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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


T.H.ursday's with Tom Hill
I retired from the Air Force almost nine years ago after serving in the pressure-packed worlds of tactical aviation and experimental flight test. One of the last official duties I had was to say a few words to those gathered at my retirement ceremony. I chose two topics to talk about. The first I've spoken about already, "Who is going to replace you?" The second was about "downtime." 

Some of you might wonder why I would spend some of my precious last few minutes in the Air Force talking about something we probably all do. Unfortunately, it's my experience lots of us DON'T take downtime. I know many high energy folks who haven't had a real vacation in years. It's almost a matter of pride that they turn in vacation time at the end of the year. 
For many of them, it's work, work, and more work. Symptoms of the lack of commitment to downtime are circumstances taking over and ruining tenuous plans for time off. This especially happens at the end of the year, the Christmas holiday season. Even though we might be on "vacation" at the end of the year, it may not be a recuperative time. The holidays can be a pain, in other words.

Why do I think it's important people take downtime? Because if all you do is what you do every single day, then all you'll ever be good at is what you do every single day. And, you're probably not getting any better at what you do. Taking downtime gives the opportunity to experience or at least diligently think about something other than work. Not only is it refreshing but it also opens the mind to horizons you might not see if you never took the time off. 
A tiny version of downtime is day dreaming. Recent studies suggest day dreaming is a great opening to creativity. And creativity is a great opportunity to solve problems that otherwise wouldn't be solvable. Unlike some people, I do not believe downtime is optional for a healthy life style. It is of the utmost importance for the best and brightest of us.

As with everything, there's a balance. Downtime to an extreme is definitely not productive. It might even be called laziness by some. But, if you're constantly juggling schedules, with people pulling you in one direction or another, you're probably the person who needs downtime the most.

The holidays are always a struggle. Between travels, hosting families, feasts, and social gatherings, it's really hard to make personal downtime a priority. But, if you're looking to be regenerated after the holidays I suggest you make downtime a priority in the same way you would prioritize exercising, eating, and sleeping.

This is a funny suggestion to the most productive and workaholic folks we know: take time off. Take a breather and smell the roses. Sleep in for a while. Put your to-do lists away and enjoy the privilege of just being. I think you'll find you haven't lost ground at work or have been disowned by family and friends. You may even find yourself more satisfied and centered. That's not bad at all, is it?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


  1. Spot-on, Tom. I could not agree more. I might add that many of the world's top performers also have an ego component in there someplace: There is no one to take my place! In most organizations that is simply not true and where it is true, it indicated a failure on the part of the principal to train and groom that capable deputy. If the principal is doing his/her job properly, s/he should be able to walk away on five minutes notice without causing a bump. Great post. -C.

    1. So true! And when you're dealing with Aviation...and pilots... there is more of the ego involved. The problem lies in the confidence of the 'principal'. So many will surround themselves with people less than their ability, as they do not want anyone to out perform them, with fear they'll move up more quickly.
      If I were King, I would surround myself with a team with far better abilities than I. If I were the Queen... I would reward that King who could do that. :)
      Thank you for your comment! Happy New Year!

    2. This is a great observation. Yes, it is very difficult for most of our high powered folks to create a situation where they're redundant. Truly, it's hard to comprehend that your organization is doing well if you are able to do less... Certainly less of the everyday day-to-day stuff.

      I to follow the course where I can do less and take my time off. That's how I try to lead my teams. The most notable time I couldn't do that was when I was in charge of operations at Test Pilot School. Back then, we were so short manned, if I came off the schedule, the operation would fall apart. Honestly, it was the most stressful time in my USAF career in that I recognized I was the main cog to make that op happen.

      Looking back, even though we were working all the time and not taking as much time off as we could, I think we were going in the right direction. We were laying the foundation for better scheduling, better operation supervision, and better overall ops performance. We just needed more people to be able to fully realize the potential. Ten years later the school is much better resourced, it's performing really well despite the routine day-to-day angst. And, it's people are able to take time off when needed.

    3. I am the proverbial workaholic... so this scheduling down time is a challenge. One of my New Year's resolutions. :) There are many.

  2. Another great post and so very true.

    Sometimes you have to step back just to recognize how busy things have become. Overload and the associated 'tunnel vision' actually hinder creativity and productivity. Downtime is the only real remedy.




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