Ep 18: The importance of taking time off
Learn about why you should take time off.
The Importance of Taking Time Off
Featuring: Professor of Psychology and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, Art Markman
On Episode 18 of This is Small Business and the third of our This is Small Business: Minisodes series, Andrea dives into why it's so hard for us to take time off, even when we know we need it. She speaks with Professor of Psychology and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, Art Markman about why vacations are a crucial part of your business and how to set up your business in a way that allows you to take some much needed time off.
[00:00:00] Art Markman: You know, being able to work at your peak requires being able to work when you're at work and not work when you're not at work, and so that's true on a daily basis. It's important to be able to come to work refreshed, to be able to be resilient to all of the little things that are likely to go wrong, particularly in a small business.
[00:00:22] Andrea: I know I struggle taking time off. Just a few months ago when I turned one year at Amazon, I was sent an email reminder that I should use my vacation time and just the thought of stepping away made me a bit anxious because well, I like my work, but also because I feel like things won’t get done unless I’m here, which is really not the case. So, let's get into that.
[00:00:50] HOST: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. This is one of our TISB Minisodes - shorter episodes for those of you who want a quicker binge. [00:01:00] On this episode, we talk about the importance of taking a vacation and how to set up your business in a way that allows you take that -- probably much needed -- time off. I'm speaking to Art Markman, a professor of psychology and vice provost for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of several acclaimed books including Bring Your Brain to Work by the Harvard Business School.
[00:01:28] Andrea: Tell me why it’s important to take time off.
[00:01:30] Art Markman: In addition to being able to take that time off on a daily basis, a little bit of time, you need to have some larger blocks of time to get away from work. And that's important for several reasons. Some of it has to do with resilience, the accumulated pain of all the little things, the death by a thousand cuts that goes on when you are, an entrepreneur or when you're running a small business, that can be exhausting to the point where you may no longer [00:02:00] really be able to come back from the small things that have happened and the stresses of day-to-day life. And so getting away from work can be helpful there, but also when you run a small business, you are responsible not just for the strategy of what's going on, but also a lot of the details of the day to day. And it can get very easy to get sucked into those day-to-day details and not really think strategically about what's going on with your business.
One of the best ways to get that higher level view of what's going on in your life is to create distance. And one of the best ways to create distance is to physically create distance to get away from work. And one of the things that that does is it takes you away from a lot of the day-to-day grind and it gives you this other perspective that allows you to start thinking about what am I really trying to accomplish in my business and am I actually meeting those high-level goals?
[00:03:00] Andrea: If it's incredibly important, then why is it so hard for us to take time off?
[00:03:05] Art Markman: I think there's several reasons why it's hard, one of which is we often just don't trust that things are gonna get done in the way that we expect them to while we're away. And so we feel like, oh, it's so crucial that I'm here every single day, that things would just fall apart if I stepped away. But I think another piece of it is that it actually often just doesn't occur to us to take time off because, you know, one of the nice things about working at a university is that I'm still living on the academic cycle, which means students arrive in the fall and then there's a break between semesters there's another semester, and then there's the summer. And so there's this natural ebb and flow to the work that you do in ways that suggest now would be a really good time to go away. When you work in a small business, [00:04:00] you have seasonal aspects in many businesses. But there isn't really a time that suggests now's a really good time to take some time off. And in fact, in many small businesses, the things that are traditionally holidays for other people are actually workdays for you. So, there's that combination of not really being reminded by the world to take time off combined with this inability to let go and allow some of the other folks that work for you to take over some of your responsibilities.
[00:04:32] Andrea: So how do you take time off in a way that would be beneficial?
[00:04:36] Art Markman: So to actually take time off, it needs to be time off. I mean, I, I said earlier, that the ideal state is to work when you're at work and not work when you're not at work, which means go away and don't work, don't be checking your work email, don't be checking your phone for texts from employees. I mean, obviously if there's an emergency, people need to reach out to you. [00:05:00] But short of something is literally on fire, uh, let it go. It'll all be there when you get back, and I think that's crucial. Unfortunately, most of us don't really prepare well for that. So one of the things that's really crucial is we should always be teaching other people to do our job.
You know, the problem with the notion of delegating things is that we think that delegating starts at the time that you have to give up some of your responsibilities to someone else. Actually, delegating starts before that because you have to be teaching people the intricacies of your job from the beginning. And so you constantly wanna find people who work for you, who can ride along with you, whether it's to client meetings or to sit in on meetings where there's a difficult problem being discussed or to engage in a sales call, whatever it is that your business does, you want people coming along with you, even if they're just there to observe. [00:06:00] And then over time, to actually give them an opportunity to try some of the things that traditionally you've done with your oversight, so that by the time you're ready to go on vacation, you have utter confidence that people will be able to handle just about anything that's gonna come up short of a fire.
[00:06:22] Andrea: Are there things you can do as a small business owner to set up your business in a way that allows you to take time off?
[00:06:28] Art Markman: There's always gonna be a few things that only you can handle, but if you're not constantly teaching somebody else to do your job then, you're not really ever gonna be in that situation where you can take time off. And so that's absolutely the most important thing you can do. And then, you know, the other thing you have to look at is, depending on the nature of your business, are there times when you may want to choose to go dark for two weeks? Are there times in the calendar when you can actually shut the business down? Again, that's not always feasible. If you're running a retail establishment, [00:07:00] or you're running a restaurant. People may expect that you're gonna be open all the time, and you may need that in order to maintain a reliable customer base. But if there's a way of shutting down for a couple of weeks, well then you can really go on vacation because nothing can go wrong.
[00:07:17] Andrea: Is there an actual amount of time that you need for the time off to be beneficial?
[00:07:21] Art Markman: So I actually believe that you need several different kinds of vacations over the course of the year. I think that periodically it's important just to take a long weekend, to have three days where you go away, and you just allow yourself to decompress a little bit. And then I think it's also important to have at least one trip a year where you, and I'm saying trip here, staycations really often don't count, a trip where you go away to some other location for a week. Now, it doesn't have to be expensive. You don't have to be staying at a luxury resort. You don't even necessarily have to go far. [00:08:00] You might find a nice state park, an hour’s drive from your home and stay there for a week and or go camping. It doesn't have to be something that breaks the bank, but changing your physical location matters because, your world around you reminds you of all of your responsibilities and all the things that you have to do. And if you don't physically get out of your environment, then all of the reminders of your work are gonna be living with you for the entire vacation.
[00:8:32] Andrea: And what can employers do to ease the ability of their employees to take some time?
[00:8:38] Art Markman: So I, I think it's important to value vacation, not just for yourself, but for your entire staff, for everybody who's working with you. The most important thing you can do is actually to take vacation yourself. I often tell people in business that there's what you say, what you do and what you reward, and the people who work for you listen to those in reverse order. [00:09:00] So no matter what you say, if you yourself never take a vacation, people are gonna say, oh yeah, you're telling me I should take a vacation, but if I wanna be in your position one day. If I wanna own a business, that means I can never take a vacation. So, so you've got to demonstrate the behavior you want yourself.
And then I think you wanna find ways to reward people for taking vacations, which means that you wanna be sensitive to any opportunities that come up that you don't inadvertently penalize somebody for going away. So the, you know, rewards include things that are punishments. You don't wanna put somebody in a position where they go on vacation and then miss out on some great career defining opportunity. And on top of that, you really want to. I always find it's important to catch people doing good things. So one way to do that is when somebody comes back from that vacation, sit there, and have a conversation with them about how did it go? [00:10:00] Tell me about what you did, was the real highlight of getting away and demonstrate that you're interested in the life that they led while they were away, rather than saying, well, it's a good thing you're back. All these things went wrong while you were away. Ah, we barely held on without you.
Small business owners spend a lot of time at work and a lot of time worrying about work. They may miss out on family time. They may miss out on time with friends. Whatever it is, make sure you reconnect with that. Make sure that you really help the people in your life to recognize that you do care about them even on those days when work is dragging you back into it and vacations are a great time to do that.
[00:10:43] HOST: That was Art Markman, professor of psychology and vice provost for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, reminding us of why it's important to take a vacation and how to set up your business in a way that allows you to take some time off. As always, here are some key takeaways about why and how you should [00:11:00] go on vacation.
- Sometimes you get sucked into the day-to-day tasks; taking some time off and being physically away from work can allow you to have a different perspective when you come back. Plus you really don't want to get burnt out from overworking yourself.
- Delegate. To actually take some time off and not stress about what's happening at work, make sure other people know how to perform your tasks.
- Make sure you spend time away from your work environment. It doesn't need to be an expensive getaway and don't check any emails or answer any work calls -- unless something's literally on fire.
- Lead by example and reward vacations. If you have employees make sure you show them that they can take some time off by doing it yourself and when employees do take some time off, reward them for it -- it could be as simple as asking them how their vacation went.
[00:12:00] That's it for this episode of This is Small Business Minisodes, brought to you by Amazon. On the next episode, we'll be talking about product sourcing, specifically shipping and fulfillment considerations for when you aren’t manufacturing your own product.
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Until next time – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!
CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:12:54]