For most employed people — and especially for entrepreneurs — the perfect time to take a vacation doesn't exist. If you're flopping on the beach, your paying customers may be growing impatient, work may be piling up and prospective clients may be choosing a competitor. Taking time off can often feel like a serious professional risk.
But taking an uninterrupted break from work is one of the best things anyone can do for their personal and professional life. Constant work with no down time can lead to decreased productivity, perspective and creativity, says Randy Kamen-Gredinger, a psychologist in Waylaid, Mass.
"Going away gives you an opportunity to recharge and be missed on the job," she says. By carving out some time away from the daily grind, she adds, the hard-charging employee can even help stave off depression.
With the right planning and attitude, anyone can find the time and resources they need to step away from the office. A little extra attention to detail will help you feel confident that your job —and your clients — will be there when you return. Here are a few strategies from entrepreneurs who have learned the value of a vacation.
Prepare and delegate
The more you prepare for a vacation, the less you'll worry about the work you leave behind. Give colleagues and clients as much notice as possible and provide them with a number where you can be reached in an emergency. Tame your inner control freak and empower staffers to handle tasks in your absence. Specify how you want to be contacted and under what circumstances. If you need to check in with the office, designate a time each day when you'll do so, and then give your BlackBerry a break.
If you're a one-person shop, consider hiring an assistant to help out while you're away.
Shel Horowitz, who owns a marketing consulting firm in Hadley, Mass., once worked 31 straight days without a break, and swore he would never do it again. "It was a stupid thing to do, and it put my health and sanity at risk," he says.
Today, he signs on a freelance assistant named Michelle, who works from Alaska, to monitor his e-mail and phone messages when he's away. Michelle forwards the work that can't wait and also maintains his Web site and does research for him.
"Michelle is a godsend for a microbusiness like ours," Horowitz says.
Get it down on paper
Force yourself to pick a date, and pen in a vacation. "In this economic environment, vacations don't just happen," says Ann Latham, the founder of Uncommon Clarity, an Easthampton, Mass., consulting firm that focuses on improving individual and organizational performance. "Once you've made the commitment, lay the plans you need to make it happen."
Mix business and pleasure
To save money, consider tacking on a few days of vacation to your next business trip. Maureen Mack, the owner of H.R. Principal, a Walnut Creek, Calif., human resources consultancy, travels often for work.
To maintain her sanity, she tries to make the most of her time away from home. To spice up a business trip in New Orleans recently, she made a reservation at the famed Emeril's restaurant, and she set aside a morning for a guided tour of the Big Easy.
Barter to play
Bartering is another way to afford a vacation. MaryKay Powell, a dentist in Portage, Mich., takes vacations only when her husband, a teacher, has a break from school. Soon after opening her private practice, she joined the Midwest Business Exchange, an association of businesses that barter goods and services among one another.
She has accumulated more than $25,000 worth of trade credits by offering dentistry services to other MBE members, and she used $3,700 worth of those credits to nab a week's stay at the Bentley Beach Hotel in Miami. (For more on bartering, check out "Nine effective bartering tips.")
If you're a manager, be a role model to your staffers, and take that vacation. When your colleagues do the same, call them only in a true emergency. By toiling away without a vacation, you only prove that you're a martyr, not that you're indispensable. Treat your personal and professional lives with equal respect.