At various stages of growth in business you’ll find yourself working day and night. During crunch times it may seem crazy to take a sabbatical. It feels like you’re walking away (albeit temporarily) from something that needs your round-the-clock attention. However, I learned that during times like these, a sabbatical was the best thing I could have done.
Why entrepreneurs need a sabbatical
When you love what you do, it seems like you wouldn’t want to step away from it. However, if you don’t take a break, you will burn out. Since moving to America, I have remained astounded by the lack of holiday time taken by those who work in traditional jobs. Even worse are those who work for themselves.
Since freelancers and others don’t get paid vacation, they are even less likely to take a day off. There just seems to be this overriding opinion here that taking time off from working is akin to laziness.
In England, you get five weeks of paid holiday. This is standard practice in your first year with any job; and that even includes the fast food industry. Those who own their own business also take time off. Companies willingly let their employees take their holiday time in one go, typically in the summer when workflow is slower. It’s commended and encouraged.
The problem with not taking time off is that not only will you end up eventually despising your work, but you will also not be good to anyone. Your quality, creativity and productivity will plummet. That includes your own business.
While you might be able to convince yourself to let a weekend go for family fun time, you may still struggle with the idea of a sabbatical where you step away for a month or more at a time with no active participation in work.
In that period, you can:
- learn some new skills,
- travel the world and discover different perspectives,
- volunteer for another organization to satisfy your need to help others,
- or just decompress and focus on anything but work, like a hobby or that novel you always wanted to write.
When you take time away from what you have been thinking about continuously you may have many “aha” moments. Moments where you discover the solution to a problem that daily meditation, brainstorming, mindfulness and thinking time alone does not uncover.
A sabbatical will also help your business and those who work with you. Your team will have the opportunity to grow, develop and take the lead while you are away. They will be put in situations they hadn’t previously experienced due to your presence and control. It will be a positive experience for all involved.
How to take a sabbatical
Can your business run without you? The answer is yes, if you have the right systems and processes in place, alongside a dedicated team. If not, then it’s time to rethink how to work yourself out of a job. “Once you find the right people to surround yourself with, work hard at making yourself dispensable,” says Martin Babinec, startup investor and founder of TriNet.
“Your success as a leader has more to do with building an organization that runs smoothly without you than it does being dependent on your being in the thick of every decision.”
I did worry the first time I went on a sabbatical, but then I found a strategy that works. It has allowed me to regularly take extended breaks over the years where I refuel my energy and creativity and my businesses continue to thrive. Here’s how I do it.
Prepare your team
Communicate your plans well in advance of your sabbatical. Give your team time to get their heads around what they will be doing while you are gone. Include details on the departure and return to help frame your time away.
Share the reason why you are taking a sabbatical so they have proper context. If not, they may worry about what it means for them and the business. Your team wants to feel secure rather than concerned.
Have a contingency plan
Regularly go over plans, roles and responsibilities as well as a contingency strategy for potential things that could go wrong while you are away. Think of it as a risk management program to oversee what type of problems might arise and how they can be fixed without your involvement.
Put someone in charge
Put someone in charge who you can trust with your life (because your business is essentially your life). You need someone who you know will run it like you. They should have the skills, knowledge and experience necessary. Often, this may mean making that person an interim CEO so everyone understands who is leading the company.
Make a financial plan
Make decisions about critical areas like finances, and put those terms in writing. This may include designating (usually the interim CEO) who can spend money and what types of financial actions are allowed.
Create an emergency route
Don’t leave the team high and dry, but give the interim CEO and key personnel an emergency form of contact. You can also provide specific examples of what defines an emergency situation. This also frames the type of decisions and actions they can take without you.
Let yourself enjoy the time. Don’t give into guilt or anxiety that may creep up. That happened to me during my first sabbatical, but I reminded myself that I had a trusted team in place. When I returned and everything was running smoothly, it gave me the confidence to take another one the following year.
Give yourself a break
Every day, I see entrepreneurs work day and night for their passion. You are to be commended, well and truly. But here’s the thing: You are human and you need a break every once in awhile.
Let yourself have that, whether it’s for an afternoon, a week, a month or longer. A sabbatical gives you a chance to recharge the batteries. It will put you in new environments that provide a different perspective. Once you have the right support, talent in place, and a well-thought-out strategy, you can take the time and still be just as successful — if not more!
Murray Newlands is an entrepreneur, investor, business advisor and a contributor at Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com. Founder of Sighted.
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