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Make Your Vacations Good For Business

Too anxious to take a vacation? An expert insists stepping away can actually improve your business--if you do it right.
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Vacations: We all know we should take them for our mental health and the health of our relationships, but many entrepreneurs stress that stepping away from work responsibilities will harm their businesses and land them with a painful backlog of tasks upon their return. But j2 Global, a company that provides cloud-based communication solutions to small firms, insists that actually, getting away can significantly improve not just your marriage or your stress levels but also how you run your company long term.

Mike Pugh, vice president of marketing at j2, explained to Inc.com in an interview that while j2's recent poll of small business owners revealed that more than half are planning on either skipping their vacation entirely or working through their time away, his experience working with small businesses shows that "vacations are good for the soul and for the business."

A recent Intuit study confirmed this, finding 82% of small business owners who took a vacation experienced an increase in job performance when they came back. So how can you manage both to get away and to get a post-vacation productivity boost? Pugh has four tips.

1. Tell people you're leaving.

Yes, it sound simple, but Pugh insists many business owners neglect to inform those around them that they're leaving, robbing themselves of lots of freely available assistance. "Between instant messaging, email, text messaging, and phone, if someone wants to find you, they will work very hard to find you. That makes for nagging presences while you're out on the beach," he explains, suggesting that the simple step of telling colleagues about your trip in advance, setting an away message on your email or changing the voice greeting on your phone can make a big difference.

"Most people want to help someone on vacation, and if they know that you're gone, they'll leave you alone until you come back. But people don't take enough advantage of that help they can get from their network," Pugh says.

Of course, not all businesses can afford to tell their customers they're jetting off for awhile, but more can than are willing to admit it to themselves, according to Pugh.

"If you're running a retail store and anonymous customers are wondering where you are, that's different," he concedes, "but if you're a real estate agent you can very easily tell one of your clients that you're going to be away for a long weekend. It's contextual but it definitely works with vendors, with other suppliers and contractors and, in some cases, can work really well with customers also." 

2. Use your vacation as a forcing function to delegate.

"Sometimes you don't do something until you have to, so use a vacation to delegate and empower others," Pugh suggests. "Small businesses tend to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. There are vendors, employees, your next door neighbor in a retail establishment, an outsource person that you use for some of the work, people within your network who can take on more."

Using your vacation to force yourself to get these folks to shoulder a larger share of the load "can be a great way not only to get away, but to realize that you don't have to do it all yourself when you come back."

3. Set office hours.

This limits not only your stress, but the stress of those you're vacationing with. "In the ideal world you leave on vacation and never think about work again until you come back, but then reality strikes and you realize either you worry too much to let go, or an issue comes up that actually needs your attention," Pugh says. "If you need to work while you're on vacation, pick a time of day and a finite amount of time—maybe an hour in the morning and an hour at night—to check email, check messages, return phone calls. You'll be available if there is work to be done, others know that they have touch points when they can check in, and then you can disappear with a clear conscious."

Your traveling companions will thank you too. "As a person who's taken this advice to heart myself, my office hour in the morning has turned out to be a great time for my wife to get a massage," Pugh says. "Office hours are a way to not impose on the rest of your party so that work can't break the flow of a trip."

4. Pilot cloud-based solutions for more efficient working. 

"If businesses can divorce themselves from all the premise-based components of their business, especially the communications, IT, and back-office parts, they make it much easier to keep the important stuff flowing," Pugh says, suggesting that vacations offer a great opportunity to try out simple cloud-based solutions that allow small businesses to stay lean and agile. Trying out things like Google Apps, Dropbox, or phone-routing solutions like j2's own eVoice, helps entrepreneurs to work from their hotel rooms, andt can also benefits their businesses after they return home.

"Going on your vacation brings you back as a more productive person. It's the change of scenery but also thinking: 'How would I do the important stuff if I wasn't in the office? How would I do it faster and more efficiently?'" Pugh says.

All in all, Pugh's advice boils down to using your vacation not only as an opportunity to work on your tan or practice your fishing or golf skills, but also a way to reflect on what's really important in your business, what you're needlessly obsessing about and what you could accomplish more efficiently. Vacations, he says, function as a reality check. "We look at how busy our day is and we think we can't possibly get away and then we find a way to get away. We find out that some of the stuff we were doing beforehand really wasn't as important as we thought it was," he says.

"When we come back and see 100 or 1,000 emails, we realize that 90 percent of them didn't really need to be dealt with. Opt out of newsletters or wean some of our network off of daily contact and on to weekly contact. Then, on the flipside, realize what were the things that I was doing on vacation that were important to the business. Focus on those because that's what really makes my business go. Breaking away lets us see what's important."

What tips do you have to reduce vacation anxiety?

Last updated: May 15, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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