The past year has been the most brutal of my career. What started out as a good idea has cascaded into a challenge I am still working the details out on. Challenges excite me, but this one showed up unannounced.
Back in the day when I was building my practice I didn’t work that many hours because it was a seasonal business and I saw no need to bust my tail for “a few more dollars”. (A good movie, by the way.) My strategy was simple; always do better than the year before. As the years accumulate, beating last year required more work. It wasn’t money; it was pride.
Eventually I was working way more than I wanted to, so I cut back dramatically and seriously considered selling my practice and living a “real” retirement. The reduced hours and the return to a normal lifestyle (for me) put the “selling the business” idea on the back burner.
It all changed a year ago. This blog and other media attention sent requests for my personal services through the roof. The process of digging out is still ongoing. I had no choice but to say “no” a lot more than I ever had before. That is a difficult pill to swallow because I love working with people and helping clients reach their goals.
Last tax season when this hit, my office had a perfect storm. Illness was an issue and under-staffing was acute because I did not anticipate what a post in Mr. Money Mustache would do to me. The worst part was a key employee who felt jealous of my success and decided to bow out. She was part-time, but an experienced tax pro. Her daughter also worked for me and was full-time. Their performance and quality of work was beyond bad. Certainly not at a professional level.
The two employees had to go. They came to me to resign, each in turn and I think they knew if they didn’t I was going to terminate their employment with my firm anyway.
The extra workload coupled with several illnesses in the office and two rouge employees who refused to prepare tax returns by mid tax season left the task to me personally. Work has never bothered me. I rolled up my sleeves and did as much as my body could deliver. When tax season was over I hired more qualified people and trained them. They are paid more than the departing employees, but have earned it by stepping up and getting the work caught up.
Considering the struggles, my practice had a record year. It proves jealousy only hurts the one who feels it.
And I had to deal with a new issue personally: burnout. Burnout is no stranger to me. When I started buying rentals I bought a lot. I mean, a LOT! Too many, in fact. After 10 years I burned out and started selling until they were all gone.
I grew my practice until long hours caused me to hurt physically. Now I am back hurting. Too much sitting takes its toll.
Don’t worry kind readers. I am a resilient cuss. I am learning to live with saying “no” more often than ever before in my life. I love my readers all the same, even if I can’t serve each individually. And I have rebuilt an awesome team in my office headed by Karen, my office manager of over a decade.
The added work challenged me in other ways, too. I had to start thinking differently. I was no longer a small tax practice in a sleepy corner of the U.S. People from around the country, and even the world, were watching and demanding a piece of me. New skills needed to be added. Slowly the skills are maturing.
When a grueling work schedule wears you down a vacation is the perfect solution. Burnout, and the steps we take toward burnout, reduces efficiency to a crawl. Working more hours does not mean you get more done. (Reread the last sentence until you really get it.) Sometimes packing up and going home is the best thing you can do. When the workload gets too great, even more drastic measures are needed.
Vacations don’t mix well with me. I find nothing appealing about sitting around twiddling my fingers. But vacations are necessary for good health and to stimulate the mind. Reduced productivity is not cured by working more hours. Even I am not that crazy. (And it is clear I crossed the line into Crazyland long ago.)
That is why I will be out of the office from January 10th through January 19th in Florida. Four of those days will be at a conference call Camp Mustache SE. Pete Adeny, the guy who writes Mr. Money Mustache, is the man of honor. I get the great fortune of speaking with the crowd for an hour one day and meeting the other awesome speakers. I also volunteered to give 10 one-hour consultations with the proceeds going to charity. Hence, a busman’s holiday.
A busman’s holiday can refresh as much as any “sitting around” holiday can. I will do what I enjoy and have a reason to meet with many of the fine people there. I will also take time each day to write so you guys will be happy and I will check email for anything pressing from the office. Maybe.
It sounds a lot like work to many people, but for me it is refreshing. There will be no interruptions when I have the one-hour consultations and the change of venue will refresh. There will be plenty of socializing and learning opportunities. Stuff I love doing. And it doesn’t hurt my feelings I was asked to speak in Florida in January, coming from Wisconsin and all.
For those of you in the accounting profession, I see abject fear in your eyes. How can you take a nine day vacation in January? Well, I do have a qualified and trained staff to handle the workload. January is busy with issuing W-2s and 1099s, things I never touch. I prepare taxes. My team does that other stuff so it really isn’t busy for me yet unless I want to sit around answering more email and saying “yes” to too many people. The break also saves me from me!
Outside the four days of Camp Mustache, I will take the opportunity to meet with people. Ideas come from sharing time with intelligent people of like mind. Mrs. Accountant and I will take quiet time to visit a museum or two and a few casual walks. The Camp will be hectic because I promised the consultations for charity. But I will also meet with people in a slower paced environment before and after the conference. A busman’s holiday for sure, but one that recharges my batteries.
There is another solution to shut out the overload life frequently sends. A full fledged vacation is not always possible. My January sojourn would not go over as well in mid-March. I would never sleep knowing the office was in high gear while I stepped out. Enter selective vacationing.
Ryan Holiday introduced this concept to me when he wrote about 23 things Tim Ferriss taught him about writing, strategy and life. Toward the end of the article Holiday lists “Taking Vacation from Stuff” as one of the things Ferriss taught him. It works like this.
Instead of a vacation where you pack up and leave, take a vacation from one particle activity. If you email Holiday or Ferriss you might get a response from them stating they are taking a short vacation from email or a vacation from phone calls. Saying “no” all the time comes off blunt and makes nice people feel like they are acting like a dick. Saying you are on vacation from a select activity comes off more politely and vacations are something people understand better than a flat out “no”.
I started using the selective vacationing idea and find it a powerful way to recharge without totally bowing out of life. Email and phone vacations are a nice way to focus on what gives me greatest pleasure at the time. I love the work I do so taking time to just sit around does not appeal to me. Focusing on tasks I find fulfilling does.
Selective Vacationing for Normal People
If a business owner can take a selective vacation, so can you. The biggest distracters in our modern world includes: news, social media, email, texting and phone calls. Take a vacation from each so you can feel the freedom the disconnection creates. Take a vacation from each in their turn to focus your creative energy where it is most productive and satisfying.
This is an alien concept in our modern world. What did people do with their time 30 years ago when they couldn’t check their cell phone nonstop? How did we live back in those Dark Ages when we couldn’t stimulate our mind with mindless social media updates? Committing to a social media vacation causes many people to experience withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addicts when they get treatment. This stuff is really addictive.
Some selective vacations are easier than others. I have never been much of a social media guy. I have people take care of that stuff for me and posting is mostly automatic programs doing their thing. I look normal without doing what normal people do—sit on social media all day. And I have not died from lack of social media stimulation either!
Start with an easy (or at least easier) selective vacation. Also start small. Maybe take a few days to a week vacation from watching/checking the news. For some reason when you get back the world will still be here. And if it isn’t, there wasn’t a thing you could have done to change the outcome. So take the selective vacation.
Choosing which activity to take a vacation from is largely determined by what is burning you out or causing the most stress. Periodically I burn out from too many appointments. Clients are sometimes annoyed when I take an appointment vacation. They see me sitting in my office working intently while I refuse to take an appointment or accept an interruption. The extra work I get done, the work I enjoy, satisfies more when I can focus on it for a couple days or week. It feels good and clients get over it.
Your personal life is the same. My 29th wedding anniversary is fast approaching. One of the secrets to our happy marriage is we both know when to step back. We never take a vacation from our fidelity or love, but we do take time where we do our own thing. It’s healthy to have your own space. I don’t own Mrs. Accountant. She is her own woman and has the right to live her life as she chooses. A mutual vacation might mean we still stay home, but we don’t do many activities together or I might sleep on the couch or take a conference or continuing ed class on my own. I am slowly working toward a vacation where I find a place to lock myself away and emerge myself in several writing projects I am eager to start working on.
Normal people are not always tuned in. You can take a break from your iPod. People are so plugged in and so accustomed to constant stimulation they don’t know how to act when the endless barrage of distraction stops. It’s not healthy, people.
A selective vacation is for you. Find the areas of your life taking outsized amounts of time and back away for a few days. The time away will help you refocus and make better decisions. Social media, phone calls, television, radio, music, all need to be turned off at times. I love reading. I mean I really love reading. Still, there are times I take a short vacation from books. Sometimes it feels like I am spitting in God’s face when I do, but I adjust. Reading is yet another distraction.
The selective vacations you choose will change over time. Paying even modest attention to your day will reveal things you need to take a break from. When something starts to cause stress or no longer feels good anymore it is a sure sign you are reaching burnout and are ready for a selective vacation.
Finally, learn to enjoy quiet time. I know, look who’s talking. I can do it and do it more often than you might think. Early morning and evenings are times I take to quietly reflect. My schedule can dig into this personal time, but I am very protective of my quiet mornings. An hour to sit and think or research a topic of interest is a great way to start the day. Don’t open email first thing in the morning. There will be plenty of time for that later. Just breathe and enjoy the moment knowing today you will not have to check social media or make phone calls or open your email folder.
When you plan a selective vacation, write it down and put it somewhere conspicuous. I tell my staff when I am taking an appointment or email vacation. You might want to put a note on the bathroom mirror to yourself about your current email or social media vacation. Let people around you know about your selective vacation. Most people will respect the boundary once they understand what you are doing and adjust.
Modern society has granted us so many luxuries and we squander our inheritance on trivial distractions. Take your life back and experience the awesome world of abundance and freedom we live in.