Serious Advice to Executives About Chilling Out

Many highly-geared leaders, executives and professionals desperately need some ‘chill’ time.  I have learned that my once a week ‘chill’ time does me a world of good in keeping my productivity up and keeping me sane.
Stephen Bell Delivering Thai Survey results

Did you work last night or the night before? Did you arrive early, a few times last week, to prepare for a couple of long days? Were you on the phone until all hours, sorting some extraordinary issue or talking to that colleague in a different time zone? Maybe you woke up at 3am, worrying about something unfinished, or you turned away from a moment of intimacy because it just felt too difficult. Perhaps you yelled at a family member, or got overly impatient with an employee, because a situation at work is frustrating ‘the crap’ out of you. You might even have missed those numbers or failed to finish that ‘damn’ project on time – again – and awoke with tears in your eyes? I’m serious – perhaps you woke with tears in your eyes, with a feeling you that you are trapped under a black cloud, wondering how on earth you can face the day ahead. You are working hard and feeling a bit anxious. Perhaps you are feeling very anxious. Perhaps, like over 20 percent of all Australians this year, you are facing a mental health challenge.

October is a month where we are supposed stop and think about mental health. Right now, I want you to think about your own mental well-being for just a few more paragraphs. (Then you can get back to work.)

Many organisational leaders are doing it harder right now. The money is not there to carry a bit of extra fat and the exaggerated performances associated with boom times are clearly on the way out. Somehow, expectations aren’t declining quite as rapidly, which leads to extreme pressure being placed on many leaders and executives. On the other hand, some of you are employed in environments that are doing just fine, but work excessive hours either because you enjoy it or because a 12-to-16 /six-to-seven commitment (12 to 16 hours, six to seven days per week, with at least a partial glance on your work activities) is what’s expected because the pay is so good.

Over time, this type of constant pressure can make you anxious. Very anxious, sometimes to the point of causing life changing mental health-related episodes. You are a human being. You do have limitations. Our minds are a bit like a flexible stick – different people, different tolerances. Your genetics, prior experience or even your time of life can determine how far you can be bent until … snap. To limit this potential to snap and maintain flexibility, we need to do something and I have one, unscientific, idea.

I want to issue a daring challenge, particularly to that segment of executives, CEOs, business owners and professionals that spend more than 60 hours a week with at least one eye (half of your focus) on the job. I didn’t say 60 hours at work! I want you to pick a three-hour segment within your normal working week. It could be 11am to 2pm on a Wednesday, for example. Now I want you to think about something that makes you feel completely calm. It could be sitting in the gardens, taking a leisurely drive while listening to Andrea Bocelli, a yoga session, a massage, playing piano or maybe a game of FIFA on the PlayStation. Think of something that is your own form of ‘chilling out’. Do it once a week, within that three-hour time frame, for a month. Block the time out now. I want you to do it during your traditional work hours, so that you realise ‘chilling out’ is a professional skill. And with the greatest of respect, I’m not referring to a few relaxing hours with the kids, family or mates. This is YOUR time for YOU.

I hear many of you asking me, ‘How will I justify my time away to the board or my executive team?’ Perhaps on the following basis. You are already putting in at least 57 other hours into the organisation each week – this will enable you to lift your productivity for the next week and care for your own health. And, quite frankly, if the organisation can’t function without you for a few hours, well … it’s time it did. You are a senior person. You need to be able to delegate and you need time to recharge.

In my experience, many so-called ‘high achievers’ become less effective at work and home because they don’t take the concept of ‘chilling out’ seriously. They think that they are letting others down by not taking time out for themselves. Instead, they are letting themselves down. For a lot of high achievers, not learning to ‘chill out’ is unproductive, while for others it is simply dangerous. Putting work into perspective, and your mental wellbeing as the priority, is essential. If you feel you’re hindering your career and not getting ahead by having some ‘chill out’ time, you are mistaken. Most professional growth at iHR Australia and World Learning Hub has occurred when I have been relaxed and on top of my game, not when I have been anxious.

So this month, do yourself a favour and make ‘chilling out’ part of your working week. It’ll be worth your while.

Please note, if you are consistently feeling the blues, experiencing those dark clouds or feelings that make you uncomfortable, it’s time to seek support. The world needs your talent. Contact your organisation’s EAP service, your GP, a trusted psychological professional or, for crisis management and support in Australia, Lifeline 13 11 14.


  1. Sage advice. How much more clearly do we see the business after a break. In the middle of the forest we lose perspective the overall landscape!


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