There’s a certain exquisite irony about writing a piece on reducing stress as a small business owner while on vacation. And yet, here I am, while my family is out shopping or playing golf, sitting poolside with a laptop. Yep, I’m that guy. I hope I’m getting a good tan from the glare off the screen.
Still, I’m happy, and my stress level is significantly lower than it was last week, sitting in my cold NY office worrying about how to manage all the things I needed to do on vacation. Stress was making my neck tense up, and causing me to jump from one task to another. Even though I have a full schedule of clients and teaching, a vacation is exactly what was needed.
Why? We all needed to reduce our stress levels. This is a common complaint among so many business owners I know. We usually feel like the weight of the world (or at least the company) is on our shoulders. However, this usually means we’re not delegating effectively, we’re not prioritizing effectively or we haven’t set up efficient systems to ensure our businesses run smoothly. Or, in the case of some of us, when we start a business, we ARE our businesses. So, things literally can stop (like work and income) when we’re not in the office. So, why is working on vacation lowering my stress level?
Working Like You’re on Vacation Focuses You on Your Most Important Items
Obviously, I’m not the first person in the world that has needed to work on vacation. In fact, my friend Chris Brogan’s company has a paid course that lets you learn how to work like you’re on vacation all year long (and I’m not being paid to promote it.) What I find, when I’m on vacation, is that my task management program, Remember The Milk, and my notes program, Evernote, become even more important to me. I’ve written down the most important things I need to get done this week, and I’ve focused on using the limited time I have to make sure they get done, in short bursts of an hour or two when others are getting ready for dinner or just waking up. Then, I can go out to the beach or play mini-golf and still enjoy it, knowing I’ve done the key items on my list.
Doing this kind of triage every week, and knowing exactly what needs to be done and when, would reduce the stress level every week. GigaOm’s Darryl Etherington wrote a piece that talks about working like you’re on vacation while at the office and it still rings true four years later.
Set Specific Times to Do Specific Things
We’re all distracted to the max. When the phone isn’t ringing and texts aren’t coming in, there’s always a new email to read, and oh, someone made a comment about our company on the Facebook page. Better respond to that, and while we’re at it, let’s check Twitter, and see if there are any Yelp review comments. Before you know it, you’ve taken an hour and you’re not sure what got done. I’m certainly not saying that using social media is a distraction to your business – quite the opposite.
But, randomly checking from site to site IS a distraction and one that can be solved. Set up times to do things like checking your email and social networks, and stick to them. Then, turn them off for a bit. If you can do a sweep through your social and email hubs every few hours, and get things prioritized and handled, you have more time to work on other work that needs focus.
Here’s a pro tip I learned – set how often your email checks the server for a longer period of time. Also, turn off the notification windows, beeps and other distractions. Set your phone to only notify you if you have something urgent going on. Unless you’re in a mission-critical role where you need to know every little thing that is happening at any given time, your messages can probably wait a few minutes.
Taking Breaks Regularly Helps You Regain Your Focus
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about vacation is putting the computer down and going outside. Even a few minutes can help improve my attitude. Switching tasks is hard on our brains , according to this article in Psychology Today. Dr. Susan Weinschenk says “You will never solve problems if your pre-frontal cortex doesn’t get quiet time to work on integrating information. This may sound paradoxical, but if you STOP thinking about a problem or particular topic you will then be able to solve it! This means you have to make time for blank spaces in your day…You can go for a walk, get exercise, listen to music, or stare into space.” I learned this the hard way, but working less hard can be working more efficiently, and can reduce your level of stress.
There are naysayers who will remind you that you don’t need to work on vacation or that there are reasons why you shouldn’t work on vacation. But I sense these pieces of advice are for those that work in large organizations where there are a lot of people to do tasks. We’re small business owners, and we know better. We can just be smarter about it. Now, pass the suntan lotion.