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published time By Sonali Velinker Kamat published time 25 Sep, 2017 Share image 0 Shares

The most efficient leaders in the world (including these local luminaries) know it’s what you do during that precious off-time that shapes your output at work. So you can adopt the art of relaxation to your benefit, we bring you the essential unwinding checklist; tried and tested by some of the busiest and most successful people on the planet.

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

This ancient Chinese proverb is seeping through the lifestyles of the busiest, richest, jet-setting and overachieving people on Planet Earth. Business magnate and the richest person in Asia, Alibaba’s Jack Ma has declared that in the next 30 years, people will work 4 hours a day. Of course, he was alluding to robots taking over the workforce, but it’s certainly the end of ‘karoshi’ — that infamous Japanese word for ‘death by overwork’. Take a leaf out of the life tomes of the most successful folk of our time and adopt these simple habits…



What does the world’s richest man do to relax after a hard day’s work (when he isn’t vacationing on a private island)? Pick up a good book, of course! Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ childhood habit has continued through his adult life. Making it “a part of falling asleep,” Gates likes to read for an hour before bed, even if it’s late. The business magnate and philanthropist also reviews books that he likes on his personal blog, Gates Notes, with the additional luxury of getting to interview his favourite authors — like he did Steven Pinker, who has written one of his favourite novels, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi drama Seveneves and Maylis de Kerangal’s layered and meditative The Heart are some of his other contemporary recommendations, apart from classics such as The Great Gatsby. Studies have shown that losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation, particularly if you do it the old fashioned way, like Gates does… while jotting down notes in the margin.

Other voracious readers: Bill Gates often swaps books with billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who’s known to have powered through 600 to 1,000 pages a day when he was younger. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong makes it a point to read to his daughters before bedtime, and actress-businesswoman Sarah Jessica Parker is an avowed bibliophile too.



Two years ago, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran decided to take a break from social media (here’s the full story). The Shape of You star had admitted to finding himself “seeing the world though my screen and not my eyes.” After unplugging himself from phones, email and all social media (which he called “a toxic wasteland of people’s opinions”), Sheeran had brief relapses on Twitter, but managed to largely disconnect for almost an entire year. For a generation that is glued to its gadgets, a gradual unplugging can enhance creativity and improve focus and concentration. Baby steps go a long way to keep you sane. Take a leaf out of the book of major companies — such as BMW and Volkswagen — that turn off emails at the end of the working day, to ensure employees can fully relax after working hours. Hail freedom!

Other digital detox devotees: Silver screen legends Steven Spielberg and Julia Roberts have publicly spoken about the ill effects of excessive use of technology and social media on creativity and life quality. Roberts has admitted that if she had Instagram on her phone, she’d be looking at it all the time. Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, tells her employees to switch off and not reply to emails out of office hours. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg makes sure to disconnect before bed, turning off her phone, even if it’s “painful” to do so.



In a life that’s relentless, it is crucial to stop and reflect. Take a cue from media mogul and businesswoman Oprah Winfrey who mediates twice a day (once in the morning and then again before going to bed), between dressing like Wonder Woman and living life to the fullest! Ever since she took to the spiritual practise of Transcendental Meditation — established in India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s and followed by celebrities like The Beatles — Winfrey has admitted to feeling more “connect(ed) with God.” Even if you don’t take it that far, a regular meditation practice (for just 15 minutes a day) goes a long way in relieving stress and realigning life priorities. You can get an app like Headspace, or Oprah’s 21-day mediation experience app with Deepak Chopra, to help you tune out and let the world wait, while you reset and recharge yourself.

Other meditation fans: Media baron Rupert Murdoch relies on Transcendental Meditation to deal with his tumultuous public life, as do other celebrities like George Lucas, Hugh Jackman and Mulholland Drive director David Lynch. Former Monsanto CEO and founder of Chicago-based Sandbox Industries Bob Shapiro has extended his love for meditation — acquired during his years at Harvard — to his employees, by converting office rooms into meditation spaces. Now that’s called putting your money where your mouth is!



One of the most powerful tech executives in the world, Satya Nadella has steered Microsoft’s resurgence since taking over as CEO in 2014. Those expecting him to be a ball-busting, high-powered aggressive leader are often taken aback by the Hyderabad-born engineer’s calm, mild-mannered style. The cricket fan is also known to relax by taking to verse — when he isn’t taking neuroscience classes on the internet, that is! Interestingly, Nadella has compared the art of writing poetry to coding. His thoughts are seconded by studies which show that writing poetry improves cognitive function and eases communication in the dynamic environments that leaders thrive in, by facilitating complexity and flexibility of thinking, along with the ability to empathise with and better understand the thoughts and feelings of others. Better still, it’s also an amazing way to unwind.

Other famous amateur poets: Not just high-profile techies, but acclaimed actors can be poets too. Daniel Radcliffe has been penning poetry since he was 16 and often publishes his verse in Rubbish magazine, under his pen name, Jacob Gershon. James Franco published his collection of poetry, Directing Herbert White, in 2014. The same year, Marie Claire published a piece of Kristen Stewart’s incomprehensible verse, titled My Heart is a Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole.



While some of us are glued to the telly, stuffing ourselves mindlessly with fries, the CEO of PepsiCo (often touted as the second most powerful woman in the world) is hitting it out of the park — literally and otherwise! Now aged 61, Indra Nooyi grew up playing cricket in India and switched to baseball when she moved to the USA. Besides her love for the active lifestyle, the sport also helped the high-flying executive to fit in with a new set of colleagues, which is why she chose the American national sport over other options like football. While the physical benefits of playing a sport are apparent, it is the softer skills they impart that make them a preferred hobby for successful people.

Other famous sports enthusiasts: While billionaire Elon Musk famously acknowledges his after-work agenda to be “even more work,” the CEO of Tesla is known to favour adventurous sports like zip-lining when he’s vacationing with his children. Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford, was a passionate tennis player — even playing on the semi-pro tennis circuit from Seattle!

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Julia Roberts has clearly mastered the art of relaxation. Click here to find out how she lives life in the pause...