As a small-business owner, you are asked to be a jack of all trades. In a given week, you may serve as production manager, accountant, marketing guru and customer service representative. Bouncing from one to the other so quickly creates a genuine strain on your mind. This is compounded by the fact that we are constantly inundated with emails, social media, phone calls and employee requests. I’ve spoken with numerous drycleaning owners who haven’t taken a vacation in years.
At the root of this problem is that we often forget to set the same standards and boundaries for ourselves that we set every day for employees. Imagine a hypothetical interview with a job candidate that went like this:
Candidate: What are my regular working hours?
Interviewer: You won’t have regular working hours. You’ll just work as long as you can tolerate.
Candidate: OK. How much money should I expect to make?
Interviewer: I don’t know. You’re going to make as much as you can.
Candidate: Hmmm. How much vacation will I have?
Interviewer: That’s up to you. You can’t go when it’s busy, but if it slows down, you might be able to sneak away.
Who would take that job? The answer is no one. But when you fail to set standards and boundaries for yourself, that is the job you’re signing up for, and it’s why so many drycleaning owners are completely drained. To keep our battery charged, we need to be mindful of what causes us to become drained and the best methods to ensure we recharge.
PREVENT DRAINING IN THE FIRST PLACE
The first step to ensure our battery stays charged is to limit the stress and anxiety that leads to exhaustion. One of the best ways to do this is to treat your personal calendar with the same importance and discipline as your work calendar.
For example, studies have shown that regular exercise is absolutely critical to reducing stress and increasing happiness. However, exercise is often the first thing to be sacrificed when the workload increases. To combat this, I keep a standing meeting appointment in my calendar for exercise and treat it with the same seriousness as if I had a work meeting. If someone wants to meet with me and it is during my scheduled exercise time, I just say that I have a meeting and can’t do it.
Similarly important in reducing stress and fatigue is mindfulness. Just 30 minutes a day of quiet reflection or meditation enables your brain to recharge and enhances the clarity and effectiveness of your thinking. However, this is nearly impossible to achieve if you don’t put it in your calendar and treat it with the same importance you would a staff meeting.
Finally, it’s absolutely critical that you define your working times both in your calendar and with your staff and vendors.
I tell my teams and vendors that I work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and that they shouldn’t contact me outside those hours unless it’s an emergency. That’s not to say I don’t work outside those hours, but the lack of incoming requests enables me to have the time for deeper problem solving on the evenings and weekends as I choose.
To fortify this policy, I use an app called Calendly and block out the hours outside 8-to-5 to ensure my schedule stays clear then. I also turn off email notifications during non-business hours so that I don’t get distracted by the steady stream of incoming emails.
VACATION MEANS VACATION
Regardless of how disciplined you are in managing your day-to-day schedule, all of us need an occasional vacation to recharge our battery. Here, planning and communicating with your team members is vital.
I recommend setting the standard with your teams that every so often (e.g. three months, six months, etc.), you will be taking a vacation. Then add those vacations to your teams’ calendars so they get used to the cadence of you being gone and can plan accordingly. I also recommend scheduling vacations so that any regularly scheduled meetings/tasks do not fall during those times. If your vacation is interrupted by work, then it’s not really a vacation.
Once you’re gone, turn off all notifications and inform your staff that if they really need to talk to you, they should call. I’ve actually instructed my teams not to call “unless a building is burning down,” just to clarify what really constitutes an emergency. Lastly, be sure to delineate with your staff who should be contacted in your absence and update your out-of-office messages to reflect that.
If you’re like most of us, you became an entrepreneur so that you can create a great business and have the freedom to enjoy life. But if you don’t consciously take the time to manage your schedule and recharge your battery, you might as well be working for someone else.