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Too busy for a vacation? Hah!
A 7-step plan for taking time off

Plan on taking a vacation this yearAsk Ken Gough about his vacation plans and he laughs.

"What's a vacation?" asks Gough, owner of Accurate Machine Products in Johnson City, Tenn.

Like many small-business owners, Gough finds it almost impossible to leave his business for extended periods. His company builds machine parts for major firms such as Dupont and Lockheed Martin. It's big enough to stay busy all the time, but not big enough for him to afford a large support staff.

"I get away one week a year, and even then, I have to do a lot to get ahead so I can leave," says Gough.

In any given year, about one small-business owner in three does not take a vacation. Why do most small-company owners keep their noses to the grindstone without pause? "Too busy," is the most-common reply.

If you're among them, here are the seven steps that will get you out the door and on your way to a well-deserved break.

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Step 1: Recognize you need a vacation
Yes, you're growing your business. You're in on every decision because every step on the journey is important.

"When you run a small business, you do every thing, even down to the payroll," says Curtis McGuire, who owns a Columbus, Ohio, loading company called Red Legs Lumper Service.

"We are right in the middle between being tiny and being big," he says. He hopes eventually to take a real vacation, "but I have to keep building a staff to be able to," he says.

McGuire's complaint is common: There always seems to be much more that has to be done.

But that also means there will never be a time when it's "perfect" to take a vacation. You just have to do it.

"Taking time off isn't easy, but it's important," says Lisa Stubbendick, managing director of the Small Business Development Center in Kansas City. "We all need breaks to avoid burnout. We encourage the business owners we work with to be creative on how they can get away."

Step 2: Review staffing needs
If you don't have a No. 2 in your organization, name one. You will need to have someone firmly in control while you're gone. And if your business is so small that your absence means some work won't get done, plan for it. Either designate the tasks that won't be done, or budget for some temporary help.

Step 3: Take mini-breaks
Get your staff -- and yourself -- used to the idea of your being gone. Take a few hours at the park or in the library, where no one asks you to solve their problems. It will relieve your stress and force staff to deal with situations on their own.

Review what they did and take corrective actions as needed.

Step 4: Schedule, and take, your long break
If possible, plan a vacation for your business' slow time of year. "We try to take whatever we can in the winter," says Rob Deardorff of Evans Building Materials, a Kansas City company that supplies materials for home-builders.

Let important customers and suppliers know you're taking a break. Most will respect your time and not impose on it unless the problem is urgent.

It's time to trust the people you worked so hard to hire and train. If your key staff can't run the business in your absence for a few days, what does that say about your organization?

Step 5: Decide whether to sever
While a vacation may be good for you, reality -- or your own hard-driving personality -- may prevent you from completely severing the umbilical cord that attaches you to the office. If you must take some work with you, use technology to compartmentalize it. Let the e-mail, voice mail and faxes build up and deal with them at a preset time.

Step 6: Set boundaries
Some owners establish a few days when they're "untouchable." They refuse to check their e-mail or accept any but the most urgent calls for the first few days of their vacations.

"You have to be able to control how much you are in contact," Stubbendick says. "If there is a crisis, yes, you have to get involved. But you have to be able to leave regular duties to others."

Step 7: Ease back in
After your vacation, bask in the afterglow. Show off the pictures. Compliment staffers for a job well done in your absence or take note of what went wrong and learn from it. When you return, you may find that the time off has let you see your firm in a new light and that can be good for business.

Steve Barley, who owns a staffing company called The Recruiting Advantage Inc. in Richmond, Va., took a vacation in the summer of 1995, only a few months after he had started the company. He couldn't completely get away and ran up a $1,000 calling-card bill while he was gone.

A few years later, he went on an Outward Bound backpacking trip in Maine. Soon after the trip began, all the participants had to give up all their electronic devices, including cellular phones and pagers.

"The first couple of days, it was very stressful," he says. "But by the third day or so, I had kind of forgotten about it, partly because the backpacking trip was so intense. By the end of the trip, I was thinking, "I had really let it go.' "

Kyle Parks is a freelance writer based in Florida
To comment on this story, please e-mail the
Bankrate.com editors

-- Updated: July 10, 2003


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