Over the past year something amazing happened to me as an entrepreneur and businesswoman. Sure, I planned a wedding and got married, but professionally speaking, thanks to the wedding month(s) I learned two major lessons: How to Strategically Plan for Time Away from Work, and How to “Safely” Disconnect from Work and Enjoy it!
As a business owner, especially when you have a less than twenty person company, day-to-day your business survives and thrives because you show up, physically and mentally. For many of us who do take time away for vacation, or a life-changing event like say, a wedding, when we do leave the office physically, we’re unable to allow ourselves to fully disconnect and relax. I can't tell you how many family trips I've been on (long and short) during which I'd find time to check in via the computer or phone at least once a day, and during several of those trips I also had a my iPhone within arm's reach at all times "just in case".
When I began planning my wedding I knew that had to change. The week of and the week after had to be dedicated in a large part to all things family, wedding and bridal. Though the thought of doing that scared me in the beginning, I'm happy to report that I did it, and by doing it I learned some lessons that I hope to share with you, because as business owners we should all be able to disconnect and allow our companies to go on functioning without us, or pause until we return (whatever is best for you, you do). You see, chances are high that life won't let you simply go on working at an entrepreneur's pace without interruption. It simply doesn't work that way.
We know this about life, and how it can be filled with moments we need to step away from work (vacation, family needs, illness, crisis, time to reboot) yet we often become addicted to being present. We forget how to disconnect. Sometimes as small business owners we even consider overworking to be deserving of a badge of honor. I'm not saying hard work and perseverance aren't essential to your business success but there are two problems with being unable to fully disconnect from time to time: it isn’t always going to be possible and it isn’t healthy in the first place.
That said there are solutions, systems and strategies entrepreneurs and business owners can begin putting into place now which will allow them - when the time comes for time away (for pleasure or otherwise) – to ensure their business can continue in whatever way is best.
"PUT YOUR PHONE DONE AND STEP AWAY FROM THE DESK"... HOW I MADE IT HAPPEN:
If you do not already have one now, begin working this week on an Operations Manual for your Business:
This should contain the "hows" (in specific detail) to run different parts of your business. See it as a training manual of sorts, and something your employees, an intern, an assistant or someone you hire to fill in for you can use when you're away. It will save you time when you do have to leave, and help keep people clear and organized in terms of all orders of operation. Save this in Google Docs (even if it's in print as well) so you always have access to it from anywhere you are!
Create a "Weekly Musts" List of Everything That Must Happen During a Normal Week
Sure, in every business random things pop up and you're putting out fires right and left, but I'm guessing that every week you do specific things at specific times. Make a list of that, by day, time, task and be specific. This way whether you have a planned or unplanned leave of absence you already have your essential weekly to do list work ready to be tackled. Save this in Google Docs as well so you always have access to it from anywhere you are!
Who is "Understudy" - Make Sure They Are Ready to Go
When a play hits Broadway (or even community theater) the most essential actors and actresses roles have understudies - fill in actors and actresses who are ready to take on the role should the stars not be able to go on. Your business needs an understudy - especially if there are only a few of you filling multiple roles. Sure they can't do it as well as you but they can help guarantee some of the essential tasks that keep your company moving will be completed, emails and phone calls will be answered and your business doesn't come to a halt. Depending on your type of business these could be freelancers in your field, hourly employees, assistants, other members of your team or even people who own businesses in your field of work who "get" what you do.
Automate Ahead of Time
Preplan and prepare using technology as much as possible: set emails to go out, set autoresponses guiding people to the best place possibe for help when you're gone, HootSuite Twitter posts, pre-write newsletters to go out when you're gone, prewrite blog posts and even emails! There is no reason you can't keep content flowing while you're laying out in the sun miles away!
Be Honest: What Does and Doesn't Have to Get Done
When I first planned my wedding time away I had a massive list of things I wanted to have others accomplish for me when I was gone. I was so afraid of losing momentum and wanted the massive to do list I go through every day to be done by other people. Thankfully, my business partner (try business soulmate) co-founder Katie reminded me that many of those tasks could be done upon my return. Not creating descriptions and detailed lists about how those items should be done by other people saved me time, and let me save those tasks for myself when I returned. BONUS POINTS FOR ME: I returned to those tasks with a fresh and re-energized brain and they turned out better than ever!
Put Away the Badge of Overworking:
That's right - I know we all want as many pats on the back and badges as possible but there is something not quite right about celebrating the fact that we cannot take time out of our business to enjoy life. Isn't that why most of us started our companies in the first place? To be in control, to be our own boss, to make life better? Could our never leaving our computer or desk be hurting our businesses and brains? Is your inability to never step away from your desk really a sign of success? Hmmmm think about those questions for a few minutes...
Believe me, I know (I know too much!) how hard it is to step away from work. It's hard enough for me to leave my desk for a coffee break let alone leave work for more than two days - ven for my own wedding. But I did, and had I not, I'd have regretted it for a very long time. Begin preparing your business now for days when it will be running without you. It will sometimes have to run without you! Work is not life, it simply isn't. You cannot attach a U-Haul to your hearse to show off all the "stuff" and badges and success you had as a business owner. It's all important, don't get me wrong, but it will be there waiting for you when you get back from doing things for you and your family from time to time. And if that doesn't convince you to give yourself the ability to step away, let me promise you that when you do come back, your brain will have had some R & R and will be firing on all cylinders and creating ideas and strategies only a rested brain can create!