How Entrepreneurs Can Actually Take A Vacation

I was quoted in the American Express Open Forum Idea Hub today in an article about Entrepreneurs taking extended time away from their companies.

I think this is more possible than Entrepreneurs realize.  Not only possible, it is essential.  I often ask Entrepreneurs what would happen if they couldn’t work in their company for the next 30 or 60 days.  The thought usually causes all of the blood to drain from their faces as they contemplate their business running without them.

If that’s the case, it’s a great opportunity for you to make some changes that will allow your company to run more smoothly while you’re around, and to allow you (and your employees) to take some time off.

1.  Document your systems! This is improvement opportunity #1 for business owners.  We know how things are supposed to happen, and so do our long-time employees.  Problem is, if you get hit by a streetcar, nobody else knows!  If you have to do it more than once, ever, it deserves a system.  Write down the steps that it takes to complete the task, and put it in a binder so somebody else could do it.  If you don’t have the time to do this, hire an intern.  They’re energetic, have great computer skills, and they have a fresh set of eyes so they can ask questions that might be overlooked by somebody who has worked within your company for longer stretches of time.

2.  Take a short trip, and see how it goes. If you want to take a 3 week vacation, but you haven’t taken a 3 day vacation in the last 5 years, start small.  You’re going to suffer some withdrawal symptoms so don’t rush into it .  See if you can really unplug for 3-5 days.  Don’t check email if you’re feeling brave, or set specific times in the day to check email.  Leave your phone in your hotel room safe.  The world won’t end, and your team can handle more than you think.

3.  When you’re ready for the big trip, set some ground rules. How often will you be checking in?  What are the situations or guidelines for your staff calling you?  If you’ve got a head operations person, make them the conduit.  Don’t just have everybody calling you.  If they need you, go to Person X and if they decide you need to be contacted, they’ll make contact.

4.  When you’re on the big trip, don’t be surprised if you have some big ideas.  Most of our creativity gets clogged up by day to day firefighting.  When you’re miles away from your business, it’s not uncommon for a stream of new ideas to come rushing in.  Carry a notebook to document these.  Write them in the notebook, then close the notebook.  It’ll be there when you get back into the office, or when you get on the plane to head back.

Those four tips can help you take a successful break from your successful company.  Any others you’d like to add?