I am an entrepreneur in the classic sense – as I move through the routine of my daily life, I often find problems large and small that I believe could be solved and, most importantly, monetized in some way through their solution. For the past decade, I’ve most often applied this passion to the area of international development and humanitarian aid. While the vast majority of the ideas I have tried to implement have failed, I have been fortunate that a few have been successful enough to build a lifestyle around.
I also exhibit a number of traits I inevitably find in my fellow entrepreneurs: I work a significant number of hours every week, it’s fairly easy for me to get distracted (I confess to being a sufferer of “shiny object syndrome”), I place a high value on the vision and big picture of a solution … and I have a deep-seated, subconscious belief that if I am not available all the time, the projects, ideas and companies I am working on will fall apart.
For the past decade, this has translated into a lifestyle in which I am always online and always accessible through email or some other digital connection. While I have a very supportive and understanding spouse, I have pushed the limits a number of times when vacations, family time and other events have been interrupted by a call or message (sadly, the vast, vast majority of which have been non-events or the result of someone else’s need for drama).
So, my announcement earlier this year that I would take a two-week unplugged vacation was met with considerable skepticism. However, I’m pleased to report I followed through on my commitment, and just as so many of the books, lectures and TED talks on happiness have predicted, I am much better for it. I believe the benefits of this vacation will be long felt – at least through the beginning of next year – but I have already noticed some immediate effects, including:
- I have a renewed sense of self that I have not felt in many years;
- The vacation my family took was, quite possibly, our best ever;
- I have returned to work with a deeper sense of purpose and energy; and
- I have returned to the fold with several new ideas, applications and refinements.
Now that I’m wired (and wireless) again, I haven’t hesitated to express my satisfaction with this happy outcome with my friends, family and colleagues. Unsurprisingly, the business owners, leaders, entrepreneurs and rising rock stars in my community have generally met my enthusiasm with a “Congratulations!” Followed very quickly by a “I’ve tried that so many times; how did you do it?”
While I don’t believe I have stumbled onto a magic formula, there are a few actions I took to ensure that I would be able to unplug successfully. These included:
- Preparation. My family and I began planning our vacation six months or more before the actual trip. Throughout that time I increasingly vocalized to those I work with that I intended to unplug. This was about not only setting the expectation that I would not be available, but also ensuring that those who needed to be empowered to take decisions and move things forward in the day-to-day were prepared and confident in their roles.
- Systems. One of the classic failings of entrepreneurs is our inability to set up systems that support the core work that we do. As in continuing to grow ISG, build the service here at Aidpreneur and in my other ventures, I have purposely spent a good deal of my time building systems that function without my involvement.
- Timing. There is rarely a good time to take a break, and there is never a perfect time. But there are some times that are better than others. My time off was purposely scheduled during a time of year that is typically a bit slower.
- Support. Going off-line is sometimes difficult simply because it takes you out of your routine and your habit. I vocalized my discomfort often during my vacation, but surrounded myself with people who were ready with a word of encouragement and accountability.
- Environment. I was lucky we took our vacation in a place where getting online is fairly difficult. This was a huge bump in my favor because halfway through our time, an Internet connection was accessible 24/7 and I noticed that it took a regular conscious decision to not hop on and just take a peek at my email.
- Lifeline. While I checked out digitally, I did ensure that there was at least one way to always get in touch with me – via phone. This helped me in that I knew if the just-in-case-the-world-does-end event happened, my colleagues could find me so I could pitch in.
- Commitment. Even with everything above, by and far the most important factor was my personal commitment to staying offline for (most of) the length of the vacation. As I mentioned before, I’ve read the studies about how disconnecting is important, and, more importantly, I’ve experienced one-too-many vacations interrupted by emails, phone calls and other work. As I try to with other parts of my life, I went into my vacation with purpose and a sense that this was just as important as anything else I do.
For all Aidpreneurs, I highly recommend the extreme self-care that comes from unplugging. Start with a day, and work your way up to a few weeks. Believe me, its worth it and I’m already looking forward to next year’s hiatus.