True confession: I have not always been good about mentally getting away from my business.Vacation is not a word that enters easily into many entrepreneurs’ vocabularies.
According to a study by American Express Small Business Monitor, about two-thirds of small business owners find it stressful trying to balance their personal and business lives. Yet, true rest and real vacations are essential not only for an entrepreneur’s personal health, but for the health of the business, as well.
Another true confession: I am writing this column while on a family vacation at the beach. And it is not the only time I have done work during our “time away.” However, I am not alone. My wife and daughter also have been guilty of sneaking in some work during this vacation.
So how do you build a business that allows you to create balance in your life?
Learning to Get Away
During my lifelong career as an entrepreneur I have struggled with getting separation from my work and enjoying my time away from work. My family has many memories of business phone calls interrupting family trips, followed by Dad being preoccupied with whatever crisis that could not be handled without me or wait for my return.
I have always strived to create balance in my life, but it has not always been easy. Along the way I have learned a few lessons that have helped me improve on my ability to truly get away from being a business owner and to just be a dad (or now, a grandpa).
- Be realistic. I have come to accept that it is virtually impossible to fully disengage from a start-up business. Entrepreneurial Mind, LLC is starting to experience early growth. Since it is just the four family members working on this business, there are things we have had to do to keep up our momentum. I had some videos to review. Ann had social media to attend to. Russ had to respond to our web developer. Maggie had email marketing to send out. The best you can hope for is to segment the work you absolutely have to get done so that it only takes up an hour here and there, while still giving most of your time to relaxing and being with your family.
- Learn to let go. As your company grows and you begin to hire staff, identify tasks that others can and should be doing, and begin the process of training your employees. Once trained, let them do what they have learned. They may make mistakes at first, but use this as a chance to coach and teach, not to take back tasks to do yourself. We are not at this point in our current start-up, but I have learned in past businesses that my employees are usually much better able to do things without me than I am willing to admit.
- Begin by taking long weekends. This will help you and your employees start to prepare for times you will be away from the business. Eventually add a day or two so you can be gone for several days. Before long you should be able to take a week at a time away from your business. Even in a start-up without employees I have been working hard to leave work behind for an occasional weekend away.
- Plan ahead. When you take time off, choose times when your business does not demand as much of your attention. If cash flow is a worry, plan your time away so it’s between big check runs and payroll deadlines. If you have quieter times during the month or year, schedule your time away during these lulls.
- Establish rules of engagement. Give your subcontractors and employees a life line to reach you, but make the rules for such contact very clear. Don’t make yourself available 24/7 for any little issue. Set times to check in and give employees a specific definition of what constitutes a real emergency. Don’t get angry if they call too often. Rather, use any errors in judgment on their part to coach and teach.
- Take mental time off, too. Being at rest is not simply a means of recharging your batteries for the next round of work. We need to learn to take both physical and mental time off from our business. Rest nourishes the soul. Rest gives us the opportunity to focus on many things that are, dare I say it, even more important than our businesses.
When getting ready to take some time off of work, I try to think carefully about why I am doing all the crazy things I do as an entrepreneur in the first place. Business is exciting, invigorating, and even fun. However, work is simply a means and not the ultimate end in our lives. Keeping my family first always needs to be my primary purpose on this Earth.