By Hugo Vasquez, Startup Life Support Member 

As an employee, I was never the type to take time off and disconnect from work during the holidays. I prided myself on getting the job done and being available for my boss – even on vacation.  

This didn’t change after starting my own business, either. I didn’t see any problem with scheduling activities for myself when I was supposed to be enjoying a break from work. Even if I didn’t have anything pressing to work on, I would keep myself busy reading and researching ways to improve my trade. I was incapable of taking even a single day off from work or my business. 

Christmas Eve 2015 changed that.  

That year, I was at my parent’s house on “vacation” for the week. The company that I worked for had recently won a contract to implement our software for a huge client. The project didn’t begin until January, but we wanted to get a head start. Our goal was to get testing done before Christmas and we were way behind. 

I worked the entire week of my supposed vacation, staying online until 8:00 pm on Christmas Eve trying to finish the project. My family kept telling me to get off the computer, but I was dead set on working until I couldn’t work anymore. I now realize that I missed out on valuable time with my family that I won’t ever get back.  

To tell the truth, I was a workaholic using my career as a distraction from my problems. After reflecting on that Christmas, I committed to never to working while on vacation again. It took some trial and error before I could finally detach and enjoy my time off, but here are a few things that helped me give my loved ones and myself the time needed to rejuvenate.   

Download the infographic detailing the steps below  

Before the Holiday:

Get ahead of deadlines with an 80/20 analysis.

The first step towards preparing for a vacation is to get ahead of any deadlines. To accomplish this, start by doing an 80/20 analysis of your workload.  

  •  Take out a piece of paper and list everything in your head that needs to be completed before your time off. Include work items, personal errands, emails and any conversations that you need to have. 
  • Next, take out another piece of paper and answer the following question: “What 20% of the work, if I completed, would remove 80% of the workload on my plate?  
  • List the 20% that would accomplish 80% of your desired results.  

Now you have just reduced your workload by 80%! Discipline yourself to complete that 20% of work between now and your vacation. 

Prepare for your return by prioritizing any leftover tasks. 

More than likely, you will still have tasks that you were unable to complete before your vacation. 

  • List all of the action items that you must complete when you return. 
  • Now prioritize them in order of most important to least important. 
  • Schedule time in your calendar to complete the remaining items when you return and make sure you block the time off your calendar before you leave for vacation. 

Let your customers know you’ll be unavailable.

How you communicate with your customers will depend on the type of relationship that you have with them and how impactful your absence will be to them. Options include:

  • Telling them in person.
  • Sending them a personal email individually. 
  • Sending out a newsletter announcing to your customers that you’ll be taking some time off. 

No matter how you do it, this is a good time to let your customers know that you will be back more recharged, focused and energized than before. 

During the Holiday: 

Once you are on vacation, here is how to make sure that you actually stay away from work activities. 

Remind yourself why you are taking time off.

  • Are you going to visit your parents?  
  • Are you planning on doing that special project with your kids that they have been excitedly waiting to do with you? 
  • Are you spending much-needed quality time with your partner to strengthen your relationship?  

Whatever the reason, you need to be clear with yourself about why it is important for you to take this time off. 

Now, take a piece of paper and answer the following question: “How will I benefit from taking this time off?” Write down whatever comes to mind. Keep this piece of paper in your pocket and read it anytime you find yourself distracted by thinking about work. 

Set your Out of Office email auto-response.

Don’t forget to set an out of office auto-response on your email, along with the voicemail message on your business phone so people who reach out know not to expect to hear back from you immediately. Be sure to include an expected return date and a backup contact, if available.  

Get your partner, friend or family member to hold you accountable. 

Let your loved ones know how important it is for you to take uninterrupted time with them and ask them to help hold you accountable. Even if you’re spending time alone, get a friend to check in with you to make sure you’re not working on your break.  

After the Holiday: 

One of the most difficult parts of being away from work is that feeling of overwhelm when you return. The great news is that you left yourself a list of action items that are even prioritized in order of least important to most important.  

Capture any new ideas and take action

 While you were on vacation, you likely thought of some great ideas for your business. Create Google doc, a note in your phone or tablet or use a physical journal or notebook to write down any ideas that you thought of during your time away from work. Be sure to put the list in a place where you will be prompted to return to it later. 

Pick up where you left off

Review the list of action items from your pre-vacation analysis and make any adjustments to their priority. Focus on the top items and execute until everything is complete. You’ll notice that you have more focus, complete tasks faster and get better results after some much-needed zen and zest. 

Congratulate yourself! 

It probably wasn’t easy, but an important part of building a sustainable business is taking care of yourself and investing in the relationships that are important to you. Burnout is real and if it strikes you because you refuse to rest your mind and body, it will be more damaging than taking a few days off.  

Download the infographic from Startup Life Support to put your vacation plan in motion.  

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