FOR THE GOOD OF THE BUSINESS:  TAKING TIME OFF (from accounting and everything else)

It has been two and a half years since the My Small Business Pro team has written on this topic – and of that time, much has been spent in pandemic survival mode.  During the phase that we all faced economic uncertainty, constant business demands and the inability to leave town due to pandemic protocols, it may not have even come up.  But together, we (My Small Business Pro founder Daliah Fritz and Carlson Integrated founder Bekah Carlson) are taking some time to tackle this topic as small business owners.  We are going to start with a fundamental truth that we understand all too well:  Taking time off can be incredibly difficult to implement as a practice.

Daliah: Taking time off can mean a lot of things – the evening, the weekend, a vacation, a day with your team to volunteer.  After taking my first vacation in over three years back in March, my new goal is to have a minimum of two vacation weeks each year.

Bekah:  Sometimes for me it’s just a few hours.  I don’t often feel like I can take extended time off, but when I sneak in a few hours here and there, it can make a world of difference to my week.

Daliah:  Earlier this year, I found an app called Quiet for Gmail.  I’m able to prevent work emails from coming to my phone between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m.  Now, when I decide to stop working, I can actually stop working.  Almost immediately my anxiety levels after work went way down.  I used to take pride in “being there for my clients” even at 9 p.m., but being “on” all the time was actually detrimental to my health.  Seeing an email come through at 11:30 p.m. would set my heart racing – and not in a good way – while I was trying to go to bed. I’ve learned I can take the evening to stop working while still staying on top of my responsibilities and providing great services.

Bekah:  I read half a book last night.  I have learned that when I am done, mentally, I need to recharge.  Although my clients are not surprised to receive late night emails from me, it’s probably because I’ve taken several hours off in the evening to take care of my real life and to recharge my brain in some way.  

Every business owner is different.  How you define taking time off can change with your life circumstances – but as with anything you are determined to do, it takes intentionality.  Set a goal and stick to it.  Whether it’s not looking at emails after 7 p.m., taking off weekends or going on a vacation, down time helps you to be the most effective leader in your business.

How do you keep going?  What prevents you from scheduling time off, and what can you do to change your priorities?

Impact to the Bottom Line

How does taking time off impact your bottom line? Failure to unplug has significant consequences to your health and wellbeing, as well as overall impact to the business.  Relationships can be stressed to the point of breaking both with clients and team members.  When you feel overwhelmed, it impacts your attitude and your conversations and it can impact the quality of your work.  Productivity in your business may plummet, especially if your employees are walking on eggshells.  Taking time off reduces the stress that leads to anger, frustration and burn out.

Daliah:  I remember working in an environment where everything was extremely stressful – my boss worked around the clock. There was screaming, stomping and people were made to feel bad when things happened that were outside of anyone’s control. Never mind a mistake…  It was so unnecessary.  We delivered chairs, and I used to say, “We aren’t delivering human organs” – but management treated it like we were. I felt beat down, overworked and unappreciated for the 60-70 hours I was putting in at the time.

Bekah:  I have a similar phrase I like to use: “We aren’t saving lives.”  I say it to my team, I say it to myself.  One of my primary goals is to make sure that my team feels as little of my stress as possible and can instead focus on making our clients shine.  But I know that internalizing the pressure in my own body isn’t healthy, either.

Daliah:  I know I can’t be a good leader to my team or a good provider to my clients if I’m out of juice.  Without adequate energy, I can’t get on networking calls, do proposals and build my business.

Small businesses do not exist without small business owners, and it’s time to start seeing yourself as part of the bottom line.  Whatever you think you’re missing by taking time off is not worth the impact to your health.  You can have a successful business without killing yourself with work.  Is your fear that if you’re NOT available 24/7 that your clients might leave? Are those the clients you really want?

What does success look like for you? What are you afraid of when you take time off and are not able to connect with your clients?

Effective Leadership Requires Boundaries

Many of the requests you receive from clients in texts and emails are perfectly reasonable and within your contract with your clients.  Hopefully you’ve structured your company to ensure that you have a team in place that helps you accomplish the tasks that arise and fall within the agreed-upon scope of your activities and within allotted timeframes.

Sometimes you may go above and beyond your clients’ expectations.  But… just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean you have to say yes.  You can still be a good person, and a great business owner, and say no.  Taking time off is part of setting boundaries in business.

Daliah: The majority of my clients understand that I cannot always be available. The pressure to be available and say yes to everything is definitely internal. When a client and I decide it’s not working out, it is typically because their expectations exceed the statement of work and the boundaries I set are not received well.  Relationships that are based on respect and fairness always win.

Bekah: A couple of years ago I planned a spring break road trip with my family but felt so guilty leaving town that I neglected to tell my clients that I was travelling.  I figured I’d work as much as I could between family activities.  I don’t know what I was thinking; it drove my family absolutely crazy!  In the end, it was a painful lesson on the importance of communication and trusting that my clients would allow me the break.

Daliah:  I’ve been on a trip like that.  I assure you, the people you are traveling with do not appreciate your distraction with your business during your vacation.  Yes, it’s important to meet commitments and deadlines and prove our reliability to our clients, but you can still do that and have a week off.  It occurred to me that the desire to always be available might be more related to the need for control than actually providing good service.

When you are incapable of taking any time off, it’s time to start asking yourself some tough questions about your work’s prominence in your life.  It is incredibly gratifying to be a business owner and serve your clients well – but it is not the only area in life where you can or should derive satisfaction.

What do you believe are the costs to your business if you don’t take time off or set boundaries for the time you spend working, reviewing emails and focusing on clients?

When Life Forces You to Take Time Off

Developing a routine that includes breaks from work has the additional benefit of ensuring you have the practice in place for the demands of real life.  At some point, we all experience situations that draw our attention away from our businesses temporarily.  Taking time off when you want trains you to be able to take time off when you have to.

Daliah:  Over the last year, I found out that I had a degenerative disease called otosclerosis, which causes conductive hearing loss.  In the past year, I have had bilateral stapedectomies, two separate surgeries to replace my stapes bone with a prosthesis in each ear.  I gave myself 48 hours off for surgery and to begin recovery.  As you can imagine, keeping stress down is key to the healing process.  You need 8 hours of sleep every night to heal.  But the demands of work, even while recovering from surgery, had me working a 13-hour day only 4 days later.  I found myself cramming 100 hours of work into 8 days.

Bekah:  Over my career, there have been several seasons where I had to modify my work schedule to add in more time for “real life.”  Even now there are residual aspects of pandemic parenting that make me feel pulled in multiple directions at the same time.  Earlier this year I had a mini-breakdown from sheer exhaustion.  It was really scary to feel completely depleted.  I started listening to my body’s cries for more rest and I’m more likely to take breaks now than I ever did before.  I even took a little nap today!

Daliah:  We place so much importance on deliverables, but when life hits you hard, you realize that things can wait until tomorrow, or even next week. I really focus on the relationship with my clients.  We’re not all friends, but we’re all people.  Your best clients don’t want your product or services at the expense of your health.

Bekah:  That’s so true.  I was one of the clients with a quasi-emergency while you were out. Your out-of-office auto-response set my expectations, and then as soon as you were back to checking emails, you analyzed the situation and provided guidance. 

Life is unpredictable.  Taking time off can help with preparing for and coping with the curveballs that come your way.

How are you handling the demands of real life? Are you prepared for a time that you may not be able to devote as much energy to your business as you are today?

While the concept of time off may be less about the bottom line than our usual articles, as a business owner, your ability to recharge can have a big impact on the numbers.  Business owners are human beings.  We’re all doing our best.  We try to hire people we believe in, like working with and think will be giving their best 100% of the time.  Both inside and outside our companies, we all need to give each other the time and space to be human. 

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