I had dinner with some clients last week, a husband and wife who own a property management company together. These are people who have a lot of interests beyond their business: He enjoys leatherworking and woodworking; she wants to write a book; they like to cycle and hike and travel. Their business is even in a place now where they can do more of that—but they don’t do as much as they would like.
“I don’t take time off,” the husband said to me at dinner. “I feel guilty when I do.”
I can’t even count the number of times a business owner has said something like that to me, usually with the words don’t, can’t and guilty.
It’s understandable. When we get into business, we’re excited, and we want to work hard. Then we need to work hard, to keep the business going. By then we’re in a pattern, and we keep working harder and harder. We convince ourselves we have to work like that and that we can work like that for as long as it takes.
But we can’t.
I’m sure you’ve all seen this before:
This empty battery icon is what happens when we run our phone battery down—and you know what happens then: Nothing. You can’t text. You can’t make a phone call. You can’t check Facebook. Your phone is dead and useless until you recharge its battery.
You Need to Recharge, Too
We may not be made of circuit boards, LCD screens, aluminum alloys and a literal battery, but we can run ourselves down until we’re about as useful as a drained phone. I’m sure you know what that feels like: You can’t think clearly, much less strategically; you start to make mistakes; you’re not excited or energized about anything; everything feels like a slog. Maybe you think you can push on through with enough willpower, but by that point, you’ve even used up all your reserves.
Just like your phone, you need to recharge your battery—and you need to do it before your tank hits zero. In fact, you need to do it long before that point, because you start to become less effective well before you’re completely drained.
The Solution: Ditch the Guilt and Recharge Regularly
I get the feelings of guilt, I really do. As small business owners, we are especially susceptible to it because our lives are so entwined with our work. It’s all too easy to put off taking care of ourselves because there are so many other things to take care of.
But take a minute to think about the other things you take care of, like your car. You certainly keep gas in it. You get an oil change every so many miles or so many months, and you take care of other scheduled maintenance. You probably even take care of the outside, washing it every once in a while. You do all this to keep your car running reliably. If a close friend or family member needed to borrow your car, you probably wouldn’t want them driving around in this:
They would be safer and more able to get from place A to place B if they were driving this:
Frankly, you can’t take care of everything you need to take care of—your business, your family and friends, your community—if you don’t first take care of yourself. And the better you take care of yourself, the more you have to give to others.
What I told my client friend is that I recommend that business owners and their key leaders within the organization take a break at least every 90 days. Consider it an oil change: a regularly scheduled maintenance required to keep you running cleanly and efficiently.
Three Steps to Recharging So You Can Keep Going
I hope I’ve convinced you how important it is to have a full battery instead of an empty one, to be a well-maintained sportscar instead of a clunker. If so, then you’re probably saying to yourself, “Yeah, but how do I find the time?” You can do it in three simple steps:
- 1. Really, truly accept that it is important to take care of yourself. If you aren’t really, truly convinced that you are better off recharging your batteries, you need to ask a trusted coworker, family member, friend or partner what you’re like when you’re tired and burned out. Also, think about what you would want for the people you care about if they were feeling run down and overworked. We only do things we think are important, so you need to know deep down that this is one of those things.
- 2. Start small. I’m not proposing you take off for Aruba next week (though it is winter, and some beach time would be awesome). Take a small amount of time at first: Schedule a dinner out with a loved one or friend—and don’t talk business. Commit to taking a walk in a beautiful place. Schedule time to work on your hobby. It can help to have a specific goal or project, like my client friend who wanted to make a leather sheath for his knife. The key is to get it on your official calendar, even if it’s just an hour or two at first. Start small, then work your way up to leaving early one Friday, taking a full three-day weekend and then, finally, that week off to Aruba.
- 3. Document your experience. The first times you take a break, you’ll probably spend some time thinking about what you’re not getting done at the office. That’s why it’s important to be as present as possible with what you’re doing during that break, to focus on what you’re enjoying and then to record what you got out of it. Write a journal entry about what that time off meant to you and the good feelings you felt. Take a picture of what you did or a selfie of you and whoever you spent time with and post it near your workspace so it stays with you. Shoot a text or email to a friend to share with them. If you keep it fresh in your mind’s eye and share it with others, it will be easier to get that next break on the calendar because you’ll know the impact it will have.
Take the Recharge Challenge
Taking time to recharge isn’t just something that challenges my clients. It challenges me, too. That’s why my conversation with my client friends really spoke to me. And that’s why I’m encouraging you to take the Recharge Challenge with me. I commit to posting on Facebook today a photo of me doing something that recharges me. I hope you’ll join me posting your own Recharge Challenge Photo and tagging me on it. I leave you with a photo of the super awesome leather sheath my client friend made during some time he took for himself. I hope it inspires you like it did me.