Nowadays, more and more people work from everywhere. Big companies like Netflix and Virgin have even adopted “unlimited vacation policies”, to mixed reviews. Many feel this is a thinly disguised trick to get more out of workers and take away any semblance of a true holiday.
For entrepreneurs and business owners, it’s a little different. Not working on vacation is like seeing how long you can hold your breath–before long, you’re right back doing the thing you need to survive. Most of us enjoy what we do. For others, the business becomes such a part of our identity that we find it painful to separate, like being away too long from our spouses.
So how do we balance the two? How do we recharge those batteries when we need to unplug at the same time?
I’m currently closing in on the end of a five week journey with my family of four. It’s the first time I've tried something this ambitious; in order to make it happen, I planned to do some work in between our vacation. It hasn’t always been easy, but in the end, I’m really happy with the results.
Here’s what I learned over the last four weeks:
1. Avoid deadlines at all costs
You shouldn’t feel guilty about getting a little work done on holiday. New sights, sounds, and surroundings can inspire new thinking. But there’s nothing worse than trying to enjoy the moment with the thought in the back of your head that a project is due in a few days…or hours.
Fix: Communicate. Tell clients and partners in advance that you’ll be away, so they understand why you aren’t sticking to your normal schedule or consistency. Make sure you extend any deadlines until after your vacation, and don’t overschedule or overpromise–anything you complete during your time away should be a bonus.
2. Find your alone time
If you have a family, you already know how challenging it is to work from home; while on vacation, multiply that times a hundred. And slaving away on a task while others around you are having fun is about as easy as it sounds.
Fix: Schedule some time for solitude, where you can concentrate and work more efficiently. For me, that means sticking to my routine of early mornings, when everyone else is still sleeping. Or taking a morning or afternoon for work when the others are shopping or golfing. When everybody meets up again, make sure to leave your work behind–physically and mentally.
3. Have a backup plan
When too much time offline could lead to multiple missed opportunities, a broken Wi-Fi connection can be extremely frustrating. Some hotels claim to provide services they’re not prepared to deliver, especially in other countries where the internet is still considered an “extra”, and not a necessity.
A couple of months ago my family and I traveled to southern France (absolutely gorgeous) and I reserved a small amount of work I needed to finish for a specific leg of the trip. We specifically booked a hotel that promised free Wi-Fi, only to discover severe issues upon arrival, i.e., it didn’t work. Staff could have cared less about my…displeasure. I in turn proceeded to unwittingly confirm every negative stereotype the French have about Americans.
Fix: Make sure you have access to some type of hotspot or alternative location, in case plan A doesn’t pan out. Of course, if you’re going to use public Wi-Fi, you need to make sure to have some type of VPN or encryption service to protect your data.
4. Be prepared to bite the bullet
As much as you detach from work, there will always be that moment where you just have to write that email, or you are struck with a moment of brilliance and need to make some notes. Remember that others will get upset when you do this. (My wife’s favorite line: Um…What are you doing?)
Fix: Not much you can do for this one. Just remember that your ability to work from anywhere affords you the opportunity to travel more and for longer periods of time than others. (But you need to actually take advantage of that fact if you’re going to remind others of it.)
5. Family time is non-negotiable
Going on holiday is great for family bonding, but your family needs (and deserves) your full attention to make the most of your time together.
Fix: Make sure your scheduled time for work is limited. If you’ve promised to be finished by a certain time, keep your word. If you’re late (accidentally), compensate by taking away some time you scheduled for work and giving it back to the family, to show you’re serious about making them your priority.
Above all, remember: It’s a vacation! We all need a break from the routine; the more you work, the more you defeat the purpose of getting away. In my five weeks away, I scheduled about seven to eight (broken-up) days for work, and I’ve managed to stick to that.
So, go ahead. Start planning, get packing, and have fun.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, time’s up. Wife and kids just woke up.