Give it a Rest!

Jan 03, 2011 1 Comment by

Coming back to work after the long holiday break this morning was rough.  My vacation had been just long enough to fully unwind from what had been several months of non-stop work – but now I was ready to jump back into a challenging project.  So I set my alarm to wake up a bit early and give myself a few extra minutes to re-learn my daily routine.

During my commute, I thought about one of the more fun things that I had done in the garden this past weekend. Like the holiday vacation itself, this was an activity which I take on each year and it reminded me of how important it is for project team members to take a good long break from work every once in a while to recharge their batteries and keep things in perspective…

These are Hippeastrum flowers. These plants are also known as Amaryllis and they come in many varieties, sizes and colors.

Here are some of the Hippeastrum/Amaryllis flowers from my garden.  I took this picture a while back during the peak of the Spring flowering season. Each bloom is 6-9 inches across, and each plant has 4-6 blooms, so the full effect of the blooming cycle can be quite impressive.

The name Hippeastrum may not ring a bell if you’re not into gardening, but the blossoms are instantly recognizable as one of the most beautiful flowers of Spring. They are relatively easy to grow and they can flourish in most climates as long as they are not allowed to freeze. With minimal effort, the grower is rewarded with huge colorful blooms.

What do flowers have to do with work? Another interesting thing I’ve learned about this plant is the concept of “resting” a flower bulb. It turns out this variety will bloom best if you pull it out of the ground each year and let it rest for a few weeks or even a few months. I’ve found that sometimes people are also like that.  From time to time, it helps to step back, pull away from the hustle and the hassle of work and re-focus. Over my recent vacation I spent several days totally disengaged from work to the point that I actually saw some of my more perplexing challenges in a fresh, new way.  By pulling back for a while, I was able to think more clearly and consider some innovative alternatives that were harder to notice in the heat of the day-to-day battle.

So Chill: The Amaryllis also appreciates being put in a cool place when it’s out of the ground. My Mom actually stores her bulbs in the refrigerator as part of a process called “setting the bloom”.  This chilling time convinces the bulb that it has gone through a sort of winter season. If you simply replant the bulb when the soil starts to warm up in the early Spring, it will grow rapidly and flower within 7-8 weeks, then provide several months of lavish green foliage as it replenishes its bulb.

The bottom of a cool, dry fridge could not be more different than the warm, moist soil of my garden. That shocking difference is the key to getting big results during the next growing cycle, just as taking a real break from your work is the key to truly re-energizing.

I snapped this sunset picture when we took a ferry to Key West a couple years ago… Now that’s what I call “getting away from it all”…

So when you take a break from your project, I’d encourage you to really get away.  Unplug from email, voice mail and action items – even if it’s just for a few days.  The shock to your system will be truly refreshing.

Of Course There is a Price: Digging things up does disrupt the growth process and it kills the existing foliage. But have faith, all that stuff will grow back – just as sure as your office and all of your work will still be there when you return from each hiatus.

But They Need Me! I grew up in Minnesota where digging up bulbs in the Fall and replanting them in the Spring is a natural thing to do because the soil freezes. But where I live in Central Florida, it’s tempting to leave these plants in the ground year round. There is a downside to leaving them buried though. Each growth cycle produces slightly smaller blooms and the number of flowers on each stalk can be a bit less prolific each time. Some project teams are like that too. They treat every situation as if it’s equally critical to the company’s survival, when in fact they are not. As long as there’s work to do, it seems easiest to declare everyone to be “mission critical” and wear them down until they burn out.  Individual team members “bloom” a bit less frequently and work with a bit less passion each time they are asked to “suck it up”.  It doesn’t take much analysis to see that people perform better over time if they are allowed to escape the grind and clear their heads occasionally.

Ramping Back Up: While it’s never easy to get out of bed that first day back after a long vacation, the rejuvenation makes it worthwhile. It typically takes an Amaryllis 6-8 weeks to grow back its foliage, but after replanting the same set of bulbs the last 6 or 7 years, I can tell you, it always comes back. And the flowering results keep improving.

The hardy blooms of an Amaryllis make great subjects for a zoom macro lens…

Unexpected Benefits: I have also learned that Amaryllis bulbs tend to multiply when I follow this rest – grow – rest – grow process.  The six bulbs I started with a few years ago have now become over 30 and that number increases each year.  The same unexpected benefit can happen with project team members.  Productivity tends to be higher among well-rested workers and forcing folks to cover for each other from time to time builds a wealth of knowledge transfer.

Summary: I’ve learned that people, like the  Amaryllis bulb, need a good long break every once in a while in order to live up to their peak potential. So don’t be afraid to dig up your garden each year and don’t be afraid to convince your best team members to make the most of their well-deserved vacation time – you’ll all be better for it.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. Do you (or your team members) respond better to a series of short breaks spread over time or a less-frequent, long break?
  2. What other cycles of nature apply to teams and people?

Change Agent Skills, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “Give it a Rest!”

  1. Tweets that mention Give it a Rest! | theBigRocks of Change -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by chihos, chihos. chihos said: #business #2011 Read my fresh post this morning about the lessons I learned from my #garden over the break: […]

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