I grew up working in my family’s heating business. And my dad’s coaching to his very young sons was, “We don’t do winter sports or take winter vacations.”
Basically, it meant every living breathing moment from Labor Day till April 1st was to be spent working in the business.
That made for a crazy time that could wear us and our employees down.
But, the nice thing was my wife saying to me in summer, “You home again?” or, “You’re going out to play golf again?”
That all changed when we branched out into the plumbing and cooling trades. Then, we had to be available 24/7/365. And my wife then began to say, “Are you ever coming home?”. Or, “When are we ever going to have time for a vacation?”.
The answer, for a pretty long time, was “Never.”
My “vacation” was typically rolled into attending a class, seminar or workshop out of town. Which was fine for me, but she rarely could accompany me because she had the kids to attend to. And it wasn’t really vacation because it was get up early, be in class all day, go out to eat dinner and talk business and then finally meet at the bar and talk more business until the wee hours of the morning. Then, get a couple of hours of fast sleep and start the process all over again.
I was actually exhausted when I’d get home.
In the years ahead, I worked really hard to gain control of my family plumbing, heating and cooling business to everyone’s benefits. And that was great. BUT, the culture hadn’t changed one bit when it came to taking time away from the business.
It was a February day and I was now 39 years old. And I had never skied in my entire life because of my dad’s commandment, “Thou shall not do winter sports or take time off in winter.” But, my kids had been begging me to take them on a ski trip. So, I went to my older brothers and told them I’d be taking a three day weekend to go to upstate New York and ski.
You would have thought I was asking them to sacrifice their first-born child. They were not happy. Sorry, I meant to say they were angry and outraged by my audacity to ask for a three day weekend in the winter (or, really anytime).
So, this is what I told them (actually, this is what I yelled at them), “If I can’t take three days off in February when the heating season is already trailing off to be with my children because the business will fall apart with the two of you here and all the systems we put in place, we should just close up shop right now and find new jobs.
“Why did we work so hard to put in the Operating Manuals, ongoing training and a whole lot more? To me, it was to make more profit but also to give us our lives back.”
Yes, I went on that three-day ski trip. And yes, I broke the family dynamic, and I didn’t break any bones. It was great. And when I came back to work I was re-energized and refreshed.
Hey, I know it’s easy as an owner to work hard, work harder and also get very little sleep. This is especially so when you’re in your 20s and 30s. But, the awful truth comes home and that is by the time you’re reaching your 40s, 50s and 60s you can’t do what you did when you were in your 20s and 30s.
The only good news is if you can stop what you’re doing (and time away from your business will help) you can learn how to work smarter and not harder. You can learn how to get things done through others.
Otherwise, you risk burning out, a health crisis and the possibility of burning out your staff too.
Want to know what happened at my family business since that fateful day I went on a three day vacation in February?
My brothers learned to go on vacation a whole lot more throughout the year. At least, a whole lot more than we used to do when I first committed the sin of taking off three days.
What’s the value of taking time away from your business?
Here are just five benefits to time away from your business:
You come back more refreshed and with more energy.
You gain perspective about your business and whether it’s serving the goals you had for it when you first went into business.
You learn when you come back that the place probably didn’t fall apart and that others stepped up.
You learned that they may not have done it exactly like you would have but things got done.
You learned what did get fouled up can be assessed as something that needs fixing so it works whether you’re there or not. And you also learn that there are some weird things that can happen which would have probably occurred even if you had been there.
Hang on. I know it takes a lot to get prepared to leave and there will be things to attend to when you get back. Here’s what I know, that would be happening even if you were there.
I like to share a visual when I do my workshops for owners about the value of vacations and taking time away.
What I say is, “Imagine I asked you to walk a block and pick up a one pound rock and put it in your pocket. You could do that right?
How about I asked you to walk another block and put a one pound rock in your pocket. You could do that too…right?
What if I asked you to walk a mile stopping every block to fill your pockets with one pound rocks? Is it fair to say you will soon be struggling? That’s why you periodically have to unload the rocks you carry, and time away from your business is the best way I know to unload the rocks.”
Al Levi teaches contractors how to run their businesses with “Less stress and more success.” His book The 7-Power Contractor is a great way for you to get started on the path.