Until a few years ago, it wasn’t unusual for me to work seven-day weeks. Breaks were for the weak, I believed, as I powered through, head down.
Inevitably, my bursts of energy got shorter and shorter until I finally succumbed to burnout. I was a shell of my former self, unable to work or lead my business. It was very much self-inflicted.
I knew I had to find a way through it, or it would be the end of my business. Cue a period of trying to fix myself.
My approach to treatment was one of trial and error. I read every book I could find on productivity and efficiency and I experimented with only doing a couple of days a week in the office, spending the rest of the time struggling to be productive at home.
But only one thing really worked, and it has saved my business. I force myself to take quarterly breaks. These are put into the company calendar well in advance so everything can be planned around them. Now, every three months, I step away, take a whole week out of the office to recharge, measure what I’ve done, and plan what’s next.
I’ve been doing this for three years now, and my week-long breaks have slowly morphed from lying in a darkened room to getting out into the fresh air or wilderness.
Often I change the scene for this quarterly pause, often swapping urban for rural idyll. Or I’ll fly to the US (Time etc expanded there in 2013 so I can justify the cost) and immerse myself in the hubbub of New York. I’ve found rural escapism to be particularly good for ideas generation and is the counterpoint to working from an office in Birmingham which, I’d like to add, I do with pleasure most days.
Crucially, on these breaks, I start to view the business from the outside, not the inside.
That fresh view can be revelatory. On the last break, for example, I suddenly realised our offering lacked one vital thing – choice. Our customers had no choice over which virtual assistant they entered into a working relationship with. On my return I made this change almost immediately, giving our customers full autonomy to choose their VA. This almost halved our client losses overnight.
Let me clarify, this week-long break is not a holiday, and it’s not quality time with my family. It’s very much a working break. I use the time away from the business to focus my thoughts and plan intensively.
But there is absolutely no reason why that shouldn’t be done in a setting that inspires. For most of us, planning can be done on the back of an envelope, and the laptop is within arm’s reach. We are far more flexible than we behave.
Too many of us revert to an office environment as if by default. I understand why. It feels safe, it feels like what we should be doing. But unless you’re always productive in this environment – and I suspect you’re not – then mix it up.
For those dedicating time to growing a business you believe in, you can and must step away. It is important. It is still work. Schedule time in your calendar to walk away from the daily grind, get outside, and immerse yourself in a contrasting environment.
If you change just one thing this year, dedicate time to work on your business, not just in it.