The Get Away

A 6 minute read written by Dave August 27, 2014

Whether you're a business owner, business for self, manager or employee, we all know taking time away from our work means one thing and one thing only: the world is going to end.

Ok. That's a bit dramatic, but you see where I'm coming from. We often panic at the thought of time away and about all the things that need to get done before we leave. Then we move on to agonizing over what will take place while we’re gone and what kind of post-apocalyptic email nightmare we’ll be coming back to. Yet, taking time away is vital to life-work balance.

So, let me ask you this: if you were about to go away for two weeks, what five things would you do before you left the office? That's the question I faced on my last day in the office before I headed out on vacation.

I have a confession to make. I’m in charge, and I haven’t taken more than a week of vacation in six years. Why the heck not? 

There is a necessary renewal and focus you find in time away. Most people get this, and take vacations regularly. So why didn’t I? Because my web development company wouldn't fit in my suitcase.

The truth is there are lots of ways to prepare for a getaway that will be productive to the “just before” and “during” of vacation time and also aid in the “when you get back” part. Here are a few of the things I learned from my first real vacation in over six years.

Why wouldn't you take a vacation?

Before I owned a business I assumed working for myself would be nothing but afternoon bike rides and sleeping in. I could set my own hours and do whatever I wanted.

And that's true. You can set your own hours and do whatever you want. But if you’re fortunate enough to have a successful business, ensuring your clients get a timely response and your team gets the information they need means that you put in lots of hours.

Often in the beginning stages, there are some great days when everyone leaves early and goes bowling or to a matinee. But then as your business builds, if you mix smart hiring with a little bit of luck, you get incredibly talented and motivated people working with you (that need direction and tasks). Your time off flexibility starts to narrow. Now factor in rent, bills, planning, meetings, reviews, competition, writing, researching and exploring all the possible futures that can come in a rapidly developing industry. Taking time to goof off and kick back seems beyond trivial when you add up all of these things that start to fill your days. The idea that you can set your own hours, and do whatever you want, when there is always more than you can get done starts to seem laughable.

Take the time you don’t think you have

With all the pressures of running a business it's not surprising that vacations fall off your list. But if you don't take time for yourself, you stand to lose a lot.

Your sense of perspective drifts, your focus widens (often making you unfocused) and you don't make the best decisions for your clients or your team. Little things seem big, and you end up doing tasks that don't have value. You started these tasks at some point, and over time you're not quite sure why you're still doing them. You don't stop to take the time and remind yourself why you started them in the first place. But you should. Doing so allows you to sort through the top-priority, important, less important and unnecessary tasks that often get jumbled into that one long to-do list.

Taking some time to get away from your work is healthy and helps with perspective and prioritization. It's the reason you all went bowling, or out for a matinee in the early days. You came back to work refreshed, energized and ready to be more productive than you were in the last hour of a tired afternoon.

I love finding ways to simplify my life and find focus; to renew my vision and ensure I’m working on the most important things to get done at that moment.

Distractions are such a significant part of modern life that keeping focused is hard work. You either need external pressure (DEADLINES) or a way to revisit your focus regularly (OKR). But if you spend too much time on focused tasks, you lose your perspective on what the really important things are.

So I made a getaway

To France. The one in Europe. That’s pretty away, considering I live in Edmonton, Alberta. On top of that, it was my first real vacation in over six years.

Getting away was interesting. I was pretty bad at it for the first couple of days. The first day I spent looking for and acquiring a SIM card for my mobile phone. "So we can look up maps" I told my wife. But the first app I launched, and the one I used most the first week, was email. I felt the need to check in and see what was going on – even if I didn't respond – just to make sure nothing was happening. To check in and see that nothing was happening - what was I thinking?

It took me the entire first week to realize this wasn't necessary because it’s impossible to see nothing happening. My company has a great team in place, who is ready for when things happen and capable of resolving issues as they occur. So quite literally, nothing was happening that I needed to worry about, because my team was on top of it.

The second week was much better because I focused on NON-WORK things, with the realization that everyone back at the office could continue on without me. That was pretty satisfying. It led to some great ideas, renewed focus, and a desire to get back to work, the really productive and useful parts.

Some take-aways from my getaway

Of course, back at the office, nothing exploded (a few small things broke, but the team was on top of it.) What’s more, I had a great time away. I learned a few new things, read some great books (Lean In, The Creative Habit, Worst Person Ever) and found some new life experiences including riding a bike on the Champs-Elysees, seeing the Tour de France live, and standing on the beaches of Normandy.

And I came back a more valuable, focused person at work. I realize now this isn't something I can leave for another six years. I need to make the time every year to take a break, so I can focus and do the right things for my team and for my clients.

A few things that helped me get away:

  • Plan your time
    • Identify when you’re going, and start planning a few weeks out
  • Communicate to your clients/contacts you’re going to be away
    • Ensure everyone knows you’re gone, and what your communication pattern will be (ie: checking email, or call if it’s urgent)
  • Identify an alternate contact
    • And buy them a gift when you get back
  • Establish some ground rules
    • After the first week, I checked email once a day at a set time for 15 minutes - should have done this the first week too
  • Come back one day early and catch up on email. But don’t tell anyone
    • There’s always too much email, having an extra day made my first day back much better - I lucked out and came back on a long weekend Monday

A few of the things I learned while on vacation:

  • You can’t get a good breakfast in Paris
  • The Louvre is pretty incredible
  • Watching the Tour de France in person is worth the trip
  • I like making lists
  • Candy Crush is addictive (never played before this vacation)
  • Offloading some tasks was useful for me and the person covering for me (they learn what I do all day)
  • A change of scenery brings new ideas
  • Taking a break and renewing focus took more work than I thought it would
  • The architecture in France gave me a renewed appreciation for fanatical dedication to quality
  • The scope and scale of the buildings in Paris made me realize that it’s rare we take on truly magnificent buildings in our cities today. Who would think to build (and pass through city council) any of the buildings that define Paris?
  • The ability to get the right things done at the right time takes practice and focus