The number of annual vacation days taken by American workers has dropped steadily since the year 2000. As reported by Project Time Off, employees frequently feel that they can't afford to take time off because it would mean "returning to a mountain of work" or being seen as replaceable. In 2014, 42% of Americans stated that they "had not taken a single day off in the past year," with the associated ripple effects on their families.
In line with the same trend, small business owners in the United States reportedly take an average of 5 annual vacation days. That time is even shorter when we factor in dealing with emails and messages to prevent customer service disruptions. Independent contractors who are the "face of the business" for sales and marketing find it particularly hard to take time off.
If it's been a few years since you took a true vacation from your business, here are a few thoughts for making it happen this year:
1. Schedule it: Mark the time you want to take off in every calendar you maintain, so you won't waiver or inadvertently accept work or schedule any appointments during that time. Use a bright color to mark the days you will actually be gone and another color for a day at each end to make sure you can wrap up and restart your business activities while still being officially 'away.' Doing so will prevent last-minute stress and will also discourage clients from contacting you on the last day of your vacation. A quiet day after returning from a trip will also help you ease back into a busy routine.
2. Communicate it: Add information about your upcoming vacation to all communication, e.g. as a tagline in your email or as an auto-response message. Send vacation announcements to key clients and bring the topic up in client conversations. If you usually strive to be reachable around the clock, start communicating your vacation plans with extra lead time. As an independent contractor, you can make substitute arrangements with colleagues to cover unexpected situations. However, the most important point is to state firmly how long you will be gone, and when you will again accept new business.
3. Take it: Once you manage to get away, be sure to make the most of your time off. Unless it's a matter of life and death, don't be tempted to assist clients who blithely ignore your announcements and simply assume you will be available as usual. Make a conscious effort not to spend hours hunched over a laptop to respond to email and turn off all notifications on your electronic devices for some peace and quiet.
The point of taking a vacation is not to travel to exotic locations or to spend extravagant sums, but to devote some time to yourself and your loved ones for a fresh perspective. Although the alternative to a vacation may be to "stay home and tip every third person you see," as an anonymous author once quipped, taking time out from daily routine is a chance to think about your long-term goals. For example, some business activities may have become boring and burdensome, while others are more enjoyable. What does your business mean to you, and is your schedule leaving enough time for your leisure and health? Have you created realistic expectations for your availability to clients?
Although it can be difficult to tear yourself away from business routines for a number of reasons, taking time off with plenty of fair notice communicates several important points: You are in charge of your schedule, you value your personal time, and you deserve your clients' respect. Here's to you.
What are your best tips for taking time off?
I look forward to hear from you!