Too busy for a vacation? Hah!
A 7-step plan for taking time off
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
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."
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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
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-- Updated: July 10, 2003