This week, I was on a Zoom call with some fellow solopreneurs discussing our plans for the week.  A friend from the UK mentioned how much she enjoys August because everyone is ‘on holiday’.  This means there is time for you to also take a vacation – or to catch up on other tasks, because pretty much the whole country is out of the office.

Imagine what that would be like for your small business.  All your customers put everything on pause for at least a full week (or two!) and everyone just takes a week off.  No email, no phone calls, no fires to put out.  How relaxing would that be?

WFB (Working from Beach)

Instead, here in the U.S., we tend to consider days off as unproductive.  After all, time is money, so if we are lazing around at the beach then we are losing money!  So even if we offer vacation days to our employees, small business owners don’t always take their own vacation days, or not enough of them.  On average, small business owners take “just five business days off per year” as compared to 10 business days for “corporate America” employees.  And if you’ve been in business for less than 10 years, you are even less likely to take a vacation.

Even if you do take time off, it can feel nearly impossible to fully distance yourself from your work.  As a matter of fact, one study showed that only 14 percent of business owners are able to “completely check out while on vacation”, as compared to over half of U.S. workers in general.  Sixty percent of business owners “check in” at least daily while on vacation.

And the ease of technology can allow you to continue working from any location.  Zoom calls on the beach!  Conference calls from the interstate! Email responses on a nature hike!  Hardly any location is so remote that you can’t connect with your working world. Thanks technology!

WFH (Working from Home) 

When COVID hit and we were all forced to shut down for a while, many business owners established a new habit of working from home.  On average, “among knowledge workers, the average workday increased by 48.5 minutes during the early months of the pandemic.”

So even though we had the opportunity to lighten our workload, instead we added to it!  And we were already living through a global pandemic which substantially increased the number of people struggling with anxiety or depression, according to the CDC.  Even before COVID, small business owners were already more likely to experience “symptoms of poor mental health”, including an inability to focus (66%), anxiety (64%) and disrupted sleep (63%).

Somehow even though we were all seemingly forced to slow things down, we found a way to be more productive and work more hours.  Many of us now blend our work and home life so effectively that it’s hard to know when you’re working or not working.

So, whether we are on vacation or at home, we are also at work.  As we have slowly become addicted to our cell phones, that makes it even harder to disconnect from work.  You might be ‘relaxing’ over a silly Tiktok video or checking in with friends on Instagram, but when that work email notification pops up, are you able to ignore it?

Every Day is a Holiday

While there are certainly pros and cons of running your own business, one thing is certain.  As business owners, it is just that much harder to “let go” of work at the end of the day, whether we are home or on vacation.

For comparison, I like to think of my days working at a food manufacturing plant for a huge international company.  The most senior union employee at the plant was paid the most and was able to pick his job from the many tasks needed in the plant.  Did he pick a complex task like managing the control room?  Nope!  His job was to sit next to a giant feeder bin of glue sticks that got fed into the manufacturing line to glue the labels onto the cans of product.  If the bin ran short, then he had to put more in the bin.

I imagine that when he left work, he didn’t give his job one second of thought.  His job was a means to an end; it gave him the opportunity to enjoy his time off.

Now honestly, a job like that would probably drive me crazy.  I prefer to fully engage my brain as much as possible all day.  But I could learn a lesson from this fellow and try to disconnect from work a bit more!

Mental Holiday

The fact of the matter is that we need down time.  Our brains are not meant to be active all the time.  And you are at your most creative during completely unstructured time.  A long vacation can give you a much better perspective about your priorities at work and home after you return.

And some downtime every day can give your stressed and frazzled brain a rest.  But the key is that you need actual DOWN time, not different screen time.  Trading spreadsheets for Netflix doesn’t solve the problem.  Try to unplug to truly get the break you need.

Sadly, we are very bad at that!  If you’ve ever stood in a long line at Walgreens waiting to pick up a prescription, you know that none of us can stand around for even a few minutes without looking to our phones for distraction or entertainment.

There was even a study done back in 2014 where adults were given the option of “entertaining themselves with their own thoughts” for 15 minutes or giving themselves painful electric shocks.  Which would you pick?  Believe it or not, two thirds of the men and one-quarter of the women chose the shocks over thinking.

It’s time for all of us to start recognizing the value of downtime – creative thinking time, relaxing time, reflection time.  And just say no to screen time (or electric shocks)!

The Value of Holiday

What is the key takeaway here?  Downtime has value.

It is vital to our business and our mental health to take time off – both in small pieces during the day, and in extended vacations.  Not just long weekends, but longer stays.  You might find you come back fully refreshed with a brand-new approach to a past problem.

This time off is not a waste.  It’s the way to create an opportunity for your brain to turn off the task-focus and turn on the creative juices.  It’s only when you’re “not paying attention to anything in particular” that your brain is able to be creative and innovative.  The best way to address strategic issues or complex problems with your business is actually to get away from them altogether. 

Perhaps you’ve noticed that some of your best ideas come to you while in the shower or on a long walk?  That’s because you let your mind wander away from your To Do list and into a more imaginative state.  So, start by keeping your phone in your pocket when you’re in line at Walgreens, and work up from there.

Your ultimate goal is to find a way to completely disconnect from work for a full week (or more!).  If you can have creative thoughts during a 10-minute shower, imagine how much of your creative/innovative brain will be in use during a 10-day vacation!

St John Holiday

My last true getaway – to St John, USVI in 2017

My passion is to help growth-minded entrepreneurs like you find ways to plan for your version of a successful future.  I do this through courses, consulting, and a community of like-minded people.  Reach out for a free ½ hour conversation if you’re curious to learn more!

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