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How to Train Yourself (and Your Clients) to Take Vacation Time

Arianna Huffington posted something on LinkedIn that I found painfully true:

It reminded me of when my sister and brother-in-law took a three week vacation to tour Australia and New Zealand and the majority of the people they met were taking three months (and not Americans).

Last month I took the first five consecutive day vacation I've taken since starting my business four years ago. In case you didn't know - as a business owner you make your own schedule, but your schedule is often at the mercy of the clients you serve (if that's what you allow).

Now, we're in the midst of a pandemic, so I didn't actually GO anywhere - I just had a staycation. But I had been feeling burned out and bitter and I felt like I just needed to step away for a few days.

That sounds easier than it actually was.

I did everything I needed to do: I let my clients know well in advance that I was taking a few days off, so if they needed anything done beforehand they needed to let me know. I told the consultants who work with me that I was going to try and have some quiet time, so they knew not to contact me unless it was an emergency. I activated my out-of-office messenger on my email. I was set.

Or so I thought.

1. It was hard for me to walk away...even temporarily.

I didn't feel comfortable not being at my computer for some portion of the day until about Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday, my hand still hovered over my work email account on my phone "just to check in." I suddenly realized that I had lost the ability to unplug from work and knew how unhealthy that was. I felt a void because I wasn't serving and helping other people 8 hours a day. I didn't know how to STOP and just relax without feeling guilty.

2. It was hard for some of my clients to realize I was on vacation.

No one was rude, but several seemed to forget that I was out until they got that out-of-office reminder. Of course, what I was seeing were requests from them that I kept thinking, "This would only take 5 minutes. I should just log in and do it." It took a sheer act of will to not only not take care of what they needed, but also not to email them back and let them know that I would take care of it ASAP when I returned.

3. It put a spotlight on long-term business practices I need to figure out.

I felt like a textbook case from Chuck Blakeman's Making Money is Killing Your Business. In the book he emphasizes the importance of what you need to do to make your business more self sufficient. After all, most of us did not start our own businesses so that we could work 90 hours a week until we die at 96.

We started them with the fantasy of having a flexible schedule with the possibility of making money while we're on the golf course (or maybe that's just my fantasy). When you take time off from your business, you can't help but think about the holes in your processes and what's NOT being done in your absence. Then you have to start thinking of ways to fix those gaps.

Bottom Line

Because so much of how we work has changed due to the pandemic, it's more important than ever to start focusing on how to protect our time off - even if it's just over the weekend. So many of us are working from home and it's easy to fall into the trap of "I'll just log in really quickly and take care of that."

Without creating boundaries around our time, we'll all be heading for major burnout. The obvious issue is training your clients that you WILL be taking time off each quarter; the harder and more unexpected issue is training yourself to actually do it.

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