Ever since I was a teenager, I have been pretty passionate about building the businesses I have owned. So much so that I have never been all that good at taking vacations. Managing stress was a strength of mine, and I only needed a good night’s sleep or a weekend to get recharged, so I never really saw the value in taking breaks. Until recently that is.
Build your business around your life.
When I was younger, my father taught me an important lesson about business and life. He said: “build your business around your life.” I used to say the phrase often, but didn’t put much thought into how much I actually understood it or applied it to my own life.
When I got married and had kids my focus shifted from business to balancing between building business and building a family. Up to that point in my life, business had been personally and financially rewarding for me, the people I employed, and the customers we served, but no longer did I want to pour so much of my time into business when I had a wonderful family that I wanted to spend time with. All of sudden my father’s words took on a whole new meaning. I wanted to take my vacations and time away to spend more time with my family.
And then I realized, that either through carelessness or immaturity I had built my life around my business. My primary business at the time, PeakSalesRecruiting, was the type of business that needed me constantly. If I wanted to take a vacation it wasn’t that simple. I was directly tied to everything that was going on in the business. If I left, it stopped.
First Step is Expressing Your Intention
If knowing the problem is half the solution, then I was half way. I knew that I wanted to be able to break free, but I didn’t know how. Any small business owner will tell you that getting some distance from the business is one of the most difficult challenges they will face.
From 2005 onwards I started taking small vacations, but I would never really get away. I was usually on my blackberry the whole time and often taking work calls while away. Sometime in 2009, when the business was going through a tough patch, I made the commitment to learn how to real vacations. Still pretty unsure of how this would be possible, I simply made the commitment knowing I would figure it out. The answers to important questions would come as they always do.
Your money and your assets must work for you and not the opposite ~ Robert Kiyosaki
In the spring of 2010 I was vacationing with my family at the beach in South Carolina. We had booked a week’s stay at a hotel but the weather was dreary until the second last day. When it came time to leave, my wife and I asked ourselves, what would happen if we stayed another week? I called my business partner and asked him if he minded (more on that in a second) and he was like sure. I would work a bit the second week from my hotel room and do half days while I was away to pick up the slack.
Now two weeks may not sound like a lot of time, but that was my longest holiday since I had left school many 20+ years ago.
And what happened? Nothing. The world didn’t blow up. Our business continued to grow and it was like I hardly left. The lesson I learned is that you don’t know something is possible until you try it.
Just Do It!
So in the winter of 2010, my wife and I decided we wanted to try a more serious break (plus Canadian winters can make you want to head south real bad). We decided March was the month. The whole month. Five weeks.
The first two weeks would be full vacation and the back three would be working from afar. When put in that context, this again doesn’t sound like a big deal – two weeks vacation and then working remotely for a few weeks – but when you have a high growth business in a competitive industry and your staff look to you for guidance on an regular basis, being away for that long *is* a big deal.
My business partner and I talked about how this would work and we said agreed that it was a bit of an experiment, but one we both wanted to see happen and we figured we would just make it work. We always do.
So we did it. We booked a beach condo in Myrtle Beach South Carolina, where we knew the weather would be good and there would be lots for the kids to do during the days in the latter part of the month while I was working.
Holidays are enticing only for the first week or so. After that, it is no longer such a novelty to rise late and have little to do. ~Margaret Laurence
I realize what I am calling a hiatus is like a weekend off to the professional vagabond, but for me this was a serious test of my ability to step away from my business.
So on the second last day of April, we loaded into our car and headed for South Carolina, arriving there a day early. We had a three bedroom condo with a big kitchen so we felt at home away from home.
When you have so much time away, everything moves slower. You don’t feel any urgency to make plans, because it feels like you will be away an almost limitless amount of time. If it’s not sunny, you don’t get upset, because you know there will be plenty of sunny days ahead. Everything is much more relaxed. You also lose track of time a bit because you don’t have any structure like a commute or a trash schedule to remind you what day it is.
The hotel room was big and bright, there was a good gym and easy access to running trails. I even brought my sprouting kits. I felt right at home except for the weather.
When it came time to work, I had a good structure to make sure I was using my time wisely. An early riser, I was up at my usual 430 am to meditate and exercise and then by 6 am I was going through my emails and responding to questions from my team and customers. I relied on Skype and other collaboration tools and would work until about mid afternoon by which point I had put in a good 8 hours of work and then would head out to catch up with my family who were on the beach, by the pool or at a park somewhere.
In the end, it worked well. I got my work done, managed my staff from afar and we had our most successful quarter to date. My business partner is a rock and covered for me on things that would otherwise require me in person. I wasn’t missed terribly and now a few weeks later, it seems like ancient history.
I have proven our business will allow us to step away and the major obstacle to doing that is the fear that something might go wrong. Well something might go wrong, but you deal with it when it happens.
Vacation used to be a luxury, but in today’s world it has become a necessity. ~Author Unknown
Being Away Makes You a Better Business Person
Beyond realizing that time slows down, another wonderful discovery that I made was that the more time I get away, the more creative and productive I can be at work. There must be some scientific study somewhere that shows the value of time off, but suffice to say I know from my own experience the benefits outweigh the costs.
Another huge business benefit of stepping away is that it forces you to delegate responsibility, train your staff, design efficient processes, and build redundancy into your business, all of which raise the value of your business.
Work life balance isn’t a cliche. It is a way of experiencing more of what work and life have to offer and anyone who tells you they don’t need breaks from work is fooling themselves. Taking time away is good for business and good for the self.
A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in. ~Robert Orben
So now we have proven that a hiatus is possible, I can start to explore longer breaks and bigger adventures. At the moment, we have nothing planned but the possibilities are endless and I am excited to go there.
If you are planning your own hiatus, here are some quick tips that you might find useful.
Hotels – there are many travel sites that give advice on hotel selection. You will find that booking for a whole month in one place will get you a great deal, particularly if you book early. Look for condos within hotels as they often offer the best deals. We were shocked when we learned that a month in our condo would cost us only slightly more than one week at the same hotel during the same month.
Internet – a good Internet connection is critical. Most hotels these days have wifi, but they are not catering to business travellers. You will need to know the Internet is reliable if you are going to be using it for business while you are away. When you are researching hotels, make sure to read online reviews to find out which hotels have dependable Internet.
Workspace – having a separate room for working is a good idea. It will let you separate your work from the play and make you more productive while you are away. It will also reduce the interruptions when you are working and your family is in the condo.
Food – It is easy to think that you are on a long vacation rather than living away from your primary home. Eating out every day will rack up a big bill pretty fast. If you want to avoid spending a lot of money on food, you have to make most of your meals. We cooked in most nights and packed lunches during the day. This is how we would live at home and this is how we kept our food bill manageable. We also ate much healthier this way as well, since that part of South Carolina caters mostly to fast food lovers.
Home Schooling – our kids were in kindergarten when we went in 2011, so missing school was not a big deal. We simply read to them and had them do reading and math homework assignments, but if you are going to have your kids out of school for a month or more when they are young, they could miss valuable teaching. Play time is good for learning, but you don’t want them sleeping at the pool when they are supposed to be in school. You will need to consider how you structure learning time and how you will play the role of teacher while you are on vacation.
Support – Above all you the people you depend upon need to be on-board. Whether it is your business partner(s) or your staff, they have to buy-into you taking the time away so they work with you to make it work.