As founder and owner of a 35-person New York City executive search firm, Brian Drum has achieved significant financial and business success. But when it comes to time off from work, success has been more elusive. "I don't think I've had a vacation of two weeks back to back in 35 years," says Drum.
Entrepreneurs skip vacations for reasons ranging from fear that serious problems will erupt in their absence to simple love of their work. Drum, for instance, agrees that vacations are good. "Everybody needs to recharge their batteries," he says. Vacations let entrepreneurs build family relationships and also help their businesses, Drum says. When he's out of pocket, employees have to learn to get along without him, which builds their skills and confidence. But he still finds it hard to leave the office for an extended period, in part, according to him, "because I'm a little obsessive-compulsive."
Because of all the forces acting to keep them at work, business owners aren't likely to succeed in taking more time by simply exerting their well-developed willpower. Instead, says Ferriss, the path to vacation is paved with improvements to business processes and management methods that will make vacationing both easier and more beneficial to both entrepreneur and enterprise.
The key, he says, is for entrepreneurs to learn to delegate. "I advocate creating virtual teams of people," he says. "Once you assign specific functions to these groups of people, you set a financial threshold below which they can make decisions and solve problems."
In his own business selling nutritional supplements, Ferriss worked 90-hour weeks with no time off until he empowered employees to make decisions involving amounts below $100. The move caused so few problems that he raised the discretionary amount. "In four years of doing that, I've never had a problem that cost more than $300 to fix," he says. By freeing up his time for marketing and business development in addition to frequent extended vacations, he estimates that the move has added hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.
Before delegating, however, it's important to set up processes that will allow the company to run smoothly in your absence. For instance, employees need to have clear rules for dealing with customer issues, including how the company prefers to settle them, as well as latitude to supply their own solutions. "Delegating an unclear and inefficient process multiplies problems instead of reducing them," Ferriss warns.
Don't forget to plan for what you're going to do with all this downtime. A bored entrepreneur is unlikely to enjoy or even be able to accept being away from work. So before taking a long vacation, develop some outside interests and activities to keep yourself occupied. "If your default activity is checking e-mail every five minutes, your body will go on vacation but your mind won't," Ferriss says.
If you're like Drum and simply are unable to force yourself away from the business for very long, do the next best thing and take shorter but more frequent mini-vacations. During the summer, Drum works four-day weeks, taking every other Monday and Friday off so that he alternates two-weekends with luxurious four-day weekends. "Working that vacation schedule has done wonders," he reports. "I basically take two weeks off during the summer, but it's spread out."
A workable vacation solution will likely continue to elude many business owners -- the 59 percent of entrepreneurs American Express's study found were planning to take at least a week off was down from the average of 67 percent the previous four years. But Ferriss thinks that the ability to take real vacations might someday join corner offices and reserved parking spaces as a badge of honor for successful businesspeople. "There's a growing minority," he says, "who will capitalize on the options we have."
Mark Henricks is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.