At first glance, you’d think it should be the easiest thing in the world. Taking time off when you work for yourself? Of course! Who approves your time off? You do! What could be simpler?
Well the reality is far from that simple. When you work for yourself, you also generate your own pay check. Your business revenue is all that you have, and it’s totally dependent on your drive, commitment, and hard work. If you take some time off for yourself, what happens to your business? What happen when you ARE your business?
Even though it presents a challenge, taking time to re-charge is essential to staying motivated and productive. When you work for yourself, you just have to put in a little more effort even to take time to rest!
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
The key to taking some time off when you work for yourself is to plan and prepare well in advance.
- Look at your calendar and make sure you can deliver anything mission critical in advance of vacation, and if possible, reschedule less critical items.
- Do as much as you reasonably can in advance, which often means putting in some extra effort weeks beforehand. It may seem counterintuitive to work harder so you can take some time off, but being able to have some concentrated “non-work” time is well worth it.
Don’t try to pretend that it’s business as usual while you’re on vacation. It isn’t. Even with all of the tools and technologies we have at our disposal, if you spend your entire vacation working, you’ve defeated its very purpose.
- Let your colleagues, customers, clients, partners know that you’ll be taking some time off. Establish appropriate expectations. Let them know whether you’ll be handling urgent requests or not, and if not, let them know who will be handling things on your behalf (the world doesn’t stop because you take a few days off!).
- When travelling with family or friends, set their expectations as well. Tell them in advance that you will undoubtedly have some work matters that will require your attention, but that you will keep it to a minimum. Employees have the luxury, usually, of being out of touch with work while on vacation. Business owners do not.
- If you’re handling urgent requests yourself, but you’re travelling to a different time zone, let your contacts know this and how it may impact your responsiveness.
- And, lastly, let them know all of this well in advance. No one wants to hear on Friday that someone they depend on isn’t available for the next week.
Let It Go
In addition to careful planning and preparation, the other key to successfully managing to take time off when you work for yourself is to know how to properly prioritize work. Don’t let your work life consume your vacation. Learn what to let go, and what to action.
- Determine in advance what types of activities you’ll action or respond to.
- Lowest priority items are easily moved to later in the schedule. But what happens when something is important, though perhaps not urgent? Having someone to delegate these items to can be a lifesaver, but it’s also not necessarily a reasonable alternative in all cases. Sometimes you have to deal with both the important and the urgent.
- When you have to deal with things that are “merely” important, sometimes it’s best to deal with them directly, but honestly. Acknowledge the importance of the item, by responding to the request. But also recognize the lack of urgency of the item by providing a target action date (after your vacation) at which point you’ll fully address the need.
When you’re finally enjoying that time off, and putting your plan into action (“vacation plan”), remember this:
- Don’t take any work related phone calls that aren’t planned in advance (i.e. don’t take any work related phone calls)
- Turn work related email notifications off
- Provide an alternative email address to a trusted delegate or colleague, to have immediate access to truly urgent items without needing to filter through the rest of the work noise which can raise your stress level
- Check your regular work account once or twice a day – respond quickly to any truly urgent emails, and service important emails by responding with suggested post-vacation follow-ups, and/or provide quick direction to a delegate or colleague, asking them to handle the matter
- Servcie messages at specific times of the day if possible (early mornings, evenings, once per afternoon), so that you consistently feel more detached from work than tethered to it
Relax and Enjoy
The most significant benefits of proper planning and preparation are that they truly allow you to relax and disconnect for a while. Can you go completely dark on vacation when you work for yourself? No, nor should you expect to.
But if you manage your time on vacation as effectively as you manage your business, you can be just as successful at taking time off!