Aside from all the decision-making, financial burdens and day-to-day responsibilities of entrepreneurship, the central dilemma of owning a business springs from the dissonance of managing a healthy work-life balance. You’re fully invested in your organization, so the more work you put in, the more rewards you’re likely to see and the more passion you're likely to feel about that work. The problem is, that combination leads many entrepreneurs to work with their heads down, indefinitely, until the stress of overwork finally catches up with them.
The “easy” solution, of course, is to take time off in the form of occasional mental health days or extended vacations. But those scenarios often backfire: Once you’re out of the office, you can’t help checking your email or at least worrying about what’s going on back in the real world. Under those conditions, a vacation can wind up feeling more stressful than a normal day of work.
Clearly, time off is necessary, but only if you can take it without preoccupying yourself with more work. So, how can you do that as the committed entrepreneur you are? Here are five steps.
1. Make a plan.
The more intensely you plan your vacation, the more likely you’ll be to follow through on it. Schedule your time off weeks (or even months) in advance, and tell everyone you know in or out of your organization about it. Spreading the information this way does two things. First, you'll be prompted to follow through on your commitments, if for no other reason than to avoid the “Aren’t you supposed to be on vacation?” questions.
Second, everyone around you will develop plans for your absence. For example, one of your partners can start charting out the responsibilities he plans to take over temporarily while you’re gone. Set the expectation that you will be unreachable except for emergencies, and chances are your team will follow those expectations.
2. Delegate or postpone.
For each task, including your ordinary day-to-day responsibilities as well as emergency situations that might pop up periodically while you’re gone, decide whether to delegate or postpone your action. To delegate, designate one of your team members to take on the task in your absence. To postpone, deem the task “unimportant,” and know that you’ll handle it only once you’ve returned.
Delegated tasks require no worry, because you’ve left someone qualified in charge of them. Postponed tasks require no worry because they don’t need to be done until you come back. Theoretically, you should have no worrisome tasks left by the end of this process.
Disconnecting is a simple step, but one we’re all guilty of neglecting. When you’re on vacation, disconnect from the world. Turn off your phone, disconnect your Internet and try not to turn on any of your gadgets. Doing so could serve as a gateway back into worrying about work -- it’s almost unavoidable. If there’s an emergency, someone on your team can mitigate it until you come back, or reach you via hotel phone or in person (if it truly is that bad).
4. Establish “worry time.”
If you find that even while disconnecting, you can’t help but worry about your job, try to refocus your efforts so you only worry for a certain period of time each day. For example, you might designate 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. as your "worry time," to check emails and think about what’s going on back at work. But as soon as 1 p.m. hits, you have to pull yourself away from the screen and focus only on enjoying yourself.
This compartmentalization strategy doesn’t work for everybody, but if you find yourself worrying no matter what, this can mitigate its effects on your time off.
5. Practice and scale.
Some entrepreneurs will undoubtedly find themselves incapable of taking a truly relaxing, worry-free vacation. They’re natural-born worriers, or they care too much about their businesses to let them go, even for a few days. If this sounds like you, practice taking worry-free vacations by starting small and working your way up.
Start by taking a half-day off, following all the rules I mentioned above. Once you’ve become comfortable, try taking a single whole day off every once in a while. From there, you can scale to two-day, three-day or even weeklong vacations and more. Like anything else, you’ll get better with practice and experience.
With these strategies, you should find it easier to take time away from work without being bogged down with worries. It takes a real effort to disconnect your mind from work, especially in an entrepreneurial role. But if you want to avoid burnout and maximize your potential for happiness and satisfaction, it’s a step you’ll have to take.