Take a Load Off

Missing out on R&R can mean big trouble for your business. If you haven't taken a vacation lately, make it No. 1 on your to-do list.

Ahhhh. The sounds of island music drift through the air from a distant cabana. A tropical breeze brushes across your skin as the gentle waves wash up on the white-sand beach. You feel the warmth of the sun on your legs as you sip your mai tai and enjoy the view of a turquoise sea and sky. Beep, beep, beep! Your alarm reminds you it's only a dream, and you've got a zillion people to call, plans to draft and numbers to crunch today.

If the closest you're getting to a vacation is dreaming about one, it's time for some serious restructuring. While entrepreneurs in general can be stingy with their time off, homebased entrepreneurs tend to be even harder on themselves and even more reluctant to get away. Karen Frost, founder of Washington, DC-area Frost Media Relations, explains this hesitation: "Since my business is just me, I think there's a concern from my clients that some ball is going to drop [while I'm on vacation] and nobody's going to know how to pick it up. And as the company grows, there's even less opportunity to take a vacation."

Likewise, Stacy Brice, president and CEO of AssistU, admits being scared about what would happen to her Baltimore-based virtual assistant business if she went away. When she took her first vacation in 1998, her second year of business, she gave her assistant a day-by-day itinerary of her trip, with instructions to call if anything went wrong. Says Brice, "Like any other business owner, I thought everything was going to crumble without me."

So why bother with vacation time? According to Alan Muney, M.D., chief medical officer and executive vice president for Oxford Health Plans Inc., a Trumbull, Connecticut-based health-plan provider, vacation is a lot more than fun and games. "Vacations have been traditionally viewed as frivolous behavior, particularly in a high-productivity culture such as we have," he says. "Studies have shown, though, that taking regular vacations actually helps reduce stress-related illnesses. Vacation is preventive medicine."

Mary Naylor, CEO of VIPdesk, a Washington, DC-area online concierge service, relates the issue to homebased entrepreneurs: "Most people work to the point of exhaustion and then take a vacation as a reward at the end of, say, six months," she says. "Or they think it's a badge of honor that they've gone two years without a vacation. In fact, you should really look at proactively planning a vacation each quarter as a point of renewal and mental rejuvenation. The entrepreneur is the chief idea generator, and when you lose that edge, it's critical."

For Frost, her time away allows her to remember that there's a world beyond her to-do list. "When you step out of a situation for a moment, you may be able to look at the same picture but in a different way and bring something new to the table," she explains. "It offers perspective and the ability to step back from your day-to-day working environment and the tunnel vision you find yourself getting into."

Indeed, Brice attributes many of her greatest business decisions to her time out of the office. "When I'm doing things that are good for me, I have these flashes of brilliance about places I can take my business," she says. "I take a little notepad with me, and when I have one of those flashes, I write it down in the book, close the book and put it away, so it doesn't interfere with my time but I also don't forget it when I go back home."

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Ease yourself into the process of planning a vacation by checking out some of these travel sites:
Away.com: Dream up a trip and work out the details with Away.com's wide range of traveling information.
Orbitz.com: Backed by top U.S. airlines, travel site Orbitz's claim to fame is that its database shows airfares that don't show up on other search engines.
Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and TravelScape.com: Search for deals on airfare, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages and more with these sites.
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