Taking time off can be one of the scariest things to do as a small business owner. I also think it’s the most brushed off piece of business advice out there. A lot of entrepreneurs struggle with the mentality that ‘I need to work as much as possible to make money’ or ‘I can’t afford to take time off’. I just want to let you know that you cannot afford NOT to. Your business depends on you to run it, and if you are not looking after your mental well being then you are of no use to anyone.
Here’s my story:
I used to sit at my computer for 14, 16 sometimes 18 hours per day just trying so damn hard to make a name for myself in an extremely competitive market. Once I finally broke through and developed a great reputation, I found it difficult to say no to bookings, and an even harder time letting go of the work that needed to be done. Although I absolutely loved being a boudoir photographer, I was exhausted, unhappy and unsatisfied with my life.
Around midnight one October night after a long day, my husband and I were sitting beside each other on the couch, not really speaking but typing in tandem on our laptops, trying to get in as much work as possible before getting to bed. An email popped into our inboxes at the same time. There was a seat sale for our preferred airline. “I wonder how much it would be to fly to Hawaii for Christmas?” I asked rhetorically while clicking through to see the deal. There was a blackout period, so I adjusted the dates to the day before and the day after the blackout: December 10-January 14. It was a pretty good deal.
“What if we went to Hawaii for 35 days?” I asked my husband. After a quick and excited discussion, we booked the flights and started researching accommodation. Because we had been working so hard for the last couple of years, it didn’t really sink in until December 10th arrived and we were on our way to Maui. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
My first real vacation, like, ever. The first week was really difficult. I mean REALLY. I was so used to running at full speed that it was challenging for me to just relax and do nothing. “I could be working on X” or “I should be doing Y”…I almost felt guilty for taking the time off. How messed up is that?! I paid a boatload to go on vacation during the most expensive time of year and I wanted to WORK?
Once we began the 2nd week I became more interested in working on my blender cocktail techniques than writing blog posts. Weeks 2-4 were glorious. We spent Christmas eve in Lahaina laughing and telling stories with Kelly’s family, and set off fireworks on the beach in Kihei as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s eve.
My husband and I sat down and wrote out our goals for the year, what we wanted to achieve not only in the coming year but in the next 5 and 10 years. I felt inspired, creative and excited. After letting the day-to-day crap go, I was able to really think about what I wanted out of my life and my business. Doing this exercise felt very liberating, and I was excited to go home and get to work!
When we got back home to Vancouver, Kelly and I discussed the goals I had written down for the business. We also discussed our booking schedule, and both agreed on a consistent day off, Sundays. I also started training her how to do skin retouching, so she could take on some of the editing that was taking up so much time. I needed a little bit of freedom from my business because I was way too wrapped up in it, which caused me to resent what I had worked so hard to build.
It’s amazing what one day off a week can do for you. It seems like nothing, but it’s everything. I look forward to Sunday because I know I can sleep in, take a walk beside the water with my husband and my fur-kid and do absolutely nothing and not feel guilty about it.
One of the biggest ‘a-ha’ moments for me was when I realized:
I wouldn’t be expected to work 14 hours per day 7 days a week at a ‘regular’ job, so why am I forcing myself do that in my business?
Here are some valuable lessons I learned from taking some time away from my business:
Your business won’t fall apart if you take some time off.
The week before our vacation was over, 4 of the 6 confirmed January bookings canceled (very unusual for me). Did I panic? Kinda. But I had some savings that I knew would float us through until things picked up. You should be squirrelling money away, no matter how small the amount. You never know when you may need to use it!
Plan your marketing accordingly; before you leave, take a day to schedule blog and Facebook posts to publish while you’re away. Set up an autoresponder to let potential clients know that you received their inquiry, and you will respond to them on the date you return to your desk (setting expectations and boundaries from the beginning is extremely important, but I’ll cover that in another blog post).
Just because you aren’t ‘doing anything’ doesn’t mean you should be working.
Yes you should be hustling your butt to build your business, but you should also be valuing your time. Get smart about how you spend your day and you won’t feel like you are drowning in to-do’s. Plan activities during ‘after work’ time so you not only have something to look forward to, but will cause you to GST (get shit done) because you don’t have all night to do it.
I will admit I wasted a ton of time on social media, browsing photos, chatting, and in all honesty, procrastinating. Being overwhelmed has that effect on me. I started using an app called Self Control that allows you to block all the time-wasting websites and programs you want for a specified amount of time. Using this program has allowed me to stay more focused on the task at hand and I can’t just go browse Facebook (and get distracted) while a few photos are batching. My productivity has gone way up and I don’t feel as behind or overwhelmed as I used to, even though I am busier than ever. Take some time to set goals and timelines for those goals. Find an accountability partner to check in with every week to help you stay on track.
Stop bailing on your life.
I hate to sound morbid but tomorrow is not promised to you. I definitely regret the times I chose to work instead of spend time with family and friends and wish someone would have given me this advice sooner. You were put on this earth to do something amazing. You have a responsibility to take care of yourself.
So here it is: I officially give you permission. Permission to take a day off. To go on vacation. To shamelessly book yourself a day at the spa. To sit on your patio all day with a good book and a bottle of wine. To take your kids to the beach. To spend a weekend in bed with your partner. I give you permission to live your life. Don’t just watch it pass by in your Facebook feed.