How to Take a Month Off (Without Coming Back to Bankruptcy or Angry Clients)
Julia and her boys in Antibes, France
This summer I took a month off to travel to France and the Netherlands with my two boys, Adrian and Emmett, who are 10 and 13. I figured I’d best make the trips I have always wanted to make with them while they still want to hang out with me! Plus, I turned 50 this year and wanted to celebrate with some of my besties, who flew to France to meet me for a few days of total indulgence.
While I haven’t taken more than two consecutive weeks off in years, I challenged myself to make it happen because 1) life is for living 2) this was a big birthday and 3) I wanted walk my own talk.
Everything I teach women entrepreneurs can be boiled down to this: work SMART not HARD. Taking a real vacation where you get to completely disconnect for many weeks while your business is still thriving is a clear sign that you are doing just that. When I came back I found Million Dollar Women had gotten our fall advertising campaign up and running, launched our new sales program, held a booth at an event, secured a potential $10,000 grant for our nonprofit and many other wins. And zero fires to put out. That felt amazing.
I am always looking for ways to ramp up the SMART and ramp down the HARD for you – and for me too. While I love my work and am willing to put in all kinds of hours to help the women I coach to go big, I also love to spend time with my kids, get my silly on, and go on off-beat adventures like scuba diving in Jamaica and learning mindset mastery techniques in Sydney, Australia.
Time seems to be on fast forward these days – five minutes ago my boys were ready to fight to the death over who got the bigger half of the brownie, and now they are saying things like “maybe I’ll apply to UCLA because they have a strong political science program.”
In just a few years, my older son will be texting me from his dorm room and my little one will be asking to skip family dinners to see his friends. Each of these summers with them is so precious, as is each day that I can carve out more time to eat dinner as a family, help my boys achieve their own dreams, and get creamed in Scrabble by Emmett on Sunday mornings.
As women, we are socialized from an early age to work not only hard, but too damn hard. There really is such a thing as too hard. I know, because I was that person who was always offering to stay late, get up early, pick up the slack, figure it out by myself, hustle hustle hustle, and buckle down ‘til the job was done – but that was never going to lead me to success. I just didn’t know it – until I did. It turns out the most successful business owners work SMART not HARD. So why are so many women still doing the opposite?
The 5 Deadly Sins of working HARD not SMART:
- You get used to it and think that is the only way to achieve success.
- You are focused on working harder instead of figuring out how to work smarter, so you may never learn the other way.
- You can become a control freak and a perfectionist (the exact opposite of a Delegation Ninja, which is what we need to become in order to scale up our businesses).
- Your business is not as profitable, sellable or scalable, because you are the one doing everything and the only value the company has would disappear instantly if you weren’t there doing it.
- You experience more burn out symptoms like anxiety, depression, over-eating, drinking too much and feelings of overwhelm/despair.
While you may not be ready yet to take a month off, I highly encourage you to take at least one week off in the next three months where you do not check email. The no email is what truly makes it being “off.” The first thing I do when I get on the plane to leave for my summer vacation is to take my work email off my phone. I actually delete it. I don’t trust myself not to look at it (I would be way too tempted to check each time I had to research a restaurant or use Google Maps!).
I do leave my personal email account on my phone, but only friends and family have that one. My Chief of Staff knows that if something is urgent she can reach me that way. But taking off my work email removes the exhausting steady stream of incoming cars to the mental parking lot… you know, the hundreds of cars you have driving at you each day in your inbox that need triage, careful parking and in some cases, a full repair!
If you haven’t yet taken time off where you are truly OFF, here is how to prepare:
- Set the intention early and loudly. Tell your staff, intern, assistant or whomever you work with that you need this time to recharge (they probably agree!) and decide who will handle your email and day-to-day activities during your absence. Note: if you think your business can’t run without you, read Built to Sell and make a few changes right away. If you do not have a staff, write up what you do every day and hire a virtual assistant to do the essential bits while you are away.
- Build systems that handle the bulk of what you do way ahead of time (we got onto the planning software Asana about a month before I left which ensured all essential tasks were being handled) and test them at least once before you leave. Turn off your email for a day a few weeks before your departure, just to give the person who will be covering a test run and identify any places they get stuck.
- Introduce the person who will be covering for you to key relationships several weeks before you leave so they will be able to email them without you.
- Set up clear guidelines with the person covering for you of what types of situations merit contacting you and which don’t (very few should!).
- Write an autoresponder message with your exact dates of absence and details on who will cover what situations during that time.
- Get the heck outta here and enjoy!
If you read my book Million Dollar Women you know that one of my mantras is “You are your greatest asset.” You can’t run that asset into the ground. If you were an agent and your asset were a super-talented actress, would you book her in three films back to back with no break? Then why do we treat ourselves that way?
In his best-selling book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey reminds us of the perils of treating ourselves like production machines. He shares a fable about a couple who were farmers and had a very special goose that laid golden eggs. They were thrilled with this magical windfall and for several months the farmers would go into the goose’s cage each morning and find one perfect solid gold egg. Naturally, the goose became their prized possession. They fed the goose the best of grains, let her sleep on the softest of hay and took great care to be sure the goose was comfortable while producing these daily miracles.
But after a few months the couple started to wonder, why do we have to wait 24 hours each time before collecting an egg? What if we just cut open the goose and collected dozens of eggs instead of having to get them one at a time? So they slayed the goose in order to get all the eggs at once. Let’s just say they had to go try to find a pig who could talk to make up for that error of judgment!
Covey says the goose is the “Production Capacity” and the eggs are the “Production” – or the PC (Production Capacity) and the P (Production). The lesson is that if you focus only on the results (the Production) and not the health of the being (or team) that produces the results (the Production Capacity) you will soon be sitting with a dead goose and zero eggs – gold, soft boiled or any other kind. Yet if you only focus on how talented your goose is (the PC) without making sure you are getting results (the P), soon your bank account will have tumbleweeds blowing through it and it won’t matter how well fed and happy the goose is. Finding that perfect balance between taking care of the PC and the P is the key to optimal effectiveness.
In short, we have to find ways to get results without burning ourselves out. We have to very intentionally protect our Production Capacity (PC). Which means practicing self-care.
I want you go to reach $1M in revenues (or whatever big revenue number is meaningful to you), to run your business in a way that lets you take real time off, and model this for the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
I grew up hearing working women say, “When I am at work I feel like I should be at home and when I’m at home I feel like I should be at work. I’m just exhausted all the time and can’t seem to do either job well.”
That was the worst thing to hear as a young ambitious woman and made me dread my career instead of embrace it. As it turns out, my life feels like the opposite of that. I love my work and I love being a mom and have found a way to do both that is super joyful. Let’s hand off a very different message to the next wave of driven women who want a big career and a big life. Something like:
“Learn to work smart not hard, and you can have a big career and a big life.”
Once we all learn to work smart, we can make more money, spend more time with our family and friends, dedicate more time to changing the world and helping our sisters, educating our kids, traveling to the places on our bucket list and living life to the fullest. Or would you rather keep pushing that boulder up the hill and patting yourself on the back for how much further you pushed it today than yesterday? I wouldn’t go all “mean big sister” on you unless I had lived it myself! If this blog spoke to you, do one nice thing for yourself TODAY (take a walk, go get a massage, have your nails done, take a twenty minute read a book break).
P.S. To learn more about working Smart not Hard, check out my free webinar here: “The 5 Key Moves to Get to $1M Without Losing Your Mind.” Or you can Book an Accelerate Session with us to find out about our coaching programs. MDW Masterclass starts soon and spots are filling up fast!