Nicholas Creswell is keeping stress at bay by taking the boat to work.
It’s a Friday morning in central London. Down on the jetty at the foot of the London Eye Nick Creswell is one of four passengers waiting for the Thames Clipper river bus. As Big Ben strikes eight behind him, the Thames Clipper pulls up and Nick climbs on board. He’s been doing this journey since he started his job in 2009 a few miles downstream at Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands. Nick is vice president of Talent & Development for the enterprise technology & operations division at Thomson Reuters, the global information company.
He knows it would be quicker to take the tube and the Docklands Light Railway, but Nick likes to start his working day by boat. Taking the tube and boat is a longer journey by about twenty-five minutes, but one that makes a big difference to his working life.
Nick tells me that he was working with a coach who asked him to think about his ‘conditions for success’. He realised taking the boat to work gave him a sense of control. It fuels his success. “I move fast, and sometimes need to force myself to slow down. I deliberately choose a more inefficient commute in taking the boat to work. I think it’s the world’s best commute, and I invest time in this so I can take the time to admire what’s around me. I arrive in the office a little later, but I’m always more charged up than if I’ve taken the underground,” he says.
There are only a handful of passengers on board the 8am boat heading east through the city. Nick finds the boat ride is like being in the shower, when you switch off and your mind can wander. Rather than check emails he likes to use the thirty minute ride to look around and to pay attention to the buildings along the Thames. Our journey takes us from the London Eye past the Festival Hall, Tate Modern, Southwark Cathedral, The Shard and under Tower Bridge.
As we head towards London Bridge, we glance up to the hundreds of commuters walking quickly across the bridge above us. Down here on the river it’s tranquil, despite the roar of the engines. “I like seeing London from this angle, spotting details you might not otherwise see,” he says, pointing out an inscription on a pillar supporting the bridge. This morning the sky is overcast and there’s light rain. Some mornings, the views are postcard-perfect and over the years Nick’s shared many such photographs on Twitter.
Yesterday he had two important workshops to run at work. Travelling by boat, he found he arrived for work in a positive frame of mind, ready for the big day ahead. It’s a relaxed atmosphere on board, the crew welcoming the passengers with a cheery “good morning.”
Nick has a demanding role at work and likes to live life to the full. His Twitter bio reads, “One life: no return, no deposit.” He says his life is intense but that is by choice. “I would rather spend time walking than standing still. For example, I don’t stand on the escalator, I would rather walk ahead.”
So how does he manage stress? “Stress is a constant risk. So I find that I need to create space in my life where I can be mindful.” This boat ride gives him that chance. Additionally, he makes sure he goes out of the office for lunch every day, even just to stretch his legs and get some fresh air, and likes to schedule ‘walking meetings’ for informal catch-ups with colleagues. Over the years he’s come to recognise the signs of stress. For him, it manifests in interrupted sleep and constant thinking about work. “Stress is adrenaline gone mad,” he says, “it’s activity over productivity, when you’re busy but not achieving much. When you’re out of balance.
We’ve reached the historic Mayflower pub at Rotherhithe. As the boat speeds up Nick points out a life-size figure by the sculptor Antony Gormley on a plinth in the water. Early on in his career, Nick struggled when he took too much on and didn’t delegate enough. “I overloaded myself,” he says. That experience informs his leadership style today. He ensures his team don’t get too overwhelmed. “It’s back to the issue of activity versus productivity,” he says, “we have to constantly ask ourselves, are we doing the work that matters?” He aims to nurture a culture where everyone in the organisation looks out for each other. “That means business leaders need to be empathetic.”
We’ve arrived at Canary Wharf, home to over 100,000 workers and the headquarters of many organisations with workplace cultures typified by long days in the office. How can we encourage office workers here to take a more balanced approach to their work lives and not get stressed out? Nick believes the answer lies in ‘signals from leaders’ where senior executives and bosses show by example, not working crazy hours, by going out for lunch and making time for everything from dental appointments to going to the school concert.
In his own team he encourages a culture of flexibility. “I tell them, so long as you get the work done, I’m happy to be flexible.” Nick explains that once a week he leaves the office at 5pm to have a regular appointment with a personal trainer. “The first few times I left the office at 5pm, I felt guilty about it,” he admits. He thinks having a healthier relationship with stress is being open with your team and colleagues about your own ups and downs. “You can’t be successful without failing, so being open about your own experiences is really key.”
Whilst he encourages new recruits to stretch themselves, he also wants to make sure they take care of their health. “When people start working for me I say to them that if they feel overwhelmed they should come and tell me. Then we can do something about it.” It’s now 8.40 a.m. and time for Nick to head up to his ninth floor office. His arrival on a sparsely populated boat is in great contrast with the hundreds of commuters streaming out of Canary Wharf tube station. Taking the boat to the office might have been London’s best kept secret. But with stunning views and its help alleviating stress, Nick may well find the boat gets fuller in future.
This is an excerpt from The Stress Report.