WORK-LIFE BALANCE

'Everyone Profits From My Absence' 

How to really get away and improve your business at the same time
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John and Diane Mahony are masters of the low-stress, high-impact vacation. The couple run Kavaliro, an IT consulting and staffing firm based in Orlando, Florida. Only four years old, the company still requires constant input and creative energy from its founders. But as co-preneurs with three kids under the age of 9, John and Diane know that neither the business nor the family would survive if they didn't regularly turn off.  

They have found the deep ocean is an ideal place to escape. Cruises are among the few vacation options where you can count on generally shoddy cell coverage, John says. Consequently the family is mostly off the grid. Moreover, different time zones complicate conversations with the office. And when the couple does manage a connection, calls are so pricey that they have incentive to minimize exchanges. "If you make it hard to stay in touch, you're kind of forcing your own hand," John said. 

Yet the Mahonys' vacations are not unproductive. The couple knows it is unrealistic to turn their trips into temporal clean rooms where no business contaminants can enter. But when they do talk business, those discussions tend to revolve around the fun and visionary aspects of their work: the kind of thinking that doesn't raise cortisol levels. John gets some of his best business ideas when his mind, body, and spirit are refreshed. And he has leisure to read business and self-improvement books that also stimulate his creative thinking. "On vacation, when we're not putting out fires all the time, Diane and I can take the broader view," John said.

The Mahonys naturally feel responsible for their company, and they are always available to deal with emergencies. But they've learned that everyone benefits when the bosses periodically step off their instant-response treadmills and trust the employees to make good decisions. "If I get 1,500 emails the week I'm away, I find that if I don't answer immediately, 1,400 of them get sorted out just fine without me," he says.

The Mahonys spend three weeks preparing everyone at work for their vacations. (In the company's earliest days they spent longer.) "We put as much on our staff as we can and see if they can handle it," says John. "Sometimes, when I return to work, my employees and I will review the thought process that went into their decisions. So it becomes a good training time for them as well. Everyone--me, my employees, and my family--profits from my absence."  

Of course, companies benefit when their leaders return from vacation well-rested, their energy renewed. Sometimes that's easier to achieve by relaxing in a familiar place: a family cabin in the mountains or bungalow by the beach. People with some of the world's most stressful jobs--most notably the President of the United States--return to the same havens year after year. On the other hand, there are advantages to shaking things up. Changes of scene can expand the entrepreneur's frame of reference and spark fresh ideas. John suggests vacationing in different environments if returning to the same place every year ceases to inspire. 

Wherever you decide to go--just go. For the sake of both your family and your business, make economies elsewhere, and take those trips!  

IMAGE: Mike Carreiro/Gallery Stock
Last updated: May 1, 2014

MEG CADOUX HIRSHBERG | Columnist

Contributing editor Meg Cadoux Hirshberg is the author of For Better or for Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families. You can reach her at mhirshberg@inc.com.

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



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