BALTIMORE—Upon reading my “Out of office and off the grid”
automated e-mail 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.