The backbone of financial wealth is built on hard work. Yet, physical, mental, spiritual and financial wealth cannot coexist with uninterrupted labor. Every business owner knows, or should know, the power of a vacation. And if you want optimal health and wealth, you better know, as well.
There is a misunderstanding in society of what a vacation really is. Americans think of it as a two week power getaway. (As an American I admit my culture burns at a higher heat and needs to slow down, at least when we take time off. Much of the world already understands this.) The Continent shuts down for August.
Many countries around the world have extended holiday opportunities for employees. Yet, we idolize the hard working business owner that never takes a day off.
The employee who never takes a day off is not only less effective, but also the employee most likely to embezzle from your firm. (You can’t take a day off over fear of being discovered.)
We idolize those perceived as working endlessly. Who can forget the dedication to detail of Steve Jobs? Does anyone work harder than Elon Musk? Or Bill Gates in his younger days?
While some can work for longer at higher levels of efficiency and creativity, that is not the default for most people. As much as we idolize the accomplishments of Jobs and Musk, each found time to get away and relax. From Albert Einstein to Bill Gates to Jobs and Musk and every other great accomplishment prodigy ever created by the human race, it was the moments of quiet where the magic happened.
Elon Musk is famous for saying he hates vacations or even the idea of vacations. Yet, Musk steals away when he can to focus his thoughts and increase creativity. Bill Gates has “think weeks”. Einstein would think quietly and alone. This is how he imagined such wonderful things that help us understand our world better and is the basis of so many of our modern technologies.
Long time readers of this blog are quick to point out my disdain for travel. The truth is I don’t mind traveling. I much prefer a quiet retreat, unrushed, so I can focus on ideas and creative endeavors. Still, I know deep inside when it is time to pack my bags and visit folks outside the backyard.
So why does a guy that limits his vacation time write a blog post on vacations? Well, it is personal and I would like to share the story.
There are five distinct types of vacation. Each type can be sliced and diced into smaller and smaller components, but in the end there are really only 5 to choose from.
Where you are personally will determine the most appropriate vacation for you at this time.
My youngest daughter, Brooke is heading for her fifth surgery since early December. (For people reading this much later, I am writing in mid-April at 4 a.m. the Monday before the surgery.) She heads UW Health in Madison late Wednesday for a very early surgery Thursday morning.
Brooke had a series of strokes the past few years and she had very serious strokes last autumn. What started as two surgeries opening her head turned into six due to complications. This week they are replacing the large piece of skull removed from an infection that set in from two surgeries ago. You can read more of the background here.
It is these personal events that have me taking an unscheduled vacation and where we will begin our discussion of each type of vacation and when each is most appropriate to take.
The Five Types of Vacation
The Long Weekend Vacation
Needless to say, time off daily is a necessity. A good night of sleep is vital to good health. And since fatigue does not bring out our greatest productivity, time off, rest and a vacation can actually help you get more work done than if you never took a minute of rest.
Tax season is brutal for me. Long hours with few days off take a toll. I often get to the office at 4 a.m. and go all day, and sometimes even work into the evening.
Outside tax season is a different story. I work the early morning hours from home as often as possible. The office is closed on Friday, for a 3-day weekend.
Just because the office is closed for a 3-day weekend all summer doesn’t mean I can’t think about work. I still read books that educate, answer emails and talk with clients. There are fewer interruptions and the pace is slower so my mind is settled. Just as time off should be.
A subset of The Long Weekend Vacation is The Unplanned Vacation. That is where I am at this week personally.
The Unplanned Vacation usually involves the unexpected. A death, illness or other unplanned event surprises us.
In my case, we knew of, and planned, Brooke’s surgery. It still falls under the “unplanned” column because we have no choice in the timing and the time off is not voluntary.
I will be in the office Monday through Wednesday, probably with shortened hours. Thursday will begin my weekend this week. The early week in the office will keep my mind distracted and Thursday I will be unable to focus while my family awaits news from the surgical theater so I’ll sit and wait.
The Long Weekend Vacation, planned or not, is a short-term break from the routine. It doesn’t have to be every week, or seasonal, as it is in my business.
The important part to remember is the power of the pause that refreshes. When you can walk away and clear your mind, the best ideas will bubble to the surface. The extra day or so of down time can super charge your effectiveness and efficiency the following week.
The Two-Week Vacation
Let’s call this the American style of vacationing. Two weeks crammed full of as much as you can stuff into it as you can. Maybe it is a power job around the house or a hyper-planned vacation. In either case, it is filled with as much as can be packed into it, plus a bit more.
The week-long, 10-day, and two-week tour package fits nicely into this category. Several years back my parents invited Sue and me to a 10-day tour of Costa Rica. It was very nice, but waaaay too rushed. You really can’t really see an entire country in 10 days! I prefer to bed down deep in a community and really get to know a few people.
The Two-Week Vacation doesn’t have to be rushed. Too many Americans use some hectic version of this type of vacation, in my opinion.
Two weeks is long enough to start to unwind and relax. If you fill too many spaces it becomes your new job, stress and all, for a few weeks before you are happy to be back to the old grind.
Work should never be a grind! The Two-Week Vacation can offer plenty of relaxation and recharging. It is a real opportunity for undivided family time, reading and reflecting.
Don’t underestimate The Tw0-Week Vacation. Just slow it down a bit from the American Style.
The European Vacation
My friends across the pond really know how to take a vacation. The Continent comes to a stop during August (except for those in travel, food and entertainment) as people of all ages take a collective deep breath.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Europe, August, or any vacation time for that matter, is at a much more relaxed pace. While The Long Weekend Vacation and Two-Week Vacation have a lot going for them, a full month at a slower pace does more to revitalize.
This brings up a good point. Short vacations are important, but a longer, deeper vacations periodically are also a requirement.
The American Style vacation wasn’t always so rushed in America. My grandparents took extended time in Hawaii and Europe in their younger days. And we were farmers where cows had to be milked every day! If there is a will, there is a way. My frugal grandfather proved you can slow down, enjoy, without breaking the piggy bank. American need to get back to this.
The Australian Vacation
I hope I am not crossing a line with something stereotypical. Many years back I made the mistake of identifying a man as Oriental (as he also introduced himself as) in a blog post. The outrage was swift and deafening until I asked what I was supposed to say? “Asian!”
When you live in the backwoods you sometimes don’t understand or know what the rest of the world thinks about phrases used “when I was growing up.”
No offense is intended if this is one of those cases.
I was told on more than one occasion that when you travel the world you will meet a lot of Australians. I don’t know if it is true or not, but since I heard it more than once from different people I think there might be something to it.
My understanding is that the fine folks from down under take vacations and travel seriously. As in 6-weeks or longer serious!
What I like about the extended (my term for what I consider really long vacations) time off is that you can really settle in. This allows you to really get to know people on a more personal level. With time, people share more things about themselves and their communities. The slow pace has massive advantages.
My oldest daughter, Heather, enjoyed a full summer in China. She stayed with a host family as she taught their daughter, Dora, English as a second language. It has been years and Heather still talks with her host family and Dora on a regular basis. There is a connection between our families that runs deep. Sometimes our eyes wander to the East as we contemplate friends far away.
A subset of the Australian Vacation is the Gap Year Vacation. This extended vacation runs to a year or longer.
When people in high stress jobs burn out they frequently take one of these Quasi-Retirement Vacations, only to discover they miss the excitement of the battlefield and head back to the mosh pit after extended time off to gather their thoughts.
A Gap Year (or three) is valuable for young people, too. Immersing in a culture or a personal project for a few years brings life-long benefits. Traveling the world, if that is what excites you, gives you multiple perspectives and worldviews. (Might I suggest to my American friends you don’t only hang with Americans. If you bring home with you, some of the benefit is lost.)
The ultimate vacation is retirement, where you leave and don’t come back. I know too many people that rush this type of vacation. Unfortunately, it is a one and done. (Unless you made a mistake and it was only a Gap Year/s.)
There is an American flavor to retirement, as well, where you rush to get there as early as possible only to rush to travel the world only to rush to. . .
You get the point. Slow down, take a break and enjoy. Retirement is overrated. Desires of retirement usually mean you are in the wrong profession or just need one of the vacations listed above.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the long walk (retirement). Just make sure it is what you really want.
Now my mind drifts to personal issues again. The surgeon is opening Brooke’s skull for a fifth time with a guaranteed sixth time in a few months. Of course my thoughts as distracted.
I will enjoy many three-day weekends this summer. I will read and write and plan and work around my farm and. . .
I’ll have fun, is what I’m saying.
This weekend will be a 4-banger, four days filled with a lot of sitting, waiting and praying. It is an important vacation, if you can call it that.
And you, my kind readers, all vacations are important. Make sure you don’t skimp. It is as important, or more so, than the work we fill our time with.
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Balancing family life, personal, and business present challenges when your interests are catholic (little c, not big C). Family is always a priority while business always demands more of your time; personal time is needed for mental well-being and health. Business owners are in the toughest situation. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk changed the world with their work. The best learn quickly to avoid keeping busy. Even small business owners suffer the same demands on their time as captains of industry.
Some leaders are better at managing their time and personal lives than others. Steve Jobs was noted for his intensity. Elon Musk gave us PayPal, Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX. Their skills in creating value are legendary, but Jobs managed to find time to meditate and stay married, while Musk has had three wives in the last decade. A burning intensity to perform does not preclude a healthy home life. Bill Gates got married and stayed married. (Bill and Melinda make a cute couple.)
If Elon Musk can run several multi-billion dollar corporations, it is possible for you to do great things while retaining balance in your life. Few of us will ever experience the demands of a Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Warren Buffett. It boils down to managing workflow. By creating systems to manage all the demands on your time you can create a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
No matter where you work, there will be demands on time. I will approach this from a business owner’s viewpoint because that is my worldview and experience.
Recent events challenged the system I used for many years in my office. Additional new clients with greater needs than most of my current clients coupled with Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible moment) tested my skills. I am still digging out.
Here are some considerations for managing workflow at work:
- Outline expectations with clients, co-workers, and the boss. Since everyone has different needs and expectations it can be like dancing on the edge of a razor. People will constantly try to push you off balance, not out of malice, but to gain advantage to satisfy their own needs.
- Build a system that works and is flexible. In my tax office we have to be prepared for everything. Our best laid plans can crumble if we create a rigid workflow. A critical issue can take precedence over regular work.
- Allow your team to shine. I refuse to dictate most workflow matters. My team is in a better position to determine the best course of action to maximize their productivity. I provide guidance when necessary. When issues arise I provide input and allow each employee to then determine the best way to manage work at their station.
- Consider categories. We are in the process of switching our tax workflow procedures. We will list each tax return that comes in A, B, or C. Tax returns in the A category anyone can prepare with only minor review. These are the easiest returns. The B tax returns can be data entered by anyone, but will require a review. All C tax returns must be prepared by me or reviewed by me. The C returns are the most difficult or contain issues where my experience will result in significantly lower taxes.
- Each work environment is different. Using my office as an example again, I set priorities on workload. Certain phone calls must be made today. Due dates frequently dictate work order in a tax office.
- Record every step. We use multiple organization tools to manage workflow in my office. Every piece of work is entered on a worksheet at the front desk. We have a redundant system to reduce errors. Tax returns are reviewed. Even my work is checked. For example: When a tax return is finished and signed by the client it goes in a slot. I take these e-files and process them. When the IRS accepts the return I mark it ACK and return it to another slot. Natasha, at my front desk, checks each e-file to make sure it was really e-filed. We don’t want a return unfiled because a page stuck together.
- Use time management tools. Each member of my team uses different methods to process their workload. I tend to be a paper and pencil guy. I have handwritten notes everywhere (and only I can read them due to my awesome handwriting skills, though I have it on good authority Natasha is able to grasp every seventh word). Many employees use Post-It notes, the digital kind, and keep them on their screen. Outlook is a great management tool. The tax software I use has several time/workload manage tools built into the program.
- Always keep an open mind. Test ideas to improve your workflow. Team members are a great source of ideas to better manage time and workload.
There are many more ways to manage workflow in your professional life. Each situation is unique, as are you. What works for me may not work for you. I prefer to manage by fiat. My employees tell me they love how I grant them the latitude to determine their own work space. I refuse to spend my day hunched over the backs of my team. I hire good people and give them the authority to do the job in the most efficient way for them.
Family is more important than work. Work life frequently requires us to spend more time with people other than family so it is imperative we prioritize family life. Since I have been married for 28 years (to the same woman, you smart ass) and have two daughters who managed to stay off drugs and not get pregnant, I assume I did something right. I make no claim to being the perfect father or husband. All I can do is share what I do that led to the current results.
- Tell them you love them every day. This is the most important part of any relationship. Tell them you care. First thing every morning, I give all my girls a kiss, a hug, and tell them I love them. It is also the last thing I do before retiring each evening. Regardless the situation, I tell my wife and daughters I love them. If I am upset about something they still get a hug and kiss. I make it clear I am upset about the action, or lack thereof, and not with them.
- Never go to bed angry. This is Mrs. Accountant’s rule. A good one, too. There will be times when you are not happy with a situation. No matter, we still make peace before we sleep. The next day we usually deal with the situation better anyway.
- Praise often. It is too easy to admonish when a family member does something against your liking. Be sure to praise even faster. A child with poor grades needs a pat on the back when they ace a test. If you are married for 28 years there will be things that irritated you over the years. You can whine and complain or ask gently for some changes. When your significant other does something you like, let them know. Maybe someone needs to lose weight. Instead of harping on their eating habits and flab, comment on their choice of quality food or skipping desert. Reinforce the positive rather than focus on the negative. Once you conquer this skill there will be few disagreements in your household. Mrs. Accountant and I have not had an argument/fight in 25 years. The first three years were a different story. I had to learn some skills and I was determined to have a good marriage.
- Give each other space. To the best of my ability I do not crowd my family. Everybody needs down time alone. I am comfortable allowing my daughters and Mrs. Accountant their free time without me. Girl time is important. So is guy time. Sometimes life events require alone time to process an event. When ready, they will seek your comfort.
- Love unconditionally. My wife and daughters are individuals. I have no desire to mold them into what I want. I prefer family members who are their own person. When you love unconditionally your family is unlikely to leave you. Where could they possibly go where it is better? The best they could hope for is a draw.
- Fix yourself. It is impossible to fix someone else. It is a fool’s errand. I worry about my behavior and encourage my family in theirs. I take care of my health and encourage my girls to do the same. Then it is up to them. No harping. I am not perfect and do not expect anyone else to be either.
- Make your family special. I spend very little money on myself or family. Mrs. Accountant and I have not exchanged Christmas, birthday, or anniversary gifts in decades. Our relationship is not predicated upon stuff. Instead, we spend quality time together sharing stories, ideas, loves, concerns, and feelings. Our gift is ourselves.
- Learn to push buttons. People together a long time know each other’s buttons. Always avoid pushing buttons to control or harm. Instead, learn which buttons make your family members happier. Too many people push the wrong buttons on their significant other for a variety of crazy reasons. Stop! You have no idea how fun and fulfilling your relationship can be until you start pushing the buttons that turn him/her on.
It takes commitment and work to have a solid marriage or relationship. Do not get lost in work, school, kids, life obligations, or anything else for that matter. Make your significant other number one in your life. Encourage your children toward excellence. Love them unconditionally. Remain faithful. (It is easy remaining faithful when your relationship is anchored on the deepest of bedrock.)
People get so caught up in work and family that they forget to take care of themselves. Family is more important than work; you are more important than family. Think of it this way: why do airlines tell you, in the event of an emergency, to put on your oxygen mask first, then the kids? Because you can’t help the kids if you are unconscious or injured. You must put “you” first. This is not self-centered arrogance. To provide for your family you need to mange yourself; before you outperform at work you need a healthy home life. It all makes sense.
Here are some tips to maintain a healthy personal life, including mind, body, and soul:
- Quiet time. To maintain good mental health you need time alone to separate your thoughts.
- Mental health is increased by running alternative lives. You soon realize how lucky you are when you visualize alternatives. It is natural to think of other people in ways you would not in real life. It creates balance, showing your mind the high quality life you actually have.
- Clear the mind for a few moments minimum every day. Pray if you are religious.
- Who cares who is watching? Read what trips your trigger.
- If you are walked in on, don’t stop singing. Instead, start dancing with the new arrival. Who cares if the police serving a search warrant think you are nuts? It’s a happy nuts.
- Quiet the mind and then listen to all the sounds around you. There is a whole new world you have been missing and it is an awesome world, indeed!
- Eat right. Garbage in, garbage out. Feed your body good fuel and it will serve you well for a century.
- Lift things, walk, run, jump. Life is too short to sit on your ass all day.
- Make friends of everyone. We all have a few close friends. Having many acquaintances can provide a fulfilling addition to life. Be a friend to all you meet and share ideas and stories. It makes life all worthwhile.
- Give thanks. Express gratitude to yourself and others. It is okay to feel smug after completing a good job.
I am sure you can add to my lists. Please do so in the comments below. Remember, it is an awesome day to be alive.