Summer is almost here and with that comes the dream of taking some well-deserved vacation time. Taking time away from your business to refresh and decompress is so important, but too many entrepreneurs find it difficult to do so. In that spirit, we have asked the incredible CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to share their best tips for taking time away from their business. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Conduct a Trial Run!
Let the person who will be in charge while you’re away practice while you’re still in town. Do this first on a typical slow day for the business, then again on a more rigorous day. And, if you have a limited customer base, by all means let them know up-front about your planned vacation and communicate your operational plan that will be in place while you are out. It’s important that everyone, especially your customers, are comfortable with you being away!
2. Agents Need Vacations, Too
We tell clients that they need a vacation for refreshing their lives and we should be our own best customer and therefore, need them, too.
In today's world though, communication is still possible with both internet/email and a covering person(s).
I always take my laptop, which has my files and system access and always get some business done while traveling to take care of an emergency or new business if it arises. It's just more pleasant working on a cruise ship.
3. Leave Work at Work
Being dedicated to your career often means working when duty calls. However, it's crucial to take time away, turn off the email notifications and step away from your technology. Before vacation, create an efficient schedule, compartmentalize your tasks and set up a back-up plan for how problems will be solved in your absence. The week prior to your time off, ensure that you accomplish what must be done and then, leave your work at work and enjoy the (much deserved) mental break.
4. Add a Week
I manage an endlessly busy print shop and have to do more than basic delegation and email auto-responses for time off. Over the years, I've found the best solution: add a week.
Tack on a few days to the start and end of your vacation in case of business fires or travel emergencies. You can keep up by working from home for those last minute requests and get back up to speed at home before clocking back in.
I've never had an interrupted vacation or a flight delay ruin my time off since!
5. Don't Hide Your Vacation
Many business owners are embarrassed to say that they're taking a vacation. But, if you don't tell your clients, then they will reach out to you and you'll feel compelled to answer every email, text and phone call. I tell my clients a couple weeks before my trip and try to finalize any projects. They have my team at their disposal and I assure them that they are in good hands. I prepare my staff by having a meeting before I leave and ensure that they are on the same page. Then, I'm outta there!
6. Come Home to a Zero Inbox!
Coming back to a chaotic inbox takes away some of the excitement of a vacation. To eliminate this, simply place an auto-responder on your email before your departure. Let folks know that you are on sabbatical and in an effort to maintain your sanity when you arrive back, you will be deleting all email upon your arrival (GASP, yes it CAN be done!). Ask them to please email you again after your "return date" and give instructions for emergencies while you are gone.
7. Common Sense Makes Sense
Perhaps the obvious isn't always obvious. Although it might not seem genius, common sense makes sense: Whenever I'm planning a vacation or even a brief getaway, I let my customers know once my travel plans are in order. This gives them the heads up that I'll be gone and unavailable for the most part. As a sole proprietor, it is imperative that I communicate with my clients to keep them in the loop. I turn on my auto-response and if there's an emergency, I'll certainly get back to them.
8. Build a Strong Team
The key is to have a strong team in place that you can count on when you are away. I could never take a vacation if I didn't trust my team to handle the job. I instill confidence in our managers to make a decision without holding their hand. I ensure that my team is well-equipped to handle anything that is thrown their way.
9. "Marinating Time" is Baked in
At the beginning of every annual planning session, I plug in all the planned and scheduled vacation time FIRST - for me, my team, etc. As creative entrepreneurs, we know that time AWAY from work is actually incredibly valuable "marinating time" - where our minds can think more freely and creatively without the workday pressure. We then plan our launches, promotions, and other work around that. That way, our vacations are baked in and everyone has a clear expectation of how the year will roll.
10. Just Go!
Tell everyone in advance when you are leaving. Divide tasks up into before you go and when you return. Tell them you will not be able to be reached during your time away and what they should do. Do not check or answer your phone or email while you are away! Cold turkey is best!
11. Realistic Response Times
As a business owner, sometimes it's impossible to step away completely. Even when I'm away, there are still questions from my team and clients - and sometimes, they won't wait until I return. I commit to checking in via email every other day - and share my response timeline in my out of office auto-reply email. This way, everyone knows when to expect a response and I'm in the loop on important topics, so there's less of a catch-up needed when I get back.
12. Put Processes in Place
The key to getting away is to not have any business processes that only you own. An important skill in leading an organization is delegating specific things so that in your absence, all systems can keep running. Failing to delegate responsibility will ultimately result in you being a choke point in the organization. I recommend making a list of everything you do, and continually looking for things you’re spending time on. Turn them into processes that you can put your employees in charge of.
13. Get Cre8ive!
When it's time to step away from the business, you will KNOW it, without a doubt! Do not fight it, do not avoid it, let it happen. When I need to take a break, I inform clients and service partners of the duration. I then take my ME time, to get creative. Being a designer is great, but I need sunshine, painting, coffee and meetings with friends to revive my creative energy. When it's time, I know it, and I make it happen. After years of avoiding it, I learned it only hurt my business more!
14. Reasonable Staff Expectations
Every small business owner needs some time away, but the stress of being on vacation can be even more taxing than the daily management of the company.
To get your staff ready, set reasonable expectations for your absence. No one is going to be able to fully cover for you, so only delegate the most critical details and let your staff keep their routines consistent. The reasonable expectations extend to you as well; acknowledge that small things might get missed and accept it, rather than dwell.
15. Stop Doing What You Hate
Identify the top 3 tasks you HATE doing within your business and find a way to either remove the need for those tasks or outsource them to someone else. Not only will it free up more of your time (making it easier to take time off for vacation), but tasks you detest drain you of more than just time. Removing them will help you find more of the fun and fulfillment within your business. Forgot what those feel like? Get rid of some of those nasty tasks and rediscover the joys of entrepreneurship.
16. Prepping Customers
Although we have an excellent staff that can function well in my absence, we have several customers that I manage personally and I have to prepare them personally if I'm going to be able to relax at all on a vacation.
I start by giving 30+ days notice that I'll be away and, importantly, I ask them to confirm receipt. The two seconds it takes them to respond "ok" has historically been enough of a reminder for them that I'm away that they set their expectations for response time accordingly.
Robert Russo of Keycode
17. Get-away Gifting for Vacation
Tonight, I'm boarding a flight for Paris, a one week get-away with the love of my life, my fav 19 year old niece. This is my graduation gift to her since she's not been on a trans-Atlantic nor Pacific flight. Paris is a big deal any time but for her, this first time is BIG!
It's easy to reschedule vacation for various reasons: clients need attention, sales in a lull, or a new product launch pending. It takes a brave heart to let the love of your life down. Vacations as get-away gifting works. GO!
18. Just Do it!
When you have 1001 things to do and there’s not enough of you to go around, this is the perfect time to plan and take a vacation. You can’t be at your best for your clients, your business or yourself if you aren’t at the top of your game. Rest, relaxation, and renewal of spirit are an essential part of success and how you can spread more love in the world. So, go ahead, take time for yourself, have some fun, and show the world what real work life balance looks like.
19. Organization is Essential
When you are on vacation, your client should not suffer. I suggest about a week in advance, make sure to create a detailed account of each project you are currently managing. A tool I love is Trello. I have individual boards for each client and I create cards specific to each detail of their account. This helps those who are covering you intelligently discuss anything that may arise. Invest time before you're away so you can relax, you won't regret it.
Stephanie Larson of AmpliPhi
20. Crushing Vacation Anxiety
In the world of business, it is very difficult to fully take a vacation. But when I do, I manage my workload by checking my email an hour before my family wakes up and an hour in the evening. This enables me to able to avoid vacation anxiety. I am still able to be connected while enjoying the time with my family.
21. Drive Like Client @ the Wheel
Being an independent writer, I always inform clients & interested leads of any scheduled time off.
To demonstrate client partnership, I always create strategies & roadmaps that are fleshed out per their direction. Hashing everything out WITH clients ensures deadlines, as well as the quality of work.
Drive like your client is at the wheel is my philosophy.
22. Wanna Get Away? Sort Of...
We are a travel agency that specializes in Disney vacations. Most of our vacations are to Disney destinations, so when we're on vacation, we have the luxury of working, too. It's fun! All our adventures get shared publicly with all our fans across social media via photos and live video stream. So, when we get away, we're really not getting away, but rather sharing our vacation with thousands of others. It's fun and therapeutic for us... plus, our vacations ultimately market our business!
23. Pass the Proverbial Ball
Systems can save your business and your vacation. Creating systems with your team in mind helps everyone stay focused on the things that need to get done by whom and when. Take advantage of technology for team and social scheduling. Using an online schedule to plan out what your team needs to accomplish while you are away with a way to track action is really helpful. Pass the proverbial ball as projects progress through the system. Unplug, have a glass of wine, read a book & enjoy me time!
Delegating to employees is key to ensuring things run smoothly while you are relaxing on a beach or exploring ancient ruins while on vacation. You want to enjoy yourself and not have to worry about how things are going with the business. I always delegate important tasks like handling any calls or emails while I'm away. The other key to ensuring a great vacation is to identify all possible situations while you are gone and prepare a head of time. If you do this, you will enjoy some much needed R&R.
25. Delegate- Don't Worry!
Before you go on vacation, make sure that your staff or assistant is prepared for your absence. Instead of planning out every detail ahead of time, it’s more productive to simply choose a trusted staff member to step into your shoes while you’re gone. Delegating responsibilities while you’re gone gives the staff member you’ve chosen an opportunity to grow. You'll know someone at the office is managing any details that come up, and you can stop worrying and enjoy your vacation!
26. Work like Hotel California?
You might feel like "you can check out any time you like but you can never leave." Except in business it's much better to head out and take a break than to check out on the job. Hop in the car, crank up the tunes, and drive to a favorite place. The getaway might be 15 minutes or a long weekend. Either way, you'll feel refreshed and re-energized when you get back.
27. Stop, Drop and Roll
Pump the brakes and take a break. Vacations from work will make you refreshed, refocused and ready to begin again. So, let others know when you plan to STOP working. While you are at it, before you leave, decide what you will DROP and let others do in your absence. Finally, to make your vacation time truly effective, let a few things ROLL until you return, no need to rush into anything before or everything until you return. Plan before the trip and you will have a great time.
Myles Miller of LeadUP
28. Leave the Lights on
When I go away on vacation, I usually leave my office door open and keep my light on. I also erase the automatic "sent from my iPhone" message as I send emails from the road. These practices give the illusion of my physical presence in the office, which always helps my team keep up momentum and production. A few basic special effects that always do the trick!
29. Create Teachable Systems
One of the biggest reasons why business owners can't take a vacation is because they are a crucial part of the business itself. The trick to getting out of that trap is to make sure that your business activities are simple enough to teach to another person. If you want to take a vacation, you can bring someone else up to a core level of competency that will prevent things from falling apart.
30. Should Your Customers Know?
As a small business owner, you have two things to consider before going on vacation. One is, should I go on vacation, and two, should my customers know that I am going on vacation. If the decision has been made, and you need time off, I’d say to consider the second very carefully. Everyone agrees that people are entitled to vacation, but as a small business owner, you are the face of the company and the perception could be that while you are away relaxing, the company is not there.
31. Call and I am Coming Home!
The best advice that I ever got from a mentor was to set ground rules for staff when I am on holidays. One person has my contact info & they give it out to no one. If I get a call from this person, it is because I need to cut short my vacation & come home asap.
The thought process behind this: hire people you trust & give them latitude to make decisions. If the decisions they make have the company & customer in mind, I will always support it.
Trust people to do their jobs; it is critical!
32. The High Priority Project
Similar to high priority projects, vacation time requires advanced planning to avoid lost business. Review your timeline for assignment completion dates. The moment you know the dates of your getaway is the perfect time to reconnect with current and prospective clients. Reveal that you were thinking of them and that you will be away on specific dates. The call is to answer questions prior or set a date to speak afterward. Appreciation for your thoughtfulness will enthusiastically be expressed!
33. Vacation is the Hardest Job
Taking time off is very difficult. After all, the business is ours and we are its body and soul. How can we make it function when we are not there? First, you must trust the people you hire and empower them to make decisions. Give them broad guidelines so they can help customers in your absence. Second, prepare checklists that can easily be followed to ensure everything you expect to be done - will be done. Third, go over customer lists and known issues and suggest ways to handle these. Enjoy!
34. Be Excited AFTER Vacation
Before you leave for vacation, plan at least two high-priority business development opportunities scheduled for right when you get back.
Why? Instead of returning to work with a whimper, these meetings will both get you excited AND force you to step up your game immediately. That momentum will carry through the rest of the week.
35. Grant Authority
Delegation is one of the core concepts of management leadership. If you stop telling employees what to do and begin assigning responsibility, the ability to take a vacation dramatically increases.
Delegation is not a one-time event business owners do to take time away from the office. It’s an ongoing process that will benefit all aspects of your business.
36. Have a Point Person
You should have a point person that will be in charge of receiving inquiries, sales proposals, customer issues, etc. while you are gone. This person would be in charge of making lightweight decisions during your departure. They should know under what circumstances to get a hold of you. The more time you dedicate to the preparation, the more effective it will be. Prior to departure, run through your own checklist to make sure that everything is covered. Enjoy your vacation!
37. Reward for Hard Work
I plan for vacations shortly after the completion of large project. The last few weeks of a large project are usually the toughest, so a break is often helpful to refresh and prepare for the next big task!
38. Set Up Your Freedom Business
Entrepreneurs know it is difficult to take time away from the business. We are totally stressed out before leaving to get ready and when we return, we need to catch up. The key is to set up your business so that you can get away any time, any day. I call that the Freedom Business. For Service Professionals, it means to offer online courses and group programs. Your clients can make progress while you are taking time off. In my time off, I love to travel with my dog Sidney to practice power poses!
39. Vacation Vs. Trip
When it's time to take a break from work, I have to decide whether I'm going on a trip or taking a vacation. With a trip, I'm still checking in at work and focused on my business in a part-time capacity. When I take a vacation, I'm 100% unplugged and only focused on resting, relaxing, and refueling. Work is not on my mind at all, because I have shuttered my business interactions during my vacation period. It feels good to be fully in vacation mode and not struggling to decompress.
40. Vacation Unplugged With SOPs
As an entrepreneur who takes 10+ vacations a year, I can tell you from experience that the #1 strategy for taking time away from your business is to document your business procedures into written and video SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) that anyone can follow while you're gone. If you have every piece of your business documented, you can simply delegate operations to team members while you are away on vacation.
41. Cruise Without Worry
When I went on a holiday cruise, I contacted my main clients 3 months in advance to share my plans. I jokingly reminded them that I should practice what I preach, and that I am in need of work-life balance! I shared that I would be totally unplugged and suggested that they do the same. Of course, I ensured that open projects would be completed before I left and that new emails would be returned within 3 hours of my first day back. Most were very understanding and, even, encouraging!
42. Prepare Well in Advance
The key is to prep everyone way in advance--at least 6 weeks. Make sure that your employees know exactly what they're responsible for. Choose your top employees and prep them to handle a few of your main responsibilities while you're gone. Of course, that means you have to have processes in place for scalability. As for clients, you want to let them know you'll be taking a much-needed holiday. Reassure them that they'll be covered in any event and let them know who to contact, if necessary.
43. Plan for the Worst
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The more disasters you plan for, the better equipped your team will be to handle them without you. Think of a few worst-case scenarios and prepare your team. But, have steps in place to handle emergencies from your vacation location.
You should also clearly define what an ‘emergency’ is. Your team can’t come to you for every challenge that comes up. Otherwise, your vacation will turn into a week of remote work.
44. Sort Out Your Documentation!
I learned how NOT to take a break from my business when I was running a busy IT consultancy in London. After many stressful, interrupted holidays, I finally learned the trick to getting a real break when I pulled out all the stops for an undisturbed honeymoon. I prepared a “handover manual” for those covering me. It ran to dozens of pages and covered every technical eventuality. Not only did this protect my peace, it formed the basis of the documentation I needed when I sold my business.
45. One Uber-Productive Hour
On a normal day, I spend a lot of time on the phone. In order to take a vacation, I leave the phone behind - I don’t field any phone calls from clients or colleagues. However, I have to stay productive, so I direct everything to email. My voicemail instructs callers to email me, and I get one daily digest email from my assistant. Then, I have one specific hour (and no more!) set aside, during which I hammer through the most important of those emails before shutting it down until the next day.
46. Let's Make a Deal
I own a small vintage retail shop with no employees, so taking time off can be tricky. We’ve worked out a deal with one of our vendors who sells on consignment. She gets a higher percentage of the sale price of her items and agrees to cover the shop when we take time off. This is a win-win because she has an incentive to be there — not just doing us a favor, and she's happy that she makes a higher commission. Meanwhile, we don't have additional labor expenses when we need to leave the shop.
47. Set Milestones & Build Morale
Before travel, assign long-term projects with milestones, then schedule team-building activities during your absence. Make Open Table reservations at unique restaurants, book Friday movies, attend local events, & plan music events to promote team building.
48. Share Your Vacation
The best way to make sure you go on vacation is to share it with everyone! You'll find sharing it with others makes them so excited for you, they won't let cancel even if you try. If you don't go, now you're letting too many people down. When everyone is excited for you, they will also help you get those things done you don't have time to do, from taking care of your cat to meeting a deadline. Business or personal, your friends and colleagues want to see you enjoy a much deserved vacation!
Melissa Smith of The PVA
49. Let Your Team Take Charge!
I empower my staff daily, so that it is not a shock when I am away from the office. If they ‘own’ their jobs and can prove to me how capable they are, then my absence for a couple days does not create a problem!
50. Two for the Price of One
The best way to get away is to vacation during not-so-typical times. Don’t vacation during spring break, go right before or after. Everyone is busy getting ready to take off… or catching up. They probably won’t even notice that you are gone. And, when everyone else is vacationing, you are at work getting lots done. It’s almost like getting two vacations. Before leaving, send a note with stats on why vacation is important to work-life balance. Play on their sympathies. It works!
51. Vacation Culture
The best tip that I can give for business owners to make time for a vacation from their business is to identify the down time or times in your business and plan your vacation at that point. If your business doesn't have a down time, then alert your clients two months away from your vacation that you will be away from the office. Then, make that time of the year your vacation "season". Eventually, the culture you create by doing this will resonate with your clients and it won't ever be an issue.
52. Spend Time Outside
I am a big fan of the outdoors. I try to spend as much time outside as possible when I am not working. It helps me rejuvenate, refocus, and get my mind away from work. I find I come back with a lot more energy and enthusiasm after a weekend backpacking or rock climbing. I encourage our team to take a break during the day and get outside. Even if it is just a brief walk during lunch break, it can have a positive impact on how you feel.
53. Coworkers are the Key
As one guilty of periodically checking my email (just in case) when I should be relaxing, I’ve found that the best vacations require careful planning. I got married 9 months ago, and that was one vacation where I was determined to leave work behind. In the month leading up to my honeymoon, I worked extra hours. I begged my coworkers to take over more essential responsibilities, which meant giving them some extra training, a thank you card and a lunch on me. The extra work was worth it!
54. Take Vacation Without Guilt
As a small business owner, it's easy to feel guilty when you take off for a few days for vacation.
Sole proprietors and business owners can most definitely take a vacation, especially these days.
No longer does a business owner have to be chained to the desk, as it's easier to take work with you than ever.
Let me explain.
Sure, you won't be able to completely unplug like working folks do, but hey, that's why you got into business for the first place, to be your own boss.
55. Tips for a Stress-free Holiday
If you’re planning a trip away from work, tying up loose ends beforehand is crucial. There is no use in taking a holiday if your work is incomplete; it will just prevent you from enjoying your time away from the office.
Prepare in advance, create a spreadsheet of all the jobs that need completing before your holiday and begin with high priority tasks. If you have an upcoming meeting the week of your return, prepare for it well in advance by making notes and encouraging employees to contribute.
56. Shorter, More Often Vacations
Recharging your battery and time off is needed, but I found the prep and after effects of a week off left too much in limbo and stressed customers, staff and myself. The solution was less days, but more often. Two or three days wrapped in with a weekend and holidays five or six times a year, refreshed me and I didn't have as long to look forward to the next one. My staff and customers preferred it because crisis and preparation for time being gone were always more manageable and less stressful.
57. Pack Your Bags
As Nike says, just do it! I started a global marketing firm 16 years ago and have taken a month away twice in fact, once for my 40th and once for my 50th. My tip is to plan well in advance and deputize your team to problem solve in your absence. You can test drive with shorter trips beforehand. They may not make the same decision you would have but everyone, including your clients, will see life goes on and you can course correct when you return. What are you waiting for? No regrets, promise!
58. Automate Your Way to Vacation
For their day to day tasks, I'm big on having clear processes and checklists in place for my team so they can be fully responsible for their roles. On top of that, when I take a vacation, I also create short video reminders of what needs to get done while I'm away and what to do in case of any problems. If you empower and trust your team, then you can step away for vacations or new business opportunities any time.
59. Planning a Get Away From Work?
As a dentist, the best way that I can prepare myself to have a worry free vacation is by planning ahead and by training my associates and employees beforehand. Here's a list of the things I do:
-I make a list of important procedures and protocols, so even if I’m not available, my associates can follow the cheat sheet.
-I send out my emergency contact to my clients.
-I pick the right person to act on my behalf.
Planning ahead of time makes it easy for me to decide who is good at the job.
60. Have a Time to Check in
Set communication boundaries for your time away. Not many business owners will want to completely disassociate from their company while on vacation, but it is still important you take time out to recharge.
How and when should employees contact you for non-emergencies? Draw up a timetable for when you’ll be reading emails or free for phone calls. This will help you to stay connected to your business, while still being able to have undisturbed intervals to enjoy your time off.
61. Prepare for the Worst
Vacations can be impossible when you own a business. I recently took my first full week off in over five years. My advice is to prepare your staff for the worst-case scenario. What is the worst thing that could happen to your business, whether you are there or not? Prep your staff for potential difficulties, so they are able to handle any issues that may crop up while you’re away. Have a contingency plan for obvious mishaps, but also talk them through what to do in the event of major problems.
62. Prepare to Get Away!
Getting away on vacation begins with leaving things in good order--a clean desk, loose ends tied up, pre-work completed on upcoming due dates and staff that is aware of your absence and knows how to fill in and protect your time away! Now, you can leave and not look back!
63. Stay Connected With Technology
I plan my trips around my summer camp and college coaching season. When hiring, I look for responsible people, so my instructors are reliable and I don't have to worry when I'm away. With modern technology, if I'm in my office or if I'm overseas, the traveling office is always available to me. Even when I go to my second home in Italy, other than the time difference, the Tiger Tennis Academy is always open, well, almost always.
64. Workationing Beats Nocationing
Never discount the value of workationing (or taking the parts of your job that can be done remotely to fun, beautiful places). It's no substitute for unplugged vacationing, but getting away from your home, commute, cubicle, and routine will do wonders for the soul. It will probably even force you to experience parts of your world and psyche that you otherwise would not enjoy. So, untethering is great, but working from the road on a regular basis is therapeutic.
65. Work Between Vacations
I schedule my vacations and time off first every year. When it goes in the calendar, it's real. I work between vacations and I consciously communicate this philosophy to my employees and encourage them to do the same. If you're not planning vacation-time into your calendar, then you are subconsciously telling yourself that you will not make enough money or have enough time to go on vacation. I do the opposite. I plan those vacations and know that for the next 90 days I've got to get results.
66. Plan and Debrief
1. Hand over any work that requires action when you’re away.
Find the right person to take on these tasks and brief them on the background and what your expectations are. Be clear about how, when, and under what circumstances you'd like to be contacted while away.
2. Upon return, schedule a debriefing.
Have your team provide no more than headline reports. You can request further detail if you feel it's necessary.
Do you know any tips for taking time away from your business that weren’t included? Please share your thoughts below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!