When I talk to other small business owners about vacations, they often say, "I can't afford to go on vacation." And it's not just the cost of a trip that's scary, but the fear of leaving the business without your guidance for a period of time. Based on my own experience, however, I'd argue that entrepreneurs can't afford to not to go on regular vacations.
What no one tells you about working for yourself is that it's relentless. When you are your own boss, it's hard not to feel like you're always on the clock. I'll work a full day straight through with barely a pause to eat something, and it's a rare night or weekend where I don't check my email multiple times just to make sure that everything is OK.
Ultimately, business success requires that you use your creativity and vision to solve problems and identify new opportunities. When you allow yourself to relax once in a while, you enable this kind of creative, big-picture thinking to occur. You can't force it into existence. Sometimes you just have to lie in a hammock and let it arrive on its own terms. So here is what I've learned about the power of vacationing:
Hire (or bribe) people to take care of things.
The point of vacation is to get away, but you can't simply walk away from your business and leave no one in charge. If you don't have staff you can trust, hire (or do a trade with) a trustworthy friend to watch your email and put out fires while you're away. Yes, you'll have to work hard in advance to get ready to go, and yes, you'll have to catch up when you get back, but it will be worth it.
Go somewhere different.
Every so often, I need to get away from my regular life. Sometimes that means my family packs up and goes to the mountains for a weekend, and sometimes that means we pack up and go to Istanbul. But the process of taking myself outside of my own "normal" allows me to stop fretting about business, and stop thinking in my usual ways. This usually leads to unusual and effective ways of thinking once I'm back in the office.
We've all gotten used to sharing a lot. We post pictures of the pretty flowers we just picked to Facebook and tweet funny one-liners we told over a beer. So my husband and I have an iron clad rule: what happens on vacation stays on vacation. And what happens is remarkable. It's less that we unplug from the computer, and more that we plug into our lives on a minute-by minute-level.
Journal. Draw. Stare at the sky.
Next, do nothing. If you have trouble simply letting your mind wander, pick up your journal or a pen to draw, or whatever your private creative tool is. But mostly, stare at the horizon. When you start thinking of Instagramming a picture of said horizon to your social network, bring yourself back to the moment. Allow yourself to simply stare, and let your mind drift.
When you're ready, allow creativity to come.
Here is the funny thing. All of the above steps will help make you a better business owner. After enough time out of your day-to-day surroundings, unplugged, staring at the horizon, you'll start to see the big picture of your business, instead of the minutiae. You'll suddenly realize what sweeping changes you need to make, or what you've been doing really well.
I'd like to tell you that the high-level thinking you'll find yourself doing on vacation is the point, but it's not. Vacations should remind us that we work to live, not live to work. And once we recognize that, the positive effect of having the right perspective spills over into all facets of our lives, including -- yes -- the office.
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