Americans are awful at taking vacations. Glassdoor.com recently reported that, over the past year, the average American only used 51 percent of their eligible vacation/paid time off. Small business owners are just as bad, with 43 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed stating that they now take less time off than just five years ago.
Having just gotten back from a vacation with my family, I'm often asked by other small business owners how I do it. How do you leave the office when there are schedules to set, meetings to take, employees to train, and an entire business to keep running smoothly? That kind of laundry list mentality is depressing when you think about it, especially since taking a vacation shouldn't have to be something that stresses you out. If you're feeling starved for a vacation, keep my list of 5 don'ts in mind for penciling in some time OOO.
1. Don't micromanage.
I know that small business owners can be controlling. It took me longer than I'd like to admit to learn how to step back and let my business run without having to involve myself in every single area. Going on vacation flies in the face of our propensity to micromanage, and while you might have learned how to take a few steps back in the office where you can still watch everything, being hundreds of miles from the business might be a bit more jarring. Before you head out, spend a few extra hours getting your ducks in a row, and delegate any work that is absolutely essential. The sooner you learn to trust your staff to take care of the business while you're away, the sooner you can relax. A good vacation means enjoying a margarita or three anyway, and you don't want to make any business decisions after downing those!
2. Don't lie about what you're doing.
It's a well-noted fact that many American workers and business owners almost seem ashamed to take vacation time off, and to place focus on doing something for themselves over being a "productive" worker 24/7. Bottom line - you shouldn't feel guilty for taking a break. In fact, according to a study done by Intuit, 82 percent of vacationers reported an increase in work productivity post-vacation. Tell people you're going on a vacation, and say it with pride. A major part of owning a business is learning how to delegate - remember that regular meetings can be rescheduled and work can be reassigned. Don't feel ashamed about embracing your time off. If you're known for having a strong work ethic, taking a break will seem natural and necessary to everyone around you.
3. Don't expect to make a clean break.
You are a business owner - that's your job and a major part of your identity. While I certainly urge you to do all that you can to avoid working excessively while you're on vacation, that doesn't mean having to bury a major part of who you are. I've continued to network with colleagues while on cruises and come out better for it. There's no reason to refuse to acknowledge work at all while taking a vacation. You shouldn't stick yourself in front of a computer and answer emails all day, but if you want to talk about your job or pass out a couple of business cards, go for it.
4. Don't forget a notebook.
Relaxing can cause your brain to react differently than it usually tends to. I've gone on vacation feeling like I hadn't had a good idea in weeks and day one into my break from work I can't stop coming up with new plans and campaigns. It's really tempting to want to act immediately on a new idea, especially if you feel like you were scraping the bottom of the barrel before you left, but don't abandon your vacation because of one lightbulb moment. Grab a notebook -- I like to go old school since a laptop tempts me to do more work -- write your ideas down, and then put it away. When you go back to work, you can refer back to the notes you made and feel re-inspired all over again.
5. Don't be hard on yourself.
Vacations aren't supposed to be hard. If you're really feel like you absolutely have to finish some work, feel free. A lot of people get really mad or upset because they broke down and checked their work email, but in the end, you have to do you and whatever comes naturally to you. A vacation should be relaxing, so do whatever you need to do in order to relax. Take it from me, it's impossible to turn it all off, and it's perfectly okay if you can't. Just make sure that you stay focused on that singular assignment and when you're done, turn off your phone, grab a drink, and re-connect with the world beyond the computer screen.