Upon reading my “Out of office and off the grid” automated email message, a client responded, “How do you DO that?” Being disconnected from his electronic tethers was beyond comprehension. And I suspect this is the case for many small business owners. Our work and personal time have fused into a boundary-less blur without traditional demarcations helping us separate the two, to the point that even vacation time isn’t the complete break from work it used to be. This is unfortunate, because combining work with vacation means we don’t do either one well.
At the height of the summer vacation season, it seems like a good time to challenge some of our vacation assumptions and practices. Some of the benefits of vacation are obvious, like getting rested and de-coupling from work stress. Some are more subtle. Research on creativity suggests that an important part of the creative process is disengaging from the problem you are working on, focusing on something entirely different and allowing your brain to “work the problem” in background mode. Ironically, time away from work can increase your ability to solve work problems.
Vacations can also provide new perspectives. I once worked for a CEO who returned from his first trip to Europe with new outlooks on work and business processes that he immediately applied in our organization. Add to this list the benefit of spending time with people you love, something business owners do all too infrequently, and you have a pretty good case for making the most of vacation time.
So, with these benefits, why do many business owners not maximize vacation time? I’ve known a number of harried executives who never take time off and wear it like a badge of honor. There are two major problems with this: they personally don’t get the benefits a break provides; and they send a message to their organizations that this is the behavior they value. If you’re that indispensable for a week or two, you’ve got a management problem.
When you do get some time away, there are a few key things you can do to maximize the benefits of a vacation. In the weeks leading up to your break, make a “vacation countdown list” of the priority objectives you need to accomplish to keep you focused on the important things before you head out the door. Leaving work with all the important “to-do’s“ checked off brings peace of mind and sets you up for being in “vacation mode” as soon as you leave. Delegate responsibility and authority clearly in your absence so your vacation will only be interrupted in the event of a true crisis.
During vacation, if you must check email and voicemail, quarantine these activities to a short period of time during the day. For example, my wife was working on her doctorate when we took a vacation in Bermuda years ago. She got up an hour before me each morning to read and write, giving us the rest of our days together while giving her peace of mind that she was making progress in her studies.
When returning from vacation, one of my favorite tactics is not to return on a Monday. Re-entry from vacation can be stressful without doing it on what is often the most stressful day of the week. While this isn’t realistic for many small business owners, for those who can postpone re-entry to Tuesday, it makes the return to work easier and gives you the added benefit of a short first week back.
Finally, if you want to keep your “vacation glow” a little longer, put pictures of your vacation on your computer or desktop to remind you of life outside of the office. It will help the memories stay with you while reminding you to plan your next vacation.