Workation (Wur – KAY – shun) – An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Work/Life Balance

In Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective people, one of the tenants is “to sharpen the saw”. What does that mean? 

In order to continue to achieve at a high level, Covey prescribes time off – a period where you aren’t working, but taking time for other pursuits. This can be playing sports, working out, reading a book or taking a vacation. 

I couldn’t agree more with this guideline, but as a small businessperson with a growing business and a couple of dozen employees and even more clients, how does one balance his own needs with those of the business?

After running Sherpa Marketing for more than 20 years, I’ve learned that I can never truly get off the grid – turn off my cell phone and be unreachable for days at a time. And frankly – I am okay with that. It’s not the quantity of time off, it’s the quality of the time off that matters. I manage to find balance by having what I like to call a Workation – time away from work where I stay connected but dial down the frequency and length of business interactions.

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Here’s my guideline for balancing holidays with the demands of work

First make sure you have an understanding spouse. If your SO demands that you shut down while on holidays, you are dead in the water. My wife is very understanding and supports the time that I spend working while we are away.

Work hard in short spurts and compress your interactions. One really successful strategy I’ve employed over the years is to get up and out of bed an hour or more before everyone else with me on vacation. In an hour and a half or so, I can effectively stay on top of email, and if we are a couple of time zones west, even take a conference call. As long as my work demands don’t affect when and where we need to be on vacation, there is zero friction.

If you have to take calls, set a range of time where you are available. This one’s tricky, but in my line of work, we are deadline driven and project based. Deadlines don’t change and projects happen frequently with short cycles. Once again, use your downtime during your downtime to fit in a quick WebEx – but set clear boundaries around the length and number of calls. Most client needs can be handled in as little as 20 minutes. Have a clear agenda, run through it and don’t fill the call with redundant conversation.

Manage expectations with clients. A couple of weeks in advance of my holidays, I edit my email signature and put in a vacation alert – usually in bold and red so it jumps off the screen. In addition to that, I am sure to let clients know when I am leaving, when I will return, who my backup contacts are and when I plan to check email and voicemail. As long as communication channels are still open, clients are very accommodating and will bend their needs in the short-run. Lastly, Out of Office (OOO) is your friend. Be sure to set it and leave very specific information about whom clients are to contact in your absence. I always try to leave two contacts and provide their email and phone numbers in my auto reply. Remember a willingness to answer email and take a call or two when you are away for a couple of weeks demonstrates loyalty and a level of commitment that tells a client you are a partner, not just a vendor.

Don’t be a control freak;, empower your team. Nobody that works for you is lying in bed before work saying to themselves, “I can’t wait to get in today and do a lousy job.” Give clear instructions, tell them you trust them and that you know they will do a great job. Stay in touch with them, ask to be CC’d in on threads so that you can see the flow of your projects and get involved when it’s absolutely necessary. Staff want to know that you have their back and that they can contact you in case of emergency without any repercussions. When you get back, be sure to thank them for handling your accounts and projects. Buy the production staff  a case of beer or get them Starbucks gift cards. Showing genuine appreciation is a key part of keeping your colleagues happy and engaged.

Working away from the office can actually be rejuvenating. Strangely, I find that I am more productive when I am not physically at Sherpa’s offices. I have come to learn that there are far fewer distractions and interruptions when I am having a Workation. The quality and volume of work that I can get done is superior to that of what I can accomplish while in my office. A side benefit is that a change of scenery can also be a very nice stimulus for ideas, creativity and big picture thinking.

The Workation may not be for everyone, but carefully managed there are always a couple of hours in every vacation day that can accommodate wrangling email and a couple of phone calls. Yesterday, I mixed in a WebEx meeting, a couple of Slack Conversations, reading and filing my emails, fishing, swimming and sitting in the sun on the dock.

Oh - and by the way, I wrote this post sitting in the sunroom at the lake drinking a coffee before everyone else got out of bed.

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