Can entrepreneurs afford a vacation?

One would like to think that taking time off is a perfectly natural and easy thing to do. After all, we have employment laws stating the conditions of paid vacation in every developed country and in some cases are even imposing a compulsory number of days to be taken in a row once per year. The reality, however, is somewhat different. There is a growing number of people not taking their vacations out.


The effect of the pandemic on vacations


Unfortunately, the trend has even worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world. Before, the main reasons for not taking vacation were lack of time due to a very high workload (“I simply have too much work”), the unwillingness to put one’s colleagues in a bad position (“I can’t expect them to do my job too, I can’t let them down”), or the simple opportunity of additional income gained if the vacation was compensated in monetary terms. Experts in people management and different studies across the globe have confirmed that new reasons have surfaced with the pandemic: the fear of losing your job or business during difficult times and the practical question of restricted travel possibilities, which many people earlier used their vacation time for. All in all that is a lot of heavy reasons not to go on holiday, huh? So we all work endlessly and 24/7 if need be. But where does that lead us?


Entrepreneurs’ two-sided blade of guilt


The situation is not easier for commencing entrepreneurs or start-up owners. If anything, then even worse. All available time goes into getting the business running, and during a vacation, both earnings and progress would be negatively affected, meaning that relaxation is out of the question. At this stage, it is a race against time in many start-ups to raise the first round of money, which in many cases is the milestone to paying out salaries – and this painful phase can easily take 1-1.5 years. Unfortunately, the reasons for talking yourself out of a holiday don’t stop there. Even if you manage it financially, there is the guilt. You have read how many successful entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have slept under their desks at work to max out the working hours. You may start feeling that if you take holidays and are not working around the clock as they have done, you will never be as successful. That is pretty heavy, as entrepreneurs are driven by pushing success.


Then there is the other guilt. Any night you would spend under that desk at the office will physically keep you closer to your work, but away from your family and loved ones – the undoubtedly priceless thing in your life. You may have already missed out on a dance recital of your child or were on a business trip on the other side of the world when they had the first heartache, or you forgot you were supposed to pick your best friend up from the airport. But did the pandemic and the whole working-from-home-situation not fix that? Let’s see. You are now physically at home, but your desk may be in the living room or bedroom, reminding you of all the uncrossed items on your to-do list. “Just one more email before I go to bed”, you think – in reality, you realize having answered 20 emails and having outlined a new business idea whilst your family went to bed hours ago. Your computer screen or mobile is always near - blinking, pinging, ringing. Outlook. Teams. Slack. Skype. WhatsApp. AnyOtherMuchNeededApp. All of them competing for attention. The deceiving feeling of comfort and of “I have everything under control” doesn’t allow for turning the devices off. In the end, there is no working time or off-work time. It’s a perpetual working time, 24/7.


That, in turn, pushes the entrepreneur into a vicious circle of ever-growing guilt, as whenever they take some time off to spend with the family, the guilt of not working kicks in when there’s a load of emails waiting to be answered. And vice versa, the self-accusations of being a bad parent and not dedicating enough time to loved ones are also always there. It seems like there’s no way to be without feeling guilty, whichever way you go. Oh, and we have not even gotten to any personal needs.


To rest or not to rest?


As with everything in life, not just taking a vacation, but also avoiding it, comes with a price tag. It can be anything from losing touch with one’s family and friends as there is never any time for them, to severe cases of stress or burnout. It may all start quite innocently. You might find it hard to get up and go to some meetings, especially when you don’t see eye to eye with all attendees. You may find it difficult to concentrate, especially when the tasks at hand require a high degree of creativity, such as formulating your thoughts into a coherent strategy or designing a well-written copytext, for instance. You might lash out with a nasty comment to your colleague or a family member, often quite undeserved and inappropriate. You probably understand that your reaction was at best out of proportion, if not just plain wrong, but the nerves just kicked in, and going forward will do so at increased frequency. In the more severe cases of burnout, you don’t want to get out of bed, take care of your appearance or leave the house at all. Meaning, if you don’t make sure to give yourself a break, your body eventually will force you into one.


How to leave work at work


So, getting into managing your new and prioritized task of taking some well-deserved time off. A vacation, as scary as it may sound, is a necessity that you should not skip. Let’s start with the mild form of it – organizing your days to get some after-hours for yourself and your family. Make everyone aware that during certain hours you are not working (unless the roof is burning) and switch your notifications off. Harvard Business Review wrote a great article about how to leave your work at work and, most importantly, keep your promise of time off to yourself. After some time, you will notice that you are more efficient and productive during working hours and more present at home or in other social interactions. It is a win-win-win situation for you, your close ones and your business. Don’t forget that some time for yourself, and at least an occasional encounter with friends are as necessary for your mental wellbeing as the time spent with the closest family. Mark those times in your calendar as busy, especially if your calendar is shared, and also others can book meetings into it.


The aftereffects of vacation


And then, finally, let’s take the decisive step. Set your mind on getting a proper vacation at least once a year. Minimum one week, better if two to three. Before you go, make yourself a list– a comeback list. Already during your last week(s) before your holiday, you will gather your thoughts that you don’t want to forget and write them down to remember what you need to pick up once returning. It will keep some of that after-vacation stress away as you can very quickly refresh your mind, prioritize, and get to it. Make sure to turn your out-of-office reply on, switch notifications off and forget about any smaller or bigger screens for a while. You can take a vacation, come back with your mind and body refreshed, having fresh ideas, with quite a lot more enthusiasm and energy. Now does that not sound to you like an entrepreneur that will succeed? This vacation thing – we dare you to try it out.