What I learned about my business from going on vacation
When was the last time you took a vacation? As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to forgo vacation time not only because we often love what we do, but also because there is so much to do in our business! The last time I took a vacation for more than a few days was when I went to San Diego with my family in March 2013. I do take smaller vacations – a lot of them actually, which is why I love being an entrepreneur – but they’re more like taking a few days off from work than truly going on vacation and unplugging.
When this summer rolled around, I realized that I only have a two week window in which I can go on vacation. Between a launch, a move to a new city, summer camps and selling our home and buying a new one, it was now or never!
My family and I packed our car and we drove from Colorado to Lake Michigan to spend two weeks on the beach in South Haven (If you haven’t been to South Haven, you have to go! It’s a great little beach town in Michigan – quaint, quiet and with absolutely amazing views of the lake, which really looks like an ocean.)
We had a ton of fun – bike rides on the Kal Haven Trail, a Detroit Tigers game, sand castles, walks to the lighthouse, strolls through farmer’s markets, the Silver Beach Carousel, kayaking, swimming and just hanging out. But one thing that kept on popping up was all the “work” that I wasn’t getting done in my business and all the stress and guilt that comes with it.
Can you relate to that?
I kept thinking that my businesses needed me because I had just launched Get Media Happy and needed to add new publicity opportunities there on a daily basis. Who leaves for a two week vacation right after a major launch? That thought kept on creeping up on me every day of our vacation.
So I ended up checking my email frequently, working here and there and not really enjoy my vacation the way that a vacation should be enjoyed. Until I decided to change all that and truly unplug. So I turned off my cell phone and my computer and spent the last few days being present in my vacation.
It was my decision to completely unplug that gave me a lot of insight into my business.
Here’s what I learned about my business while being on vacation, unplugged:
1. Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of discipline
As an entrepreneur you can take off as much or as little time as you need. There’s no “two week vacation” rule that is enforced by someone in the HR department. You decide when to do it all – when to start work, when to take lunch, how much to work, when to launch something new, when to change up your website, when to post on Facebook, when to take a vacation, when the close down your business, when to do an interview and so on. You’re fully in control – and that can be a good thing if you have discipline or a bad thing when you don’t.
When I first started working for myself years ago, I would get out of bed, have breakfast and sit down and start work. And before I knew it it was 7PM and I was exhausted, hadn’t been outside all day and felt totally disconnected from my friends and family. Over the years I learned that I need to spend some time outdoors before I start work, so I go on a long walk every morning before I sit down at my desk – no exceptions. That walk has now become non-negotiable and I schedule my morning meetings around it. I don’t eat lunch at my desk and I don’t work more than 90 minutes without taking a break.
But I still have a long way to go – I still find myself checking my email throughout the day, even though I know that I am a lot more productive when I check it at set times during the day. And even though it’s something that I tell my clients and readers all the time not to do – I still find myself doing it at times. Lack of discipline? Yes.
I think about my business even when I am not working and I think about my to-do list constantly. Being on vacation and truly unplugging made me realize that I can still use more discipline in my business. It took a lot of discipline on my end to turn off my phone and laptop. Was it hard? Absolutely! But was it worth it? Definitely!
Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of discipline and discipline takes a lot of practice – the more you do it, the easier it gets.
2. I’m really good at “doing,” but not so great at “dreaming”
I LOVE the details. I HATE the big picture. I LOVE the doing. I HATE the dreaming.
And that’s a problem as a business owner. Give me a piece of paper and ask me to plan the next year in my business and I draw a blank. Give me a piece of paper and ask me to make a list of the custom audiences I should be targeting with my next Facebook ads and I’m in! Ask me to make a vision board and I immediately start stressing out. Ask me to go buy the materials for a vision board, organize an event around it and invite 100 entrepreneurs to make their vision boards – piece of cake!
As I was sitting on the beach in South Haven while unplugged, I started asking myself “Ok, where do I want my business to be in a year? Why am I doing what I am doing? What’s the big WHY in my business?” And I found myself consciously steering myself away from these answers and instead wanting to add items to my “to do” list.
And then I came across this great quote:
Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world. – Joel A. Barker
3. My business still can’t run without me – and that’s a problem
I left on vacation shortly after I launched Get Media Happy, knowing that GMH needs to be updated on a daily basis and that editors and bloggers were submitting publicity requests daily. I knew this before leaving so, to prepare, I put an ad out on Craigslist and on Elance and Odesk to find a publicity assistant to help me. My regular assistant was already helping me with this a bit, but not to the extent where she can do all the daily updates without me. And that’s my problem – I didn’t take the time to train her because I was so busy doing it all myself and trying to figure it all out.
I received a lot of great resumes and I realized that I didn’t have the time to set up interviews and train someone before I left for vacation, so I ended up still doing a lot of the work myself. This also meant that on vacation I had to update pitches, send emails, reach out to editors, crop photos and more on an almost daily basis – not exactly what one should be doing on vacation. I planned it all around our daily outings so it wouldn’t interfere too much with our vacation plans, but it was still on my mind constantly and it had to get done. AND I HAD NO ONE TO HELP ME DO IT.
I also had to take a break from my weekly podcasts (which was not good right after my podcast went to #2 in the business section on iTunes), my weekly blog posts, social media interaction and weekly newsletter. This is definitely not how I want to present myself in my business, especially since for a lot of you this is a super busy time as you are getting ready for holiday sales and I want to be there for you. But I completely dropped the ball and I’m sorry for that.
And yes, while I do have two part-time assistants, a graphic designer, a bookkeeper, a writer and a video editor, I still don’t have systems in place for my business to run without me. I can assign specific tasks to everyone who I work with, but I’m still the bottleneck when it comes to signing off on everything before it goes live. The smaller systems are there, but the bigger ones aren’t. (And I’m not surprised that this is the case, especially after realizing #2, above).
Part of the “dreaming” that I talked about earlier involves being really clear about who I want on my team, WHY and what they’ll be doing and then setting up a system so that everyone who works with me knows not only what they’ll be doing each day, but also how their work is impacting the bigger picture.
So while that’s a lot to realize during a time when I was supposed to relax and enjoy my vacation AWAY from my business, I am so grateful that things went down as they did. It would have taken me a lot longer to realize this had I not had the time away to unplug, even if it was just for a few days.
I know my next vacation will be a lot different – I’ll have someone on my team to run things so that I can truly unplug and be 100% present with my family.
I know that my business will go through a few changes as well, again, over the next few months. I’ll be focusing on only the things that I’m 100% clear about in terms of WHY I am doing them. And I’m going to simplify – A LOT. And set up systems so that things can run smoothly without me.
And DREAM a lot more!
It’s your turn!
I’m curious to know – are you better at dreaming or doing when it comes to your business? Or have you discovered something interesting about yourself and your business while on vacation? Leave a comment below and let me know.