By Mandy Gresh (Business Coach, Six Months Off)
I’m convinced that when you work for yourself, you’re always working. No really, always. Like, “my Mac sleeps in bed with me so I can kiss it at night and when I wake up” working. The pro of this, of course, is that you’re doing it for yourself.
Unlike corporate work, where extra hours don’t necessarily reap a personal reward, those who are self-employed quickly figure out the correlation between input and output.
The con however, is detaching yourself for a much needed break.
Often times when coaching women in the beginning stages of starting up, we discuss the importance of tracking progress, rewarding milestones and treating yourself like a business. Think of it this way, if YOU are the business — as CEO of yourself, YOU must make time to give your employees (namely YOU) the proper sick days, vacation time, lunch hours, 401K, healthcare plan, etc. Just like “What About Bob” takes a vacation from his problems, you too need to take a vacation from being you. Or, the working part of YOU that is.
Let me give you an example. With my computer fused to my hands, networking three nights a week, volunteering one night a week, my addiction to reading every single tweet on Twitter and 212 days without a day off (i.e. doing something for my business), I was burning out. Yet, I literally couldn’t stop myself from trying to move forward every day. What if I missed something? Was my world going to end? Would I lose a potential opportunity? Would I fail?
My deliriousness is what prompted a spontaneous trip to Iceland a few weekends ago. And I do mean impromptu… There were only three days between booking and flying. Did I mention the trip resulted in only one day back in NYC before jetting off to Toronto for another long weekend? Or that I had never really thought about going to Iceland before? Or that it was only 40 degrees there?
What might sound like a “jetsetting lifestyle” caused a mild coronary as I suddenly realized there was no one to put on my out of office. I desperately needed four solid days away from it all — no internet, no phone, no texting, no tweeting, no Facebooking, no nothing — but would this be possible? (Spoiler alert: I was able to disconnect without the world ending.) I reached out to the women of 5Q Friday as well as other small business owners, to get their opinions and tips on taking a much needed getaway.
5 Tips for Taking a Vacation When You’re Self-Employed
- Realize No One’s Going to Die — Really. Unless you’re a doctor, the chances that the world’s going to end or someone is going to be hurt if you take a few days off are pretty slim. We’ve become so obsessed with constant connection that disconnecting can be nerve-racking. When growing your business, it is of course important to return calls and emails in a timely manner. However most people understand you need a vacation here and there. It’s about putting your sanity, and productivity, into perspective.
- Plan Accordingly — Ashley Cromwell, owner of design firm Gimmie Graphics, says while she loves working, she feels the true beauty in life comes from experiences outside the office. She’s committed to traveling someplace new every year. “I buy my tickets months in advance before work builds up so I can plan accordingly,” she says. Amy Carniol, a freelance writer and editor, agrees. Carniol recommends wrapping up as many projects as possible before going on vacation, so you don’t need to check in too often.About a week before departing, start informing clients and vendors that you’re going to be away. Send them a personal note with the date of your departure and return. Let them know that you won’t have access to email or voicemail during that time and they need to take care of any urgent matters before you jet off.Set up an out of office on your email, including the dates you’ll be away stating you’ll have very limited (if any) email access. Note that urgent matters will receive a response as soon as you return. Do the same for voicemail
- Set Boundries — If you absolutely cannot disconnect (or disconnecting is going to cause more worry than relaxation), at least try to limit your time working. Jean-Marie Truchard, owner of Lagniappe Wines, often finds herself working on vacation — but on her terms. ”I try to limit it to an hour at most and urgent matters only,” she says. “It helps if I only check e-mail during that work hour.”
Per Truchard’s advice, consider setting aside time in the morning or right before dinner to check in on “urgent matters.” The key is to keep the time to one hour or less. With email, scan for messages that need immediate attention and leave the rest unread for post-vacation. Ditto on voicemail. Listen to your messages and jot down who called, but only react if absolutely necessary.
- Appoint an “In Case of Emergency” Contact — Does your business have any part-time, virtual or freelance employees? Is there a trusted family member or friend you’d allow to speak on your behalf? Then consider using an emergency/urgent contact.
Here’s how it works: Select someone knowledgeable about your business and who is also great at customer service. While you’re away, leave their phone number as an “if this matter is urgent” contact on your voicemail/out of office. Provide your back-up contact with the phone number of your hotel, resort, etc.
If they get any calls during your vacation, instruct them to take down the name, number and a brief description of the issue, and tell the client you’ll be in touch as soon as possible. They’ll then call you to deliver the information, allowing you to best decide how to proceed. This eliminates the need to constantly check in, but provides an alternative to radio silence as someone will notify you with any urgent matters.
- Work the “Old Fashioned” Way (i.e. sans computer/phone) — At the end of the day, being self-employed means you’re probably going to do some work while on vacation or at least you’ll think about it. While my trip to Iceland allowed me to completely disconnect from the day-to-day, I still found myself planning (and talking) about the future. As Carniol says, “Being self-employed means I’m always working in some way, even if it’s simply learning and coming up with new ideas.”
To quench my need for productivity, I brought along a business book I’d been meaning to read, as well as a small notebook to record ideas as they sprouted. Taking the time to jot down everything that came to mind, without the pressure of replying to emails or taking calls, allowed me the space to gain clarity on a few of my current challenges.
Whether you’re going to take the plunge and completely disconnect or stick to the one-hour a day rule, remember the goal is to unwind and maintain, not move forward during your time away. As Cromwell says, “the true beauty in life comes from the experiences you have outside of the office. Being able to see the world makes you a more well-rounded person which benefits you in both life and at work.”
This post was originally posted at My Six Months Off.
About the guest blogger: Mandy Gresh is the CEO of Herself. After 10 years in corporate America, she took a leap of faith and went out on her own. Today she coaches women on clarifying their business goals and plans, as well as consults on social media and marketing projects. Previously, she worked at Travelzoo where she held a variety of roles including growing the company’s Canadian business to revenues of $4 million annually. Mandy blogs at Six Months Off. Follow her on Twitter at @mjgresh.