Leadership Unplugged is an interview series where our team at Cultiveit features the work recovery habits of senior leaders. Our aim is to enable more people to develop a practice of High Quality Time-Off in their day-to-day lives.
Name: Yannell Selman
Title: CEO at Cultiveit, Product at Amazon Alexa
Favorite High Quality Time-Off Activity: Baking
What is your go-to High Quality Time-Off activity? Why?
Nothing helps me relax like baking. I’ve been baking since I was a little girl. After decades of practice, it has become a ritual. Baking requires setting aside a special moment in time. I can do it alone or with friends. I can be creative or rigid. It’s the perfect container for me to grow in new ways that are so different from other areas of my life. I also love the outcome, since baked goods are the best gifts! It’s helped me build relationships by welcoming new neighbors, making a great first impression with my in-laws, connecting with my little sister and so much more. Whenever I feel nervous, stressed, or outside of myself, I can turn to baking to help me discover myself again.
HQTO has five different attributes: 1) active, 2) intrinsically satisfying, 3) disconnected, 4) stimulating to the senses, and 5) fuels growth. How does this activity embody these characteristics?
Baking definitely hits all five!
In order of priority, I’d say baking primarily stimulates my senses. From the moment I start gathering ingredients, I am observing smells and sights of my flour, sugar, vanilla, etc. Baking obviously requires active attention. You cannot be multitasking, otherwise you are sure to mix up ingredients or mis-measure something.
In terms of disconnecting, it’s really a mess to use your phone or laptop with your hands full of flour, so that’s a natural part of it. I use Alexa for timers, so that I can avoid screens. Ultimately, I’ve enjoyed my personal growth as a baker. Whenever I have a baking fail, I find it humbling in a satisfying way - I know I’m pushing my boundaries.
What is an example of a moment when you were under stress and HQTO helped you recover?
Last year, I was juggling a home renovation, my regular work, international work travel, and some family challenges. It was TOUGH. In addition to feeling like I had no spare time, I was under a lot of financial stress and feeling imminent health issues. There was one day when my contractor called me with an emergency that had to be resolved right away. With just ten minutes until my next work call, I frantically drove down to the work site, made a few ill-informed decisions, and sat in my car to take my next meeting. I remember physically feeling the cortisol pumping in my veins that day. I was suffocated and at my limit. I decided to make some time for baking that next weekend. I looked up a few recipes from Craftsman & Wolves, my favorite San Francisco bakery, and tried to imitate one of their incredible recipes, DIY style. It was a spiced carrot cake + passion fruit jam, toasted walnuts, namelaka, feuilletine, and whipped cream ganache. I had never heard of namelaka or feuilletine, and set off researching everything I’d need to make this very fancy carrot cake. I baked with a bunch of friends and had a blast. I came back from that weekend reinvigorated, confident in myself, supported by community, and with new energy and perspectives to handle my day-to-day stressors.
How do you plan for HQTO on a daily, weekly, and annual basis?
I don’t bake on a daily basis, though I usually try to cook a little to tap into my kitchen creativity and get to make healthy food. I also try to exercise most days, which can hit the High Quality Time-Off box as well. I do try to bake weekly, usually on a Sunday night when “Sunday Scaries” are in full swing. Sometimes friends will come over so we can bake together, which is so fun! On an annual basis, I try to plan big trips that align to my High Quality Time-Off interests. For example, in September I went to El Salvador with some friends for a surf and yoga retreat at Balancé. I like camping, picnicking at the park, and other low key ways to disconnect from work stress too.
What advice do you have for others who are seeking to build intentional work recovery practices?
Understand that it’s an investment! I’ve met so many people who subscribe to “always on” culture and inevitably crash and burn. There’s a deep, underlying assumption for many of us that being always on makes you reliable and effective. But the reality is that, whether you’re a founder, manager, individual contributor, or anyone else - taking time to recover and reset is an investment in your future ability to show up for the things you care about. Research by Leslie Perlow at Harvard and many others is extremely clear that taking time away from work frequently and predictably can actually HELP your team by increasing communication channels across stakeholders, helping people practice stretch tasks, and creating systems for work that might otherwise be done ad hoc. If you don’t take the time to intentionally unplug, you will soon start dropping balls, and it will lead to worse disappointment for yourself and those around you than you can ever predict. Take the time to 1) prioritize your own energy, 2) build the systems and structures in your work that can enable you and your team to thrive, whether you are checking your email or not.
What other HQTO activities do you enjoy and/or want to try out in 2024?
In addition to going deeper into my baking practice, I want to start getting more serious about triathlons! I did my first Olympic triathlon in 2023, and I had a blast. I loved the energy of the race and being able to swim, bike, and run forced me to be way more consistent with my daily exercise schedule. I hope to do a few sprint triathlons, and eventually start training for a half Iron Man. If I never get there, I’m also OK with that. For me, High Quality Time-Off is just about setting time aside to destress and learn something new.
Want to support your team with intentional work recovery? Learn more about High Quality Time-Off learning & development sessions here.
Want to nominate a senior leader for the Leadership Unplugged series? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org