Business owners are hardworking and often have an exceptional work ethic. They don’t mind rolling up the sleeves and doing big hours. The negative of this is that often they have trouble winding down or switching off entirely. Over several decades, I’ve known the challenges of getting motivated to start, and then the ability to switch off when I should, without guilt. Here are my very practical tips on how to take business breaks.
Apply these principles, whether it’s switching off at night, weekends, or holiday time as a business break.
1. Be clear about your work times.
No different from an employee, determine roughly how many hours a week you will be working. Plan your work week. It may be that you start at 4am in the morning (my favourite time!) but you have a long break in the middle of the day, or even finish up by lunchtime. If your objective is to work 8 hours, don’t try to work 12, 15 or 18. In fact, try to get into the routine of not doing that. I’m an early starter, so I have an alarm set in my phone mid-afternoon to go for a bike cycle. My prompter to stop work. I don’t return to work after; instead, walk the dog, get dinner and relax. Remember, we work hard, so we deserve to have a break and a rest.
2. Form non-work habits.
I no longer work weekends. This means I do not even open my laptop. I know if I did, I might get caught up in emails and such, so it’s simple. That lid stays closed. My clients know this, in fact, every welcome letter outlines my Monday to Friday work hours, so they are not inclined to call me nights or weekends. Just as you adopt discipline to work hard, you also need to adopt discipline to not work. Educate those around you; whether that’s clients or staff. Ensure your staff don’t overbook you either; either instruct them clearly or mark off R&R time in your diary so it’s not booked up on you.
3. Forgive yourself.
If you were your employee who worked 50 hours every week and wanted to take a day off or have two weeks holidays or have a break over Christmas, what would you tell your employee? Go enjoy! You deserve it! Don’t think about work! Remember you do work hard, so take time out to enjoy family, have a break, exercise, and yes, not work over Christmas.
4. Understand a break makes your more productive.
I know as a trainer and business coach that you get far more out of people production-wise if they are fresh, have breaks and are not worn out. Mistakes occur less and they are happier. The same applies to us, the business owner. Breaks allow us time to think (or not think), they allow us to recharge and come back stronger and even more productive. Daily breaks – going for a walk, the gym, a cycle are good for our bodies. A healthy business owner is often a better business owner. For this reason, these last holidays, my instruction to my coaching clients was – DO NOT WORK! Take a break and relax.
5. Don’t try to overachieve.
When we aim to do too much or complete too many tasks in a day, then we feel we have failed a little and not had a productive day. The trick is to set no more than 3 special tasks to a day (and that’s assuming none of those is huge). That way at the end of the day you can review your list and tick everything off and feel good. Over the last Christmas break, I set myself three personal tasks to achieve (one included copying some baby photos for my brother). I didn’t get everything done, so yes, I did feel a little guilty. My mistake was to have scheduled those activities at that time.
6. Examine your standards.
A little like the point above about forgiveness, ask yourself if your expectation of yourself is unreasonable. More importantly, ask yourself why you are pushing yourself so hard? Often there is a sense of panic or fear of failure behind someone you simply cannot switch off. I know in my early days as I was growing my prior business nationally, my mode was growth, and I had essentially 25 mouths to feed and I was determined to achieve my goal of five locations (which I did) but I was working long hours. I felt guilty for having lunch with a friend, even doing 90-hour weeks.
7. Throw old rules out the window.
Whilst you may have grown up that people have to work Monday to Friday … if you have achieved your work goals in 4 days, why not have Friday off as well as the weekend? As a business owner, that’s one of the perks – we can often have flexible working arrangements. Blank that day out in the schedule or diary and don’t allow anyone to book something in it. From a client perspective (if someone is wanting to book in that day) simply state you have a standard booking that day. You don’t have to lie, or to explain, just be politely firm – you’re not available, but you can do Thursday or Monday. You may have heard of WAGS – many professionals partake in this – Wednesday Afternoon Gone Sailing. Good on them! Instead of the end of the week feeling flagged, worn and tired, they are sharp, recharged and fully on their game.
8. Work smart, not hard.
Tied in with not feeling guilty about having a break, is getting things done. If you got everything done by Thursday afternoon, taking off Friday would feel better than if you don’t work Friday but there is a tonne of stuff on your desk. Employ time management philosophies such as delegation or saying no. Work smarter, not harder and you will be more likely able to ditch the guilt.
9. Set a goal of balance.
What changed from my 90-hour week was a shift in my goals. I am certainly no less dedicated and passionate about business, but now balance is important. I include in my goals the number of hours I’ll work in a week and I monitor that. It’s a goal, so if I exceed that, that goal is not being achieved. I set goals for holidays a year and so when I’m on the phone to one of my sons for an hour, I don’t feel guilty; instead I get off the phone feeling blessed I had such a lovely chat with him. In life, if we focus on something it will happen. So, focus on both success and balance. Set a time goal – so you don’t underwork and bludge, but also that you don’t overwork or feel guilt.
When you think about why you got into business, it’s often about flexibility, making money and having time to do things – go sailing, hang out with your family, go for a paddle on the bay, or take the dog for a long walk. Remember this, you are (usually) in business for the long haul, so pace yourself. It’s not a race or sprint – it’s a marathon – so don’t burn yourself out early. Have fun and enjoy your business and your life.