7 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Avoid FAILING At Vacations

July 18, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

I’m baaaaack!

First, I’d like to thank the folks who participated in this year’s Expert Week. They Knocked. It out. OF THE PARK! I think it was the best Expert Week we’ve had in the history of the blog and I’m so very thankful – both to my colleagues who shared their insight and to the warm welcome they received from the community. It’s hard to go away and leave your baby in someone else’s hands, but these guys made it a lot easier.

If you missed any of the content from last week, forget whatever you’re supposed to do be doing this morning and go read it. From a fiery Point/Counterpoint on why SEOs and Developers just can’t get along (yet) to tackling marketing’s Batman and Robin to phenomenal content-based link building tips to a bittersweet industry goodbye that has me in tears every time I read it– last week had it all.

Now that I’m back, I wanted to share some lessons of my own from last week as I get back up to speed. Because one thing I learned while you were all benefiting from the knowledge of Expert Week is just how hard it is to really go away as an entrepreneur, especially if your vacation doesn’t actually have you going anywhere. And you keep coming into the office. And responding to email.

Oops.

That’s right. My name is Lisa and I nearly failed at taking a vacation last week. However, I am smarter for my errors!

Below are some tips on how to take a vacation in an Internet-obsessed, just-a-DM-away world.

1. Commit to taking time off

As entrepreneurs and small business owners, this is where many of us fail miserably. We think that to hustle a healthy startup, we need to be constantly working. That we can’t possibly take time off to recharge and heal ourselves.

We are really, really stupid.

A recent post at the Mindful Living Network commented on a Framingham Heart Study which found that women who don’t take vacations are EIGHT TIMES MORE LIKELY to have a heart attack than women who take at least one vacation every 2-5 years. A different study found that men who do not take annual vacations have a 32 percent HIGHER RISK of death from heart attack.

By not taking a vacation, you are literally killing yourself. Feel free to stop any time now. If not for your loved ones, then for all your cats.

2. Plan for your absence

You can relieve much of the stress of going away by taking the time to plan for your absence. What does that mean? It means documenting your process (or sometimes, um, creating processes) for how you do things.

  • What are the steps to publishing something to your Web site?
  • How do you enter in and pay an invoice?
  • What is the process for handling customer returns?
  • How do you answer the phones?

Ideally, this material is already available and you’re using it for training purposes. But if it’s not, consider this a really good time to put some processes in place. Because once established, it’s a lot easier to hand off that documentation to someone and trust that they’ll be able to do the tasks without incident. Know what will need to get done and make sure people understand how to do it.

Planning ahead may also mean bringing in extra manpower or people to cover for you. Like, for example, finding five industry experts to take over a week of blogging for you. It may also mean completing tasks early and scheduling them to go out on the correct date, which I did for the content I published last week on SmallBizTrends. I’d also recommend creating a list of Emergency emails and numbers that people can go to for specific problems so that they’re not coming to you.

3. Notify everyone you’ll be gone

The week before you leave, start letting everyone you know – your clients, your colleagues, your employees, your friends, and everyone and anyone who may have the need to call you/email you/try and track you down – and let them know you’ll be unreachable during this time. Because you don’t want them to track you down. You want to finally be left alone go on a peaceful vacation. Ask if they can wait to send you those 37 emails until you get back into town and explain why you’d prefer not to have that call while you’re sitting on the runway or driving up to your camp spot. Taking a vacation doesn’t just mean not going into the office; it means to stop thinking about work and to let your mind go blank for a while. The more people are aware of your plans to unplug, the more compassionate they’ll (hopefully) be about bombing your inbox while you’re away.

4. Turn off all social media notifications

Go read that again.

Turn. Them. Off.

For those of us who offer social media services for a living, this really is key. Turn off the Facebook notifications. Turn off the Google + flashing buttons. Choose not to get an email every time someone DMs you. Leave it all at home. If you’ve told everyone you’ll be out of town, they shouldn’t be DMing you work-related questions, but they probably will anyway. If you ignore the DM, they’ll probably then go to your email, which will shoot them your carefully crafted auto-responder letting them know who they should talk about this matter. Don’t even check your social media accounts. You don’t need to see what blog posts from which bloggers are getting pushed to hell and you don’t need to read your friends’ passive aggressive status updates. That will all be there brewing for you when you return. You’re on vacation. Probably from these very people who are slowly driving you crazy.

5. Plan for OMG, I HAVE AN AWESOME IDEA syndrome

Even if you’re taking a vacation because you’re burnt out/have nothing left/ can’t think of a single worthwhile idea to save your life – as soon as you go on vacation your brain will be flooded with genius thinkings. This is not a reason to conclude your vacation WORKED and to immediately break out your laptop and start working on things. This, instead, is when you should pull out a tiny orange notepad (well, mine’s orange), write that idea down, and then go back to drinking your frozen strawberry margarita with the tiny purple umbrella. Keep track of the ideas and blog posts that will be smacking you in the face the moment you “turn off”, but do not let them intrude on your You Time.

Simply write them down and go back to your vacation. It will be nice to have a million things to get to when you return back to the office. Or… your basement. Wherever you happen to work from. I’m not judging.

6. Make “off” your phone’s new default

Let’s face it – many of us suck at unplugging. We live our lives on the Internet where ridiculous things like checking in, twitpicing, and keeping up with industry gossip is our idea of fun and normal. But it’s not normal and it’s exactly why you need to take time off. Otherwise, you may be attempting to twitpic your own funeral.

As a Web-obsessed person, your phone, your iPad, your whatever-shiny-gadget is your enabler for these tasks and they need to be turned off. Better if you can just NOT take them with you, but that’s not always realistic. Instead, force yourself to detach from the Internet by leaving all of your electronics in the off position, as if there’s a flight attendant standing over you and giving you the stink eye.

7. Come back a day earlier than everyone thinks

This probably sounds counter-intuitive. Why would you want to come back from your vacation a day EARLY? Easy. Because no one else will know you’re back and they’ll leave you alone to dig out at your own pace. Muahaha! Even better if during your Planning To Be Away stage you’re able to complete a couple of tasks for the day you return – like having that client document already started, having a blog post written, scheduling some tweets, etc. All this will allow you to slowly get back into the swing of things without having to deal with the mad rush of that first Monday (or whatever day) back. Let’s not undo the good effects of your vacation by throwing yourself into a bender your first day back.

You need to take time off. You need it for the health of your mind, your body, your soul and your business. So make sure you’re taking it. There’s a difference between taking a vacation and just not showing up at the office.

Also, it’s good to be back. :)

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