Blogs & Comment

How I spent my summer vacation: Richard Branson

Downtime helps you think better.

(Photo: Philip and Karen Smith/Iconica)

(Photo: Philip and Karen Smith/Iconica)

Now that summer is waning and many of us are returning from vacations, it’s a good time for us to take stock and consider how we actually spent our time, as opposed to how we promised ourselves we’d spend it.

During your vacation, how often did you look at your smartphone? How many quick jobs did you do on your laptop? How many work e-mails did you respond to? Could they have waited until you returned to the office, or could someone else have answered them instead? When you’re on holiday, it’s nice to have a Wi-Fi connection, if only so you can see what’s happening on Twitter or share some snapshots. But it’s important that you don’t allow your smartphone to tether you to your office and interrupt your vacation.

Maintaining focus on having fun isn’t just about rest and recuperation: when you go on vacation, your routine is interrupted; the places you go and the new people you meet can inspire you in unexpected ways. As an entrepreneur or business leader, if you didn’t come back from your vacation with some ideas about how to shake things up, it’s time to consider making some changes.

I make sure that I disconnect by leaving my smartphone at home or in the hotel room for as long as possible—days, if I can—and bring a notepad and pen with me instead. Freed from the daily stresses of my working life, I find that I am more likely to have new insights into old problems and other flashes of inspiration. When this happens, it’s important that I jot everything down on a piece of paper.

Back in 1998, I was ballooning in Morocco over the High Atlas Mountains near Marrakech when I spotted an amazing property in some foothills. An idea crystallized as we floated past. I later returned to the area, and we managed to purchase it. We built a lovely retreat there—Kasbah Tamadot, a hotel with all the amenities that is now in our Virgin Limited Edition collection of properties.

Another question you should ask yourself is: Did my colleagues and employees return to work inspired as well? Did they have the time and space to turn off and recharge?

Aside from helping your employees to find ways to leave their work behind, a terrific way to encourage creativity among your staff is to book a group vacation. Back when we were building up our record label, Virgin Records, many of us who worked there travelled to the West Indies together and spent our time trying to find up-and-coming reggae bands, as well as sampling a few of the local delicacies. There was, and still is, an amazing atmosphere in the Caribbean that lends itself to discovery.

Since then, I’ve always encouraged our staff to go on holiday together. Lots of the best ideas occur when camaraderie and chemistry have built up between employees, and breaks from the office together—even for just a day—can make all the difference. We often encourage family members to come along too; lots of Virgin people end up meeting their partners at work.

Senior management follows the same formula. We all get together to discuss how the year is going and what we can improve on, as well as evaluating new business opportunities.

One final note about being adventurous: during a management meeting on Necker a few years ago, we took a boat ride to nearby Mosquito Island. We all had lunch on the beach, and then I took the team on a walk that ended at a cliff. I encouraged everyone to jump off the cliff into the sea below—a leap that I and my family had made many times over the years.

However, I underestimated the strength of the sea that day, and as the various Virgin CEOs jumped in, I began to realize how dangerous the landing was. Virgin’s entire senior management team was soon bobbing helplessly in the ocean, and I was terrified for them. Thankfully, a boat soon arrived to pick them up, and everyone arrived back at Necker safe and sound.

So summer is an excellent time to take risks and step out of your comfort zone—but that doesn’t necessarily extend to jumping off cliffs!

Richard Branson is a philanthropist, adventurer, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group of companies.