This summer, please promise me you’ll take at least a few days off.
Getting away from the office is critical to your mental and physical health. Breathing some salty ocean or sweet mountain air will clear your head so you can gain some perspective on your business.
Because it is impossible not to think about your business every minute of the day, here are six things to ponder on your vacation.
1. Stop working with anyone who gives you a headache or a stomachache. Why pay people to aggravate you? Why deal with toxic customers? There has never been a better time to replace a problem employee with an energetic, talented person.
Most bad employees are not bad people—they are often unhappy because their job doesn’t fit their talents or values. So, be brave and move to terminate them. First, ask an experienced labor attorney how to properly terminate an employee in your state. Be prepared to carefully document missteps and provide counseling. Once they are gone, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to take action.
Firing toxic clients and customers is much easier. Just admit you can’t provide the products or services they need and refer them to a competitor. You’ll make space for great new people.
2. Admit that everything takes three times as long and usually costs twice as much. Entrepreneurs are optimists by nature, so we believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and that major clients will pay their bills on time. The sooner you bring your expectations in line with reality, the happier you will be.
If you present a proposal for a new project, set a deadline for response, but know that you will still have to be patient. I urge every business owner I interview or meet at a speaking engagement to require a deposit -- no matter what kind of product or service they provide.
Getting some cash upfront will provide working capital and ease the pain of 45 day payment cycles. No matter how much I complain, most of my corporate clients pay me 45 days from the invoice date. (Bloomberg LP, which sponsors many of my speaking gigs, pays in 30 days and I worship them).
3. Don’t operate your business in a vacuum. Successful business owners and managers are scanning the competition every day. It doesn’t take an army of researchers. Schedule an hour a week to visit all your competitors’ websites. (Or assign someone on your staff to do it).
If you manufacture a product, ask a relative or friend to order your competitors’ products. Then, carefully examine the products and review the instruction booklet and other materials. (When you have completed this analysis, return the items).
If you sell products in retail stores, go shopping. One of the most successful business owners I’ve profiled through the years, frequently visits supermarkets to see where and how her company’s frozen food products are displayed. I have been frequently dragged along on these missions, complaining all the way, especially since I’m usually dressed up for a night on the town.
4. Put yourself first—at least one hour a day. Think about how many people depend on you for their livelihood and well-being. Your family, your employees and your customers need you to be healthy, alert and energetic. Please put a priority on eating well, exercising and caring for your emotional and mental health.
I learned the hard way what happens when you don’t take care of yourself. In 2000, after working 24/7 for six months to launch a dot com company, I flew to Florence, Italy to meet my sister and brother-in-law for a week of rest and relaxation. Instead of enjoying pasta and local wine, I collapsed into bed and became the houseguest from hell. I don’t remember anything after losing my peripheral vision. I drifted in and out of consciousness for days. If my brother-in-law hadn’t been a physician, he said he would have checked me into the nearest hospital. Instead, he monitored my vital signs every few hours while I sipped Gatorade to prevent dehydration. I finally recovered after 10 days in bed. Now, when I hear that rock stars are suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion,’ I can relate.
5. Keep your sense of humor. No matter how bad things get, laughing at your situation will help get you through the worst of times. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with work and stress, I tell myself, “it doesn’t really matter.” I learned this important secret of success from John Perry Barlow, the lyricist for the Grateful Dead and a leading internet pioneer. At the premiere of a documentary I produced about his ‘health makeover’ at Canyon Ranch, I asked him what kept him going through the dramatic ups and downs of his colorful life. He led me to a corner of the theatre and whispered: “When things are totally falling apart, just take a breath and tell yourself, ‘it doesn’t really matter.’ It’s true.”
6. Cut the email and phone tether. Summer is a great time to bring some sanity back to your life. Unless you are a trauma surgeon or an obstetrician, you don’t have to be on duty 24 hours a day. Establish new boundaries between work and personal life.
Many studies are showing business productivity has plummeted because instead of actually working, we waste hours responding to email, updating our social network pages, texting and talking on the phone. Electronic addiction is as serious as a drug or alcohol problem. It’s tough, but force yourself to check your email every two hours instead of every two minutes. Voicemail is a great invention. Try using it so you can actually focus on getting some work done.
Jane Applegate is a small business consultant, speaker and author of four books on small business success, including 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, published by John Wiley & Sons. The Applegate Group Inc. (www.theapplegategroup.com) provides strategic marketing, customized training and video production services to big and small companies.