When someone asks you how you’re doing as a small business owner, have you ever responded with, “Living the dream”?
Anyone who owns a small business knows it’s not always that simple. It can be challenging work. It can take long hours. And with all the power of decision-making come the consequences of making decisions.
It’s all enough to take a toll on any small business owner. Owner or not, Americans are stressed out at work: 83% of Americans suffer from work-related stress. As a business owner, that stress can affect every aspect of your life, from how you feel about the future to how many of your personal hours have to be spent putting out metaphorical fires at work.
Bottom line? You need a vacation.
The problem is that small business owners who are so engaged at work will find it difficult to unplug from it. And the goal of a vacation is to take a rest—not simply to go somewhere else so you can sit on your phone all day, sending off work emails. A truly revitalizing vacation will allow you to disconnect from the work environment and focus on family, friends, and personal enjoyment.
For most small business owners, that’s quite the challenge. They’re often so hooked into their business that it’s difficult to get away for a weekend, let alone for a full week. But we have some tips that can help you create a vacation with a maximum impact on your stress levels—and your sanity:
Step One: Plan on a Total Disconnect
Nothing else will suffice. Sure, if there are genuine work emergencies, you’ll want to be accessible so that you can respond. But if there are issues anything short of that, then either your small business can take care of them, or they can wait until you get back.
Why bother with a full disconnect? Because this is a vacation, after all. Studies have shown that the more workers get communications from work during off-hours, the more stressed out they are:
The risk of reporting ≥1 health problem(s) was increased in workers contacted sometimes (odds ratio [OR]: 1.16, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.06-1.27) or often (OR: 1.23, 95% CI: 1.12-1.34) as compared with never, controlling for several demographic and workplace characteristics.
That means you have to plan on a total disconnect. Here are some of the essential steps:
Tell everyone who needs to know in advance. If, for example, you run a business that requires constant communication with clients, then make sure that your clients are aware in advance that you’re planning a vacation. Don’t simply drop this on them at the last minute. Make sure they’re aware, and give them a back-up contact they can reach out to at your business.
Start the plans right away. It’s difficult to improvise a week-long vacation. It requires planning for logistics, living arrangements, even scheduling. Start your plans now so you’re not scrambling to make the vacation happen the week before—otherwise, you may find your business leaning on old habits.
Step Two: Prepare to Delegate
If you’re like many small business owners, your presence at the business keeps things movie. You’re an essential part of the machine. But that doesn’t mean that your vacation has to pause all business activities immediately.
Your best bet is to delegate whatever can be delegated, and postpone the rest.
We know what you’re thinking. “Delegate? What am I, the CEO of Apple?” But even small business owners can delegate work these days. For example, if you have important accounting to be done, you can hire a virtual assistant who specializes in bookkeeping. Bringing on a virtual assistant is also a great way to dip your toes into the water of delegating more in the future.
It’s true that there may be some executive-level decisions that have to be made in your absence. But if you can delegate as much of your daily work as possible, you can take the vacation with confidence that your business will still run without you.
In his book “The 4-Hour WorkWeek,” author Tim Ferriss detailed a process he would use with his own virtual assistants. He started off by giving them the authority to make decisions that had a low cost. That meant that if it cost less than a pre-defined amount of money to fix something without his approval, they had the authority to charge it to the company card.
Ferriss immediately recognized that this was the right approach. As time went on, he gradually increased the threshold for these decisions. Soon, he had almost totally disconnected himself from a largely virtual business, freeing up his time and energy to be spent on a sort of permanent vacation.
Do you have to take it to the same extreme? No. But if you empower employees and virtual assistants to make decisions up to a certain threshold, then you make it possible to bring yourself out of the business for one week. It might be helpful to think of this one week as a trial run for future vacations. Just how many days are you able to get yourself out of the business so you’re free to enjoy your personal life? As time goes on, try to beat your own personal best.
What are some essential steps for delegating properly? Here are a few of our favorite tips:
Create a standard for decision-making. Create a document that clearly outlines what kinds of decisions people can make in your absence. Heck, if you have to create a flow-chart for people, do it! There may still be some potential decisions that you would want to make if you were there, so you don’t have to completely disconnect yourself from a business just yet. But if you allow smaller decisions to be made in your absence, you may find that one week away from work is completely realistic.
Start delegating now—not when the vacation starts. Sign up with Delegated and choose a low-price tier to get started. You don’t have to make a major commitment. All you have to do is get familiar with the process and discover how much of your business can be delegated. The amount might surprise you. And if it does, it will be a pleasant surprise.
Step Three: Create a Plan for Unplugging
Now that you have a plan for keeping the business running, it’s time to think about an entirely different process. But this process is no less important. You have to think about how to get yourself out of your business.
Set up an out-of-office responder. Email is one of the first places you should look to when you need to establish your boundaries. Let people know when they should expect you back. You might also consider leaving your number for emergencies, if you’re worried about those. Some clients may still call you, but at least you’ve set up a filtering system that will eliminate much of the day-to-day work required to run a business.
Set up a virtual phone system. Using a virtual phone number for your business is a great way to disconnect you from the offices. When a client calls you, they can still forward to your phone if they want—but you might also filter out some of the less-pressing calls. Or, you can set options for enhancing your privacy while on vacation. But rather than sending someone directly to voicemail, a virtual phone system lets you assign a virtual assistant to handling the phones. This gives clients the “live feedback” feeling they might need while you’re away.
Step Four: Disconnect from the Phone
Sound like a major chore? You’d be surprised.
Many of us are somehow connected to our phones. Whether we want family updates via text or need to check our email at work to stay in the loop on a project, our phones are our outlet to the world.
The very idea of putting it aside for a few days can generate a little bit of anxiety, to say the least.
There’s even a word for it: Nomophobia, the fear of being without a phone.
While a phone can be an invaluable tool, it can also be an impediment to staying in the moment and enjoying the stress relief that comes with an honest vacation. That’s why we recommend planning on using your vacation time to disconnect from your phone for certain periods of time—if not altogether.
This doesn’t mean that you have to leave your phone behind. You’re going to use your phone for all sorts of travel arrangements—not to mention stay in contact with people who are with you while you vacation.
But when it comes to sight-seeing, heading outdoors, visiting historical landmarks, or sitting down with a good book? There’s nothing in these activities that absolutely requires that you stay glued to your phone.
Here are our tips for disconnecting from your phone:
For many people, phone habits won’t be tough to shake. You can likely go out and enjoy dinner without bringing your phone with you. But if you do have a genuine addiction to the presence of your phone? Try starting small. Schedule a brief period every night where you keep your phone in a different room and enjoy reading, or time with family. Then work your way up to longer periods.
Keep your phone silent.
Even though many of us are perfectly capable of putting the phone down, there can be a problem: those darned pings. Whenever you hear a “ding!” because there’s a new text or alert, it’s an enticement for you to get up and take action. Why give yourself this Pavlovian treatment? Keep the phone on silent whenever you need to eliminate the distraction.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Get your phone out of your presence. Studies show this has a legitimate effect on your ability to focus. “Your cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when your smartphone is within reach — even if it’s off,” note the University of Texas.
Let’s be honest: this sounds like a lot of work for planning a vacation. But is it more work than it’s worth? Not if you treat your next vacation as a test-run. Think about it as a future investment in your ability to disconnect from the office during holidays, extended vacations, and even weeknights. The more you disconnect yourself from your business and focus on what counts, the more control you’ll have over your own life.