has seen the former Accenture social entrepreneur invest in a derelict farm on the Isle of Bute with plans to renovate the site into a “business decelerator” for executives in search of a greater meaning outside the daily grind.

Zoi Kantounatou, the FutureX co-founder who is helping to organise an entrepreneurs’ retreat to Nepal later this year, following October’s annual Startup Summit in Edinburgh agrees: “Unwinding is such an important part of the journey as it helps you to stay focused and find the energy you need to run the business.”

Creative brand agency founder Andrew Dobbie of MadeBrave, who recently announced one of its largest-ever contracts and its first acquisition, says: “When you run a business, especially a fast-paced one, it can be easy to get carried away with work and forget to keep the balance right with family time and looking after yourself. After the first couple of years running my business I was feeling stressed with the balance being too focused on work so I made a rule that I wouldn’t answer work calls or read emails after I got home or at the weekends.

“Once I did this, I found other people’s habits started to change around me.”

Liza Sutherland, a former start-up founder who now works at the University of Edinburgh helping to support promising early stage spin-out companies, says: “Many of the start-up founders I know only take time away from work when they are close to burnout, when this kind of time should really be taken to reconnect with oneself and the people around us. As founders continuously strive to innovate and make the world a better place, you could argue that finding headspace and achieving enlightenment of the mind is the most important thing.”

In the Art of Travel, modern-day philosopher and author Alain de Botton is excited by the prospect of going on holiday to Barbados until the reality sets in that he will have to take his complicated self to an otherwise alluring Caribbean destination.

For the moment, I seem to have found some equilibrium of my own – if only fleeting. The kids are in bed, and out on the veranda I can see the distant Atlas Mountains in Morocco fade in the dying sun. I pour a glass of Ribero del Duero and settle down to a bit of Miles Davis masterpiece the Sketches of Spain… breathe in, breathe out.

Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners