The Business Transition Blog

Time Off is Good for Your Business – Take a Sabbatical

I was originally inspired to take this time off by a speaker I heard at a TEC™ meeting. Craig, a business owner from Calgary, had realized incredible increases in business growth in both revenues and profits and was sharing some secrets with our group.

He had complained to his business coach that he was exhausted and working ridiculous hours. When he admitted he hadn’t had a holiday in years and was feeling burned-out, his coach told him to book some time off for a vacation.

“I can’t,” Craig said. “There’s just too much to do!”

His coach was adamant and insisted that Craig start with three weeks.

In spite of his misgivings, Craig agreed. He returned from his vacation with renewed energy and drive and was surprised to find that his business had actually done even better while he was away. He continued to increase his time off and eventually got everything in place to the point where he now takes three months off every year and volunteers his time overseas in a third world country.

Craig learned that while he was away, his senior management team felt more empowered to make decisions and to be accountable for the results or consequences of decisions both good and bad. They rose to the challenge and began making decisions that would have been put on Craig’s desk had he been around.

He also found that when he returned, he had new business insights and creative ideas to share that he wouldn’t have generated had he been in the office with his nose to the grindstone. Those ideas propelled his company to even greater heights, making his time off even more valuable to the firm than his daily labor could have ever been. Craig saw ways to “change the rules” that didn’t actually exist in his industry but were implied in the way everyone else did business.

Unfortunately, I can’t claim (yet) that my sabbatical had the same effect on my business. I still have work to do. That’s okay. I took some steps forward, a couple back, and will move forward again. That’s what I love about business. It’s a great metaphor for life. You can’t get ahead without some risk. You can’t improve without trying something different. You don’t always get the result you want, but you always get feedback and learn from every experience which actions you should repeat and what you should alter the next time around.

Learning to take time off and leave your business to fend for itself without you provides an eye-opening education you simply cannot get anywhere else, or in any other way.

Yeah, but …

I can just imagine the dialogue going on in your mind as you read this:

  • That’s irresponsible. I would never leave people to flounder while I’m off having a good time somewhere else.
  • I can’t afford it. If I’m not there working, I can’t justify paying myself a salary.
  • Why would my employees want to work hard while I’m off enjoying myself?
  • How do I track things to make sure we stay on course?
  • My spouse will never agree.
  • I’m not happy with my sales and profits now. What will happen if I’m not there to watch them every day?
  • What will we do with the house? The kids? The cars? The pets?
  • I love running my business. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do right now.
  • I have another twenty years to travel if I want to.

Yes, and you’ll have many of the same issues when it comes time to sell your business or slow down and gradually give yourself more time off. Consider a sabbatical as a trial run. I’d have to confess to having many of the same concerns – some of them justified as it turned out – but I went anyway. And remember: I have no regrets. You won’t, either. In their book Six Months Off, authors Dlugozima, Scott, and Sharp interviewed hundreds of people who had taken sabbaticals and did not find one person who regretted doing it. Not one!

Letting go is difficult for dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneurs. Our businesses have been our lives. But times and circumstances change, and we must take stock on an ongoing basis to see if we are still doing what makes us happy. We can become so intensely linked with our business that we fail to see everything else going on around us. Like the oblivious victim in the boiling-frog experiment, we adjust. We don’t consciously register that our health is failing, our relationships have become stale, and our definition of fun is going to yet another networking event. How did we get here?

It doesn’t really matter how we got here. We each took a different path. The important questions are: How do we move on? How do we let go?

Some signs state the obvious. What are the obvious signs in your business?