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Illustration: Tiago Galo

Over the course of four sabbaticals from his own company, Kevin Higgins, the CEO of Fusion Learning, has discovered the best ways to take a break.

You can be in the business, handling the day-to-day, or on the business, thinking about strategy. Any leader is doing both. When you take time away, the energy spent in the business dramatically decreases and you come back better, stronger, faster and much more energized.

I took an 11-week sabbatical earlier this year, my fourth. My wife and I went to Vietnam and learned to kiteboard. Some people end up spending their sabbatical in recovery versus in discovery. If you haven’t done some planning, you can end up sitting on the couch or at the bar. You have to figure out what you need from your time off: Is it adventure? Rest and relaxation? Stimulation and learning? Or just some time to take care of yourself?

Most people with time off want to travel but tend not to plan it in advance because they think there’s plenty of time, and then they end up not really doing it. Our flights to Vietnam were booked one year ahead, and the house where we stayed was booked nine months in advance.

It’s important to agree on the rules of engagement at work while you’re gone. For instance, I tell the presidents of our two divisions is that if it’s in the budget, then they can do it; if not, I expect to be notified. Rules like that help them to know what they can and can’t do in my absence. Also, you need to define what level of communication you want from people and what level of communication they should expect from you. I’m fine with staying informed, but my intent is to respond as little as possible while I’m away.

When I come back, I do a 20-minute interview with every single employee of the company to find out what’s been going on since I’ve been away, both with them personally and in the business. It’s also a way to check on their engagement with fresh eyes. I just did that through the month of April, and I shared a summary of findings with our management team.

My original intent when I started the company was to sell it and retire around now. Instead, I’m working 60% of the time and finding a rhythm that works for me and the business. My sabbaticals have taught me that time off is amazing, but too much can be too much.

This article is from the August 2016 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!

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