While I had taken shorter breaks before and even a week long one, I had almost always stayed connected and worked for a few hours even while on vacation. This time, I would be trekking and bird-watching away in Uttarakhand, with barely mobile connectivity in the areas I was going to. Plus, much as I love my work, there comes a point when you realize that you need to disconnect for a while. I believe that the entrepreneur glued to business 24*7 runs the risk of fatigue and low creativity.
For entrepreneurs, running a business is exciting – it’s something you are super-passionate about. Yet sometimes, it can begin to feel like the business is running you, and you can’t get off the track. Having switched off successfully for 10 days, these are some of my thoughts on how to plan a vacation and what entrepreneurs can do to take time off without worrying that the business will collapse without her.
For small businesses, one person on vacation can make a difference – and a big difference if that is the founder or CEO. It may not be possible to get everything done in the time you are away – you have to choose. In our case, we are a 2- member core team, with support from writers, bloggers and an outsourced tech team.
We decided that the most crucial thing for us was to keep our publishing schedule going smoothly; everything else could be given a little leeway. Having decided that, we worked well in advance to get the content for my vacation period ready. Almost everything had been received from writers or written by us, and edited before I left. It meant planning our calendar a little earlier than usual and pushing ourselves a little harder the week before, but it made a big difference – I did not have to worry during my break, and my colleague Anne did not have to scramble by herself at the last minute.
While deciding what is crucial, it’s also important to decide what to let go. We decided that our social media efforts could be a little less energetic than usual and I alerted advertisers that replies to campaign enquiries could take a little time.
Besides my experience, I asked Sonu Ratra, President of Akraya Inc., a California based IT-consulting firm for her learnings too, especially since she heads a much larger company with its own set of challenges. One of the key inputs she has is on planning your vacation time well.
According to Sonu, knowing the time periods in the year when business is slower and planning your vacation to coincide with these downtimes can help. She usually takes a week off during the 4th of July week when many of Akraya Inc’s clients are also out of the office. She says that the end of the year or holiday season is also a good time to plan a vacation.
Setting up an ‘out of office’ response to emails that lets people know until when you are away and whom they can contact in your absence for anything urgent, is the basic minimum in setting expectations.
For those running larger teams, it is also important to set expectations among your employees – what challenges do you expect them to take on in your absence? In what cases do they need to call you? Sonu finds it useful to have a dedicated “backup” person (such as the Director of Operations or somebody else from her team) to whom she can forward action items that need to be done while she is away. She also makes a ‘return to work’ plan, a list of projects she needs to pick up right after returning from vacation before she leaves – this gives her the peace of mind that her priority projects are lined up for her return.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to an entrepreneur on vacation is not so much operational as mental. While no one doubts that a founder is important in the case of a startup, at times hubris sets in and we believe that we are indispensable. Newsflash – we’re not! (Well, at least not for short periods). If you really cannot absent yourself from work for even 10 days, you have bigger problems than taking a vacation – you probably need to check what you’re doing wrong with your hiring, if your team members can’t manage without you around. We feel proud of being indispensable when we should be feeling worried.
One of the most important things I had to do before leaving on my vacation was to convince myself that work would go on fine in my absence. And if you have planned well and hired well – there is no reason it shouldn’t, as I found out on my return.
By Aparna Vedapuri Singh