Vacation? What vacation?

How can you get yourself and your business to the point that you can take a vacation? Or are you doomed to be on the job 24/7, for the rest of your life?

They say that working for yourself is a two-edged sword. One edge is that you hired the best guy you know. The

other is that you've got a real taskmaster for a boss.

And one aspect of dealing with that taskmaster is that he often won't let the best guy he knows take a vacation. Why? Well, he hates to lose the money. He doesn't want to disappoint a customer. He thinks that some competitor might win a customer away. And so forth.

So how can you get yourself and your business to the point that you can take a vacation? Or are you doomed to be on the job 24/7, for the rest of your life?

Take heart. One of the persons who agreed to be interviewed for this interview once took a three-month vacation that he used to ride a bicycle cross-country. He says he plans to do it again, "perhaps on a different continent."

So it's possible to take time off. Just ask Leigh Weber, vice president of the Independent Computer Consultants Association, the guy who took the three-month vacation. "People don't take vacations," he says, "because they don't put it on the calendar."

And that's rule one, according to Weber. Put the vacation on the calendar, mark the time "not available" and make sure you tell your customers that you will not be available for work during that period of time.

Not that Weber thinks everyone has to take an extended period of time off. He notes that some folks -- he calls them "power nappers" -- can refresh themselves with just a weekend of some sort of intensive activity. He cites sailing as one such activity, noting that a weekend sail in his part of the country (Philadelphia) involves going to the boat on a Friday, packing, sailing on Saturday, spending the night at anchor, and sailing back to the dock on Sunday. "You'd think that you'd come back Sunday night exhausted," Weber says. "But in fact, you can come back refreshed and ready to go again - if you had good sailing weather, that is."

Everyone needs time to unwind and take some time away from the job, whether it's lots of intensive weekends or a longer vacation period. That's why corporate human-resources departments push vacation, and urge employees to take them. All work and no play, as they say, make Jack a dull boy, not to mention a less effective employee. As Ed Tittel, a well known certification writer, trainer, and frequent contributor to this and other TechTarget Web sites, says, "I need a long vacation periodically. I tell clients 'I'm gonna be gone, and except in an emergency I won't be available.' It's a good idea to get away, and have time to recharge, to reflect whether your professional life is going the way you want." Tittel also agrees with Weber that the first, most important, step is to put the vacation on your calendar.

So, once you do that, then what? Well, almost as important is step 2: Stick to your dates. "Don't give away your vacation," says Weber. And, unfortunately, that can be pretty tough. "People can't get away because of three tendencies," says Tittel. "First, they want to make hay while the sun shines. They planned time off but decided to work anyway." They just couldn't pass up the money.

The second tendency is poor financial planning, believe it or not. We all probably have been at the point where we just don't have the reserves to take the time and forgo the income that we believe we could generate. Tittel explains: "Say you have expenses that you have to meet of $5,000 per month. So you plan to bring in $1,250 every week. But that's wrong. You need more, because you're going to take a vacation and won't have every week available for revenue production. So you have to shoot for $1,750. You have to build the notion of taking time off," into your financial plan.

"Make a good financial plan," agrees Weber. "If you have six months to two years of living expenses in the bank, then you have the confidence to take a vacation."

The third tendency that makes you stay on the job and off the beach is your drive to take good care of your customers (and not let them wander off to the competition). How can you handle that?

Tittel says he gives customers 90 days notice that he'll be away, which is plenty of time to adjust deadlines and assignments. "They can accommodate," he says, adding that if they cannot, then he may not want to have them as clients in the first place.

When Weber took his cross-country ride, he had a friend and colleague cover the business. The deal was that the colleague would get any business generated in that time. "It was similar to the way doctors have others cover for them," he relates. "I didn't lose any customers, and, in fact, I got some more business from the experience, follow-up business from what my colleague had done."

It's pretty clear that you can take that vacation. It will just take planning, both time and financial, and notification of customers, and, depending on the length of time you'll be away, some coverage from a trusted colleague. You don't have to be a slave to the business 24/7 for the rest of your life.

So what are you waiting for?

David Gabel has been testing and writing about computers for more than 25 years.


This was first published in February 2005

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