In my first business, an accountancy practice, I followed the mantra of “work hard and work long”. I did not take a holiday for four or five years.
Eventually, I relented and went overseas for a week. When I came back, I found nothing much had happened in my absence, even though I felt I’d been away for a long time. In fact, things had gone so well, I decided to take another week off and travelled somewhere else.
Over the years, subsequent holidays were mainly dictated by family obligations. But when holidays were for pure leisure, I returned to work rejuvenated and fired up to continue whatever business I was in.
In her book Time Warped, writer, psychologist and radio presenter Claudia Hammond describes “the holiday paradox”. It explains why those breaks work so well. Her contention is that we view time in two very different ways – prospectively and retrospectively. These are normally in sync, but in certain circumstances – for example, when on holidays – they aren’t. The effect is that when you reflect on a holiday, the amount of time you were away seems to have been longer than if you had spent the same amount of time at your desk or in your business.
Many factors contribute to this: being in a different place or country, dealing with a different culture, following a different routine, experiencing new things. I recently returned from Italy and after the first three days in Florence, I had the feeling I could go home the next day and feel I’d had a great, long holiday.
So much of our working day is governed by the clock. We measure things in small units of time, even minutes, whereas on holidays, there is not usually the same need.
I’ve found that three weeks is the maximum amount of time you can be away from a business without worrying about it or having to deal with problems when you return. Many business owners I know agree with this, including those involved in family businesses. As one well-known business owner said to me, “I can only trust my brothers to not stuff things up for three weeks.” Three weeks is a short enough timeframe for those working in the business to know you will return soon. Once you go past three weeks, there’s a tendency for workers to postpone doing things until tomorrow or next week. Their foot comes off the accelerator and you must pick up the slack when you get back.
Another advantage of taking regular, short holidays with family is it allows us to give them our undivided attention. This means they will also willingly tolerate the times when we are absent for work purposes.
A German word for holiday is “erholungsurlaub”, which also means regeneration. Many employers in Germany insist on senior people taking a three-week break each year so they come back renewed.
I recommend business owners take two or three short holidays a year. This has the following benefits:
- It enables staff to grow and step up to the mark.
- It keeps the balance between family needs and business needs in line.
- As Claudia Hammond pointed out, those breaks seem longer in retrospect and we appreciate them.
- When possible, immersing yourself in a different culture, in a different country with a different environment – and perhaps a different language – means we must use our brains.
If you’re struggling to make the time for a much-needed holiday, let me help you find the clarity you need. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.