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7 tips every business owner needs to take a real vacation

When I started as an EMyth Coach in 1996, I had a client (let’s call her Kathy) whose biggest frustration was not being able to trust her people to take care of the business in her absence. She confessed that it had been ten years since she’d gone away for longer than a weekend. Just one week prior, she’d stepped out for two hours to take her cat to the vet and literally closed down her business during that time because she was so sure it would fall apart in the two hours she was gone. Two hours!

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“I want you to set a goal for our work together,” I told her. “In one year, I want you to take a week-long vacation.”

Kathy laughed at me.

So I asked her, “Why not?”

“That’ll just never happen,” she replied.

Nine months later, Kathy booked a week-long trip for her and her husband to Hawaii.

So what changed? Well, quite a bit.

First and foremost, Kathy changed her mindset. Before she could create a business that would run like a well-oiled machine without her, she had to address her tightly held beliefs about what would happen if she were to step out for a mere two hours. Her fears—that the business would fall apart without her, that work wouldn’t happen, that clients would be dissatisfied—were reasonable given the lack of documented systems and standards in her business. But they weren’t necessarily true.

I’ve worked with a lot of clients over the past two decades, and I can assure you that not a single one ever came back from an hour, a day, or even a week off to find a flaming hole in the ground where their business once stood. Not one.

In fact, I often tell my clients that taking a vacation is the best way to discover where their business needs work. Go away for a day or two and see what starts to slide. What do your employees call you about? What processes do they no longer know how to do without you there?

With a strong plan, your business won’t collapse. But you will discover what key systems are missing—the ones you’ve held in your own mind but never put down on paper.

So in the best interest of yourself and your business, take a vacation. Give yourself the joy of waking up and not having anything to do at 9 a.m. Disrupt your own patterns. Put aside your to-do list. Take time to remember why you started your business in the first place. It’s good for your health.

To do that with minimal stress (without worrying constantly about how your business is doing back home), you need a little structure.

Here are seven tips to let you enjoy your vacation without spending the whole time worrying about your business:

1. Check your mindset

Ask yourself: What’s holding me back from taking a vacation? What are the fears, the rationalizations, the beliefs? Then ask if those things are true and (if they are) whether they’re truly insurmountable. How might your attachment to those beliefs be holding you back from more than just a vacation? Remember Kathy. If she couldn’t trust her team, how could she expect them to lead? Sometimes you need to face your beliefs directly to recognize you’re the only one making them a reality. And if you take a vacation without shifting your mindset, you’re likely to take those worries with you—meaning you’ll come back Monday morning feeling as if you didn’t go away at all.

2. Designate a point person

Appoint someone to be “you” in your absence. Who will answer employees’ questions? Who will make necessary decisions? Select someone you trust and ask them what they need to feel confident in this role. Think outside the box if you need to. Recently, I spoke with another EMyth Coach who was afraid of leaving her clients to take a vacation. I invited her to give her clients my phone number for anything urgent that came up during that time. (Important to note: I never got a call. Nothing fell apart!) There’s always a solution. Even if your people are your biggest frustration, you might be surprised at how they rise to the challenge when given the opportunity. Leaders can only develop when given the opportunity

3. Talk to your team

If you’re worried about your team's ability to keep the ship afloat in your absence, figure out what they need to be able to do so. Set up a team meeting and ask them, “If I were gone for a week, what would you need to feel confident running this business on your own? If we could only talk for 15 minutes every day, what would you need to feel secure?” You might be surprised by how clearly they’ve already identified the missing systems.

4. Set up a once-a-day check-in

I know it’s hard to walk away from your business for any amount of time when you and your team aren’t used to the distance. Make sure you keep your sanity and that your team feels supported by scheduling a 15-minute check-in for the same time every day to answer any questions that come up while you’re away. Your team will feel relieved knowing they can get ahold of you, and you'll ensure that the other 23.75 hours in your day are work-free.

5. Unplug as much as you need to

Only you know how unplugged you need to be to feel relaxed and rejuvenated. Some people can respond to email once a day and it doesn’t take them out of their vacation mindset; others need to be 100% unplugged to feel like they really got away. Be honest with yourself about what you need, and set rules. Bring paper books if your iPad or Kindle will tempt you to check email. Turn off your phone for all but one hour a day. Whatever you need, do it. Communicate the relevant guidelines to the people who’ll want to get in touch with you. Hold yourself accountable and stick to your own rules.

6. Bring a notebook

Being in an unfamiliar situation and disconnected from your typical day-to-day is great for generating ideas about both your business and your life. You’ll see things differently. “What if’s” are going to happen. You’ll become more curious, breathe more deeply, smile more easily. And when you suddenly realize how to solve that frustration in your business or get struck by a brilliant idea for a new initiative, you’ll want to have a notebook nearby to write it all down in.

7. Take baby steps

All this said, you don’t have to push yourself too far outside your comfort zone before you’re ready. How about a Friday afternoon off to take your kids to the movies or out for ice cream? Why not try a fully unplugged weekend? Start small. Test the waters. Take a little space, and allow your employees to rise to the occasion.

Building a business you’re proud of is a marathon, not a sprint. But even marathon runners stop to grab some water, check their pace, and gauge their performance and energy use. Every once in awhile you have to stop moving—to step away from the doing—so that you can actually see what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. That’s where creativity happens. That’s where the joy steps back in.

A small group of EMyth Coaches and I recently made a mutual commitment that by the next time we spoke, we’d each have booked a vacation. So, later this month, I’m taking my dog and my notebook to a friend’s cabin for a long weekend away to walk unfamiliar trails and breathe unfamiliar air.

And you? What will you do? Where will you go?

Remy Gervais

Written by Remy Gervais

Remy started working as an EMyth Coach in 1996, and still loves working directly with business owners, as well as serving at EMyth’s Coach Training and Development Manager. As a coach, she relentlessly pursues her clients’ goals, working to help them translate their vision into core standards and systems, while coaching them to become better leaders and guiding them as they move their companies through transformation.