How to get the most out of your “garden-leave” when making a career pivot.

Garden rake & fork

Unless you have a genuine desire to transform your garden (in which case you need to be listening to Alan Titchmarsh or Charlie Dimmock, not me!), here’s a summary of my experience and thoughts on how to make optimal use of a period of extended ‘garden-leave’.

I quit a senior role last August on the board of a UK listed plc. After a four year stint I felt, I felt I had achieved the objectives I had set when I started and probably contributed as much as I could especially given the constraints forced upon the business during the pandemic. The first thing I did was to take a couple of weeks off and used it to reconnect with my family and nature – I spent the first week paddling around Mallorca with my kids in a flotilla of kayaks and the second week recovering from the sun-burn and blisters!

This total digital disconnection enabled me to calm my mind, relax and reflect on what I want to achieve in the next phase of my life and career. I took the opportunity to have some powerful conversations with myself, assisted by a couple of sessions with a professional coach who helped me gain greater clarity of purpose. Having discussed my ideas and conclusions with my partner, I made a strategic decision to pivot my career and take a new direction that was more aligned with my values and personal aspirations.

Having made the decision and defined a new set of goals, I developed a plan for how I was going to execute my strategy. This was not a a loose collection of vague ideas and a few “to-do” lists; I created a detailed, multi-dimension plan with critical resources, milestones, metrics, risks and budget exactly as I would have done for any important business project. Adopting a formal approach and using my business skills helped me to commit from day one. It also provided all the benefits that we associate with having a good plan in place – visibility, control, motivation and a measured sense of progress.

My career change required me to update some of my skills (marketing has moved on considerably since I did my MBA in the pre-digital era!) and acquire some new professional qualifications. So step one of my plan was to research courses and institutions to find the best fit for my needs. It was a significant investment, so I reached out to my professional network to get their recommendations and expert advice, which proved invaluable in making the right choices.

I quickly adopted a structured regime of study, business research and networking, all essentials elements of my plan. I made sure that I had created a comfortable and stimulating home-office environment where I could be focused and productive. My 08.00-16.00 schedule enabled me to spend the late afternoons swimming and cycling, which kept the energy levels high and my mindset positive.

I made sure that I held myself accountable to my plan, celebrating achieved milestones, and made adjustments along the way. Staying connected to my network was important, especially during lock-down, when it would have been easy to let doubts creep in. I also made time to do some work for a local charity using my skills and business network to design events and secure funding. This fulfilled my need to be part of a team, and I found it immensely rewarding helping others. Recognising what fuels your body and mind are essential in maintaining equilibrium and flow.

Two weeks after my garden-leave ended, I launched my new business with a great sense of pride and achievement. I felt rejuvenated, both mentally and physically, hugely motivated and ready to take on the challenge of growing my own company.

Here are my Top 10 tips for optimising your period of garden-leave:

  1. Take a short time-out to clear your head so you can think clearly
  2. Establish a clear vision of what you want to achieve during your period of leave
  3. Make a detailed plan to ensure you have visibility and can track progress
  4. Review your skill-set and identify any areas you need to develop or upgrade
  5. Design a structure to your days so that you invest your time wisely
  6. Create a functional and stimulating space where you can work effectively
  7. Build-in time for physical activity to keep you energised and mentally sharp
  8. Make sure you keep connected and maintain your social life
  9. Hold yourself accountable for progress and don’t forget to celebrate successes
  10. Find pastimes that are aligned to your values and give you a sense of fulfillment

Alternatively, you could follow the path of one of my ex-colleagues who spent spent the first six months of his twelve months gardening -leave living in a high-end chalet in Verbier, skiing every day, followed by six months touring Australia in a luxury camper-van – Horses for courses!





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