Fifteen Ways I Stayed Healthy, Worked Well and Played More in Dubai.

by | Health, Productivity, Travel

Marcey in Burj Khalifa

I recently had the honor and privilege of working with 100 of the top executives of Emaar Properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Emaar is the top real estate firm in the Middle East and one of the largest in the world. Dubai is now one of my Top Three favorite cities (Tokyo and London are the others…and San Francisco, okay that’s four!). I can’t wait to go back and explore more. I found the people generous and kind, the vertical city architecturally appealing, the food delicious and the general feeling of safety, much more so than many American cities.

I wanted to combine Working Well and Playing More, or in more industry terms, bleisure travel, and stayed a couple of days after my presentation. Coming from the US where the trip door to door was around 27 hours, it was a must for me. The first part of the trip I stayed in Emaar’s beautiful Address Boulevard Hotel, which is connected to the largest mall in the world, Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world. Emaar is building an even more towering structure that will be done within the next decade. The last two days I stayed at the Emaar Address Dubai Marina hotel a short walk from the gorgeous beach.

View from the Burj Khalifa

Model for the next tallest tower.

Before I give my steps, a short note about Emaar. My 2.5-hour workshop was on Energy Escalators during the Dubai #30in30 challenge to exercise 30 minutes a day for 30 days. This challenge to become the most active city was initiated by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council for Dubai Government and fits along with my #25in25 challenge that starts December 1 and I’ve been doing with my family since 2003. In my tour of Emaar’s state of the art office, I saw exercise bikes in the middle of the open space, meeting rooms with standing desks and tables (shown to increase focus and productivity in meetings), and two treadmill desks that were facing each other. Two people were doing a walkie-talkie while I was there.

This state-of-the-art facility, which houses one of the most advanced teams in the world, has the same issues we all face no matter where we live or what we do. When the CEO and the top leaders are very healthy, they sometimes forget that the rest of their workforce needs a boost. This was not the case with Emaar. I believe it is smart, caring, thoughtful, kind, inspiring, motivating, forward-thinking and cost-effective to invest in employees by bringing someone in to speak to them and let them know that they understand that to be productive, you must be healthy, and they go hand-in-hand.

Now…..for the steps!

Working Well

  1. I processed email only once per day and instead did a search for someone’s name if I was looking for a response. (I use Inbox When Ready so I don’t see my emails unless I want to…equivalent of working off-line in Outlook). This was so I didn’t get caught up in things that could wait until I got back.
  2. When I did process, I scheduled some emails to go out after I got back, so the thread didn’t continue while I was there.
  3. I decided on my Top Three Tasks each night before and only did those things first in the morning. If I had time to do anything else I did, but not at the expense of playing.
  4. I asked if it could be delegated or eliminated. If a recurring task didn’t have to be done that week, then it got deleted for that time frame.
  5. I worked in the business lounge during both of my layovers so I could relax and watch movies on the plane (something I rarely do at home).

Playing More

  1. I set communication expectations very low for family, friends and even my husband. I don’t like to feel pressured to email, text, call, etc., especially with a nine-hour time difference which makes it difficult. I don’t want to spend what little time I have visiting somewhere, worrying about being back in my room for a video call. My husband and I would do a quick “are you available in 30 minutes” message and that was sufficient to make sure we spoke every day.
  2. I used Voxer app to communicate with Kevin and one friend. I could text and send voice memos. I like that I can see what has been read.
  3. I don’t take many photos. I want to experience whatever I’m doing through my EYEballs and not an iPhone. Feeling like I should take a photo of everything cool starts to get stressful for me and I end up only looking for opportunities. I also didn’t send any while I was there or post on social media (yes, I know….crazy!) because I didn’t want to waste a single moment uploading, tagging, and describing the photos. All that could be done when I got back.
  4. I took a half-day sightseeing tour and a tour of the Burg Khalifa. I’m okay with doing a touristy activity because….that’s what I am! I try to do something like this wherever I go.
  5. I moved my body. A colleague of mine said Dubai wasn’t a walkable city. I disagree. Maybe in the summer months because of the intense heat, but I covered 4, 5, 7, and 14 miles on consecutive days. I only took the metro once because I wanted the experience As a side note, their trains have female and children only cars. Why has no one thought of that in the US to help women feel safer? Coming from someone who was assaulted on the DC metro during rush hour where no one helped me, I would choose that car in a heartbeat.

Staying Healthy

  1. I drank a packet of Natural Calm magnesium every night. Don’t pretend you don’t get constipated from flying. It can’t be helped due to the altitude and air pressure on the plan. Save yourself some uncomfortable mornings and buy them for your trip.
  2. I used eBoost during the day for just that…a little energy boost! It is a blend of green tea extract, electrolytes, antioxidants, B-vitamins and nootropics. It also helped me drink a lot more water which I needed due to the dehydration from the plane.
  3. I kept my food rules of no sweets during the week.
  4. Moved my body as much as possible. On the plane, I got up at least once an hour and did ankle circles, flex and points. In Dubai, I walked everywhere I could (see above).
  5. When I got back home, I didn’t play the hero. The first two nights I went to bed at 7pm because I needed to and the third night I went to bed at 8. There is no shame in my sleep game, and when I need to sleep, I do. Jet lag can affect you cognitively for 6-11 days, which is why I would not make the emotional decision to keep the stray kitten we found the day after I got back (no worries….he is safe).

Am I perfect….of course not. I drank more coffee than I would at home, partly because the nine-hour time difference made it difficult and partly because I discovered traditional Arabic coffee and that I also like cappuccinos.

Bonus! My new Betabrand Infinity Vest was indispensable during this trip. I wore it at some point every single day. The pockets each have an inside zippered pocket that perfectly fits phone and passport. I never carried a purse or bag once.

There you have it. As an employer, give your staff a day or two on either end to explore a new city, especially for international travel. As the traveler, have a plan in place for both Working Well and Playing More to set yourself up for success and still be productive.

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jim west

Principal and Managing Director, GFF Architects


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