The one where we learn to take time away from our own company
Entrepreneurs need time off work too.
I’ve been easing back into work this week after taking a month off from The Taproom. I’ll be honest - the thought of stepping away from my own company for an extended period of time was a bit terrifying. One week, sure. Two weeks, I’ve done that too. But an entire month? Will I even come back to a company? (Of course the answer is yes because my team is wonderful.)
We all know that here in the United States, people don’t use their vacation time. (Take your PTO! Please!) But it’s especially bad for small business owners. Either we give ourselves so much work that we don’t feel like we’d have a large enough break to take time off, or more often, the company isn’t strategically set up to allow you to step away for any period of time.
I’m here to tell you today that 1) you CAN take time off work when you’re an entrepreneur, and most importantly, 2) you SHOULD take time off work. Here’s what I recommend doing to set your company up for success.
Give your employees the autonomy to make decisions on behalf of the company. True autonomy requires trust, which means you need to be able to trust your team to do what needs to be done without your involvement. Being able to be autonomous with your work is something I look for when interviewing potential employees especially since we’re a remote company, but also because I want to know that I will be able to trust them to do their work and do it well.
Document everything. All processes should be written down. This is good practice even if you aren’t out of office. We keep all of our internal documentation on Notion so any person on the team who may need instructions on how to do something will know what to do. (Documentation’s also great for training new team members!)
Alert anyone who needs to know about your upcoming extended out of office well in advance. I update my email signature to include any upcoming OOO dates so they’re always visible to people who email me. If I’m involved in any of our client projects, we let the clients know in our weekly updates as well, so there’s no confusion about where I am.
Write a detailed out of office autoresponder. Outside of the usual “I’m OOO on these dates” verbiage, I also include who to reach out to on our team for specific inquiries. It may feel a little like a phone directory, but at least it allows for some sense of direction.
If you have someone on your team who can monitor your emails, do so. After being out for a month, I only came back to 16 emails that needed my review. Everything else was either junk, not requiring my reply or something that our admin assistant was able to forward onto someone else on our team to handle.
Make sure you’re not the bottleneck for any particular task. It’s certainly possible to forget one or two things that you don’t usually do, but you should not be the holdup on any specific task that can’t wait to be addressed until you return to the office. A few things to look at here are contract signing, running payroll, and anything else HR-related.
If you don’t have any employees or you’re a freelancer, you can still take time off. When I was freelancing full-time, taking time off felt like I was losing money for every moment I was not working. And if you bill based on time for your work (e.g. hourly or daily), it can especially feel this way. What I recommend doing here is build a certain number of days off into your calculation for your hourly rate. (You can calculate your goal hourly rate by dividing your goal salary by the number of billable hours you will work in a year.) By bumping up your rate a bit, you’re covering yourself for some additional time you won’t be working. (Besides, we all know you can charge more.)
Everything can wait. Once you’re away from work, delete your email from your phone. Sign out of Slack. Remove anything work-related. If there’s an emergency, your team can still reach you in other ways. (Make sure they have your phone number or personal email.) If it’s not an emergency, it can wait until you’re back to work.
Reflecting on last week’s email on burnout, taking some time away from work is so important for both your mental and physical health. You don’t need to jump right into taking a month off; try one week and see how that goes, then increase to two. You’ll likely find some additional tasks you forgot to document or areas where you’re still the key decision-maker.
And then the next time you take time off, you’ll be even more prepared.
Find something fun to do with your new time off, or you can be like me and do nothing at all except read far too many trashy romance novels.
Entrepreneurship is hard. You’ve earned this time off. Take it.