How 11 CEOs Unplug and Power Down

“It takes quite a bit of discipline to figure out how to throttle my level of connectedness at different points in time so I can be as effective as possible overall,” Avi Steinlauf, CEO of car-buying site Edmunds.com, told CEO Briefing. “But you have to disconnect from things in a deliberate fashion so you can stop and think in ways that, if it were just up to the world around you, you wouldn’t be able to stop and think that way.”

Among the ways CEOs can accomplish this is to close the office blinds and actually take a “power nap” like some famous achievers in history have done, including Churchill, Einstein and Brahms, advised Lynn Robinson, a business author, speaker and “intuition expert.” Or simply “change your location” by moving to an unused conference room or company cafeteria for a time.

“Create zones where you must not be disturbed unless there is a true emergency.”

In any event, the only way this works is if the chief trains his or her employees to respect their decision to go dark occasionally. “Create a culture where you will be fully present on whatever it is that is needed,” advised Jeff Kaye, CEO of Kaye Bassman International, “but you must also create zones where you must not be disturbed unless there is a true emergency.”

Here are how 11 CEOs are maintaining the balance.

Bob Boudreau, CEO, WinterWyman: When he drives from Boston to a family home in Maine, he disconnects as soon as he hits the “Maine, the way life should be” sign on the interstate. “That’s my cue to shut off my phone and not handle business until I hit the ‘Welcome to Massachusetts’ sign on the way back home.”

Melissa Brown, CEO, GIACT: As a Christian, she immerses herself in Bible study or a devotion, and prayer, each day. “This provides my ‘true north’ so that no matter what else is happening in life or at work, I know where I am pointed,” she said.

Michael DeFranco, CEO, Lua: He checks out of work responsibilities every Monday at 6 p.m. and Skypes with an expert “Hawaiian chanter” from the Big Island, who teaches him meditative chants and Hawaiian oral history.

Kevin Layton, Data-Dynamix: Twice a month, he places a three- to four-day “out of office” auto responder on his e-mail “even though I’m working the whole time. That small move was a game-changer for me,” Layton said. And twice a year, Layton and his wife leave the country for a vacation.

Young Lee, CEO, The Flame Broiler: Lee plays tennis for two hours a day, three days a week. And he is home every evening for dinner with his family, enforcing a no-work interim. That’s especially difficult because his son, Daniel Lee, who lives at home, is the company’s assistant director of marketing.

Linda Losey, CEO, Bloomery Plantation Distillery: For a few days, she will take off for the wilderness “with just my horse. No cell phones. No bed. No whoosh of the day-to-day activities. Just a campfire, the stars and the universe” in a total blackout that is reinforced by the fact that “nary a cell phone tower exists” out there. And, Losey said, “I emerge from these blackouts a calmer, more engaged and creative leader.

David Rosner, Co-CEO, SmarTours: “My wife and I have a no phones after dark policy in our house,” he said. “We totally disconnect.” And on vacations, Rosner, said he disconnects “completely.” It helps to have a co-CEO who picks up the load during those periods, and vice versa.

Faith Rothberg, CEO, College Recruiter: She takes a break in the middle of the workday to do cardio, weights or yoga and returns refreshed and reinvigorated.

Mike Starich, CEO, Orion International: Like Losey, he takes a break in areas so remote “that, by default, there is no contact with the board, my management team, customers or employees.” These trips have included forays with his sons or with friends—or even alone—to climb Mt. Rainier in Washington and to hike from the bottom of Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney.

Steinlauf: He goes “dark” sometimes each week to do some thinking and reading. “It’s not easy, and emails stack up, but I know in the long run it’s important that I spent that time.”

John Turner, CEO, UsersThink: He unplugs before he goes into work, putting his phone on airplane mode, closing email and notifications, and using a service such as Calm.com or Headspace.com to help clear his head.

What’s your secret to power down and regenerating? Add your comments in the comment section below.

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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