If you’re an entrepreneur or self-employed, chances are you struggle with taking time off, especially during the holidays. Sure, your lifestyle may allow you to “work from anywhere,” but you’re not recharging the batteries when you’re chained to your smartphone or iPad, even while sitting at the beach.
It’s never easy for a business owner to take time off. For starters, taking a week off usually means no paycheck for that time. And more importantly, when you’re a solo entrepreneur or small business owner, there’s the very practical matter of figuring out who’s going to mind the shop and take care of clients in your absence.
Fortunately, with many clients and vendors also taking vacations for the holidays, the end of the year is practically the one time when it’s easy to sneak in some guilt-free and stress-free time off. Here are a few tips to make your holiday time off as smooth as possible:
1. Give advanced warning.
Everyone is expected to take time off at some point, and any reasonable client or customer shouldn’t bat an eye if you want to take a vacation, particularly on the days surrounding Thanksgiving or between Christmas and New Year’s.
The key is to give clients, vendors and any other business contacts a sufficient heads up that you’ll be gone. Nothing is more frustrating (and unprofessional) as talking to someone one day, then emailing them a few days later only to get an auto out-of-the-office response that he or she will be out for a week.
Give your clients and colleagues plenty of time to ask you about any paperwork, projects, invoices, etc. that they might need while you’re out. If you’re lucky enough to have a point person (who doesn’t mind working this time of year), let everyone know his or her contact information. Likewise, if you plan to check your email or voicemail while out, let people know your parameters. Showing clients that you care about their needs upfront is the key to having a successful vacation without jeopardizing business and relationships.
2. Set your online expectations.
Most experts advise that you should unplug completely during your time off. However, since I rarely heed this advice myself, I’m not going to expound upon it here. Rather than leaving my iPhone behind altogether, I’ve found it helpful to strike a healthy balance between work and home.
For example, when I am with family and friends, I want to be 100% present. I don’t want to check my email sneakily Christmas morning or be distracted while out catching up with friends. So, I will leave my phone or tablet aside for hours at a time, then excuse myself to catch up on work for half an hour or an hour at a time. Some entrepreneurs choose to set aside one or two hours each morning or evening for work matters.
There’s no single approach that works for everyone; the key is to find what’s right for you. But remember, a critical part of any vacation is downtime — and it’s hard to rest your brain when all your tech tools are demanding your constant attention.
3. Focus on the big picture during downtime.
With so many businesses shutting down at the end of the year, it’s common for many entrepreneurs, particularly freelancers and contractors, to experience a slow-down in work whether they plan it or not.
If you find yourself with some quiet days or hours, make the most of that time. Instead of just tending to some day-to-day work for the sake of staying busy, focus on the big picture instead. The end of the year is a perfect time to reflect on where your business has been and where it’s going. Think about what worked and what didn’t, where you can improve, which products or services were profitable, and how you can better address client needs in the coming year.
4. Make sure your team has balance, too.
Remember that you’re not the only one with family and friends this holiday season. If you have employees or contractors working for you, make sure that they feel comfortable and encouraged to enjoy the holidays and some downtime.
That way, there will be no resentment and everyone will be ready to hit the ground running in January.
5. Say no if you start to feel stressed.
Being an entrepreneur is a stressful activity just on its own, without the added holiday pressure of travel plans, family get-togethers, holiday shopping, end of the year parties and more. The stress can take a toll on even the most zen person among us.
If you start feeling overwhelmed, chances are you’re overcommitted and it’s time to pull back. Drop a social engagement or two: It’s far better to truly enjoy a few things than feel stressed and frazzled while trying to force everything in.
For your business activities, focus only on the most important items that need to be accomplished; one trick is to make a list of what needs to be done, and ask yourself which one would make the biggest difference to your business (hint: it’s not always responding to whoever is complaining the loudest).
6. Don’t apologize.
Most importantly, don’t apologize for taking time to relax and enjoy food, drink, family and fun. A break gives our bodies and minds a chance to rebuild and refocus. You’ll come back in January with a fresh perspective, ready to take on more challenges and be more efficient than before.
Editor’s note: This was originally written by Nellie Akalp for Mashable.