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Everyone Needs Vacation: 3 Steps to a Smart Recharge

Entrepreneurial workaholics often don't feel comfortable taking time off, but rest is just as important as working. Here's how to better prepare for unplugging.

Although entrepreneurs like to test the limits of how little sleep they can get, their high-stress lifestyles can harm productivity.

Several studies outline the risks of overworking: From diabetes to reduced cognitive function, these ailments occur more frequently in people who work too much. In fact, one Stanford University study found that the work limit for maximized productivity to be 55 hours per week. After that point, whether someone works 56 hours or 80 hours, the productivity level remains static.

Evidently, not working is as important as working, and leaders need to recognize the benefits of “forcing” their teams to take real vacations so that both parties know exactly when such a privilege is being used constructively and when it may be abused. They can also allow for flexibility with sporadic small vacations, such as an additional day or two tacked onto a business trip or a nice day (or half-day) off.

But while the structured “time-off” allocated to team employees and the nature of collaborative office settings can offset such absences in a more traditional work environment, solo entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals — who lack both of these resources — are presented with unique challenges. Hoping to be their best selves at work, then, they in particular must learn when and how to relax.

Changing the High-Pressure Mindset

Entrepreneurs rarely feel comfortable taking time off. With the financial burden that comes from “earning only when you work” and the physical constraints of a one-person enterprise, entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals are ironically restricted by the very freedom they initially sought. This makes taking time off not only challenging but oftentimes ignored.

Without the occasional recharge, though, the quality of their work — and their business’s well-being — suffers. Just like a marathon runner doesn’t get better by running 18 hours a day, entrepreneurs can’t improve without vacation time. Brain chemicals such as serotonin need the boost that unplugging provides. Time off leads to physical benefits as well — the stress of the do-or-die corporate culture and endless connectivity increases people’s susceptibility to a range of diseases.

Learning How to Step Away

With both health and wealth at stake, workers must understand why they need to take vacations and how to take better ones. And the following three strategies can help even the biggest entrepreneurial workaholics get the most from their time away.

1. Leave during the dry season, and plan for your absence. Instead of sailing away during the busiest month of the year, take time off during the slower periods. This will limit the effect your absence has on productivity while reducing the extra work you have to do before and after your vacation.

After deciding when you’ll leave, you’ll need to plan your departure well in advance so that you don’t leave clients or colleagues hanging. A planned vacation will do just as much good for you personally as a spur-of-the-moment trip, but it’ll eliminate the added headache of leaving things half-finished.

2. Tie up loose ends, but expect to play catchup. Before leaving, wrap up essential projects in order to take time off with a clear conscience. And because you’re most likely working with a one-person shop, you should implement an out-of-office reply to let people know the timeline of your absence. If that’s not enough, you can hire a virtual assistant who will respond to communications, set up meetings, and assure clients they’ll hear from you when you return.

Still, you should acknowledge that no amount of diligence can erase the work that awaits your return. But stressing about how much is piling up doesn’t make it go away, nor does it make a vacation more fun. While you’ll do what you can to limit the extra responsibilities before leaving, acknowledge that you can never escape a certain level of post-vacation workload increase.

3. Disconnect everything — most importantly, yourself. After you plan your vacation, accommodate your current projects, and acknowledge the work that awaits your return, unplug entirely. That means no email checking, no visiting the company website to read the blog or manage updates, and no logging receipts to claim tax deductions. Do all of that when you get home. You don’t get to take vacations often, so make the most of the times you do by physically, mentally, and emotionally unplugging from the corporate world and recharging in earnest.

The “go, go, go!” entrepreneur mentality may have led to some of the greatest cultural and technological breakthroughs throughout history, but the reality is that no one has the energy to sustain that over the long term. Instead, entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals who deliberately step away from work at regular intervals to refresh their mind and body can enjoy both the success it’ll bring to their companies and the revitalization it’ll offer them.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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