Figuring Out How to Take a Vacation

Summer is here at last and for many, thoughts turn to taking time off to relax and have fun.  Vacations make us feel good but they’re slipping from the grasp of an increasing number of workers, most notably the country’s 57.3 million Freelancers (2017 data), who receive no paid vacation benefit.  In fact, we pay twice for our vacations.  The first hit happens because we stand to lose money when we don’t work. The second hit occurs when paying for the vacation itself, if we choose to travel. Vacations are an expensive proposition for us.  Yet, they are an investment in our well-being and they are worthwhile.

Numerous studies show that we become psychologically healthier, we have a more positive outlook on life and we’re more resilient when we regularly take vacations. We’re also more productive, better problem solvers and more inclined to create and achieve business and personal goals.  It’s been amply documented that uber analyst Sigmund Freud was especially fond of vacations and he took great pleasure in personally planning his family’s annual summer get aways.

I’ll take my usual mini-vacation this summer and with some advance planning, I’ll bet you can, too.  No matter when you’re able to get away for a few days, or even if you opt for a “stay-cation” and take local day trips or just unplug from the daily grind, planning will be the key.

Step One of your vacation planning is to consider your business cycle so you can arrange to slip in a vacation during the usual slow periods.  In most industries, the Christmas to New Year’s Day period is very slow and the final week or two in August is almost as dormant.  However, for wedding planners and those who participate in that industry, summer vacations are out of the question because it’s your busiest season.  If you’re an accountant, celebrating Valentine’s Day at Punta Cana is something you’ll never do, because it’s tax season from January – April.  If you are in certain retail businesses, then traveling is out of the question between October 1 and Christmas Eve.

When you see a gap in your schedule of projects, pounce. “Stay-cations” are of course a lot easier to fit in.  You just have to do it.  Maybe you can schedule a spa “stay-cation” that’s spread out over three or four days, when you’ll schedule a massage one day, a mani /pedi the next, a facial the day after and so on?  You might also visit a museum or find a free outdoor music performance nearby.

Step Two entails your vacation budget.  Wherever you’d like to go, you probably already have an idea of the cost.  Research the price of air fare if you must fly and compare traditional B & B, airbnb and small hotel room rates.  Start setting aside funds that will get you to your preferred destination several months in advance.

Step Three will find you plotting out your work load, to ensure that all projects are completed by their deadlines and all milestones reached as promised.  In some instances it will be necessary to inform certain clients (a month in advance) that you’ll be away for a few days but ideally, you’ll schedule the vacation when you know you’ll be between projects.

Create a spreadsheet with all project tasks listed, with milestone and deadline dates noted, so you can plan and pace your work load 4 – 6 weeks in advance of your vacation date.  Do you publish a blog or newsletter that would appear while you’re on vacation? Add your content marketing to the spreadsheet as well, so you’ll have time to write posts and schedule them for automatic publishing on the desired dates.  You may need to work a few nights and weekends to ensure that all work is completed, but you’ll have something to look forward to, right?  While you’re at it, make a post vacation to-do list that will be ready for you when you return, to give yourself a stress-free re-entry.

Finally, take care of your accounts receivable so that cash-flow will not be interrupted, a very important matter when paying for a vacation.  Ready all invoices, attach to the appropriate emails and save as drafts.  On invoicing days, go into your phone and send from anywhere in the world.

So get away from it all and enjoy yourself! Even if your schedule and budget won’t allow you to spend two weeks in Buenos Aires or Marrakesh, taking one or more short vacations throughout the year is also beneficial, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life.  The study researchers queried 974 Dutch vacationers and found that the excitement and anticipation associated with vacation planning delivers more of the psychological and physical benefits than the vacation itself and those benefits are multiplied when vacations of any length are taken throughout the year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: ©  Rachel Landau

Go with the Flow, a sand sculpture designed and built by Melineige Beauregard of Quebec, Canada for the 14th Annual Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival (2017) in Revere, MA

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Vacations Are Good For Business

The Memorial Day Weekend is approaching and with it the start of summer and the most popular vacation season. Perhaps it is the legacy of the Puritan work ethic that has caused the mixed feelings that many in the U.S. have towards the tradition of taking time off to relax and unwind. There are many of us who feel that stepping away from work responsibilities now and again signals a lack of discipline or commitment to our jobs. Many of us brag about the number of hours we work each day and more is always better.

U.S. companies on the whole are stingy about granting paid time off,  as compared to their peers in Europe and Latin America.  Even Great Britain, original birthplace of the Puritans, gives three paid days off at Christmas, while the U.S. companies usually grant only one.  Easter is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, but in predominantly Christian USA, there is no longer a paid holiday for Easter Monday.  In contrast, paid holidays for Good Friday and Easter Monday are standard in Latin America and Europe.

The Center For Economic and Policy Research reports that 25% of U.S. workers receive no paid time off of any kind—sick time, holiday, or vacation time.  An increasing number of companies that employ primarily low-wage workers restrict the number of hours that their employees receive, to keep benefits out of reach for as many as possible.

U.S. workers are ourselves complicit in the anti-time off practice.  According to the jobs and recruiting site Glassdoor, 75% of employees who are eligible to receive paid vacation time do not use all of their time in a given year. However, there may be a method to the madness, sadly. The global forecasting organization Oxford Economics (part of Oxford University) found that 13% of managers were less likely to promote staff who use all of their vacation days and that employees who take off fewer days on average earn nearly 3% more pay than employees who use all vacation time granted.

Let us tally the costs that the nose-to-the-grindstone approach has on our physical and psychological well-being  Even Sigmund Freud recommended that we take vacations. He and his family were known to travel every summer. https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/dr-Freud-and-the-interpretation-of-your-vacation

Gradually, the hidden price of excessive work is being acknowledged.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that forcing oneself to work days on end,  sometimes at a furious pace,  is ultimately counter-productive.  Workaholic behavior has been linked to decreased productivity and creativity; insufficient slee,  poor nutrition and obesity; negative stress; burn-out and mental health issues.  Some business leaders have headed the warning signs.

Ron Hastings, CEO of Netflix and author of Freedom and Responsibility (2009), is considered the thought leader of a trend that advocates for offering unlimited vacation time to employees.  He believes that leaders should trust their employees to make wise decisions about when and how much vacation time to take, that balances the company’s’ needs and their personal needs.

Full Contact, a Denver software company, now offers a $7500 bonus to employees if they actually leave town when on vacation.  Conditions apply.  Those employees must refrain from using tech gadgets such as mobile phones or computers and refrain also from sending emails and texts.  Employees cannot work while on vacation.

Finally, Jim Moffat, CEO of mega consulting firm Deloitte extols the benefits of vacations,  stating “By taking a break from day-to-day operations, not only was I spending more much-needed time with my family, but also I was able to focus on the bigger picture of where we (Deloitte) were and where our business was going.”

Are you convinced yet? It’s not so easy for small business owners and Freelance consultants to take time off, but make it a point to get out of town for a weekend trip or two this summer, if possible. Your clients will be better served when you are rested and ready to deliver the solutions that they need.

Happy Memorial Day,

Kim

 

Dr. Freud and the Interpretation of Your Vacation

Happy summer! Finally, that sweet season is here. Outdoor activities, gardens in full bloom, warm breezes, early sunrise and late sunset are ours to enjoy. But projects often conclude in June and July – August billable hours shrink. What’s a Freelancer to do? Reviewing your client list and thinking about how to create business in the fourth quarter is always useful. Another option is to take a vacation, If you can afford it.

I’ve vacationed in every season and personally, I prefer winter get-aways that allow me to visit warm climates and escape  frigid, snowy New England for a week or two. Winter vacations are expensive though, in terms of time and money and they take business owners and Freelancers out of town when clients are in town. Might we lose business as a result?

Skiers are able to take long weekends to nearby locations, but those in search of warm weather must travel much farther and commit a much larger block of time and money. If you’re able, then do so, but many of the self-employed are better served by taking a vacation when clients are likely to be away as well.

Vacations are good for us. We need to get away from our usual workaday routines and refresh our spirits and revitalize our perspectives. Both psychologists and productivity experts espouse the benefits of getting away from it all and short vacations sprinkled throughout the year have been demonstrated to produce greater stress reductions and both creativity and productivity benefits than a single two week vacation. Besides, a serendipitous networking opportunity could fall into your lap while on vacation, or you could possibly come up with a brilliant solution to a problem, once you’ve begun to relax and unwind.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and the father of psychotherapy, was a devotee of the summer vacation. The project of planning his family’s annual summer vacation was a favorite project that he called the “Sommerproblem”. Vacations brought tangible benefits to Dr. Freud.

In July 1895, while summering at Schloss Bellevue, a hotel and spa located in an outer district of Vienna, Freud had the dream that gave rise to his ground-breaking theory that dreams are wish fulfillment. His book On the Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1899 and it is still in print.

In his only visit to the US, in August 1909, Freud combined business with pleasure when he came to Clark University in Worcester, MA to deliver five lectures on psychoanalysis and receive an honorary degree. On his visit, Freud met James Jackson Putnam, professor of neurology at Harvard University and a leader of the movement to professionalize psychotherapy in the US. Putnam invited Freud and two other well-known psychoanalysts who traveled to America with him — Carl Jung, who also lectured and received an honorary degree from Clark and Sandor Ferenczi — to spend a few days at the Putnam family camp in the Adirondacks and visit Niagara Falls.

Several days of hiking and feasting led Freud to later write of “the most important personal relationship which arose from the meeting at Worcester”. Putnam gave credibility to Freud’s theories about psychoanalysis and promoted its use (NY Times August 29,2009). His reputation soared and his practice was set from then on.

On your next vacation, it is unlikely that you will be inspired to author a book that becomes an international best-seller, connect with an influential thought-leader who helps to solidify your professional reputation, or encounter a venture capitalist who provides the funding that takes your fledgling business to the next level. You could find your next client, however, or maybe someone who tells you about an unexpected market for your services. If you plan well and don’t try to overdo, you will relax and feel better, whether you visit a new location or return to a perennial favorite. Whatever you do, have a wonderful time!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

So Take A Vacation, Already

A 2011 survey by American Express revealed that fewer than half of U.S. small business owners will take a vacation this summer.   37 % cited that their work schedules would not allow them to take time off.   29 % reported that they were unable to afford a vacation.  16 %  stated that they do not take vacations,  period.  A 2013 study by Staples reported that more than 40 % of small business owners find it difficult to relax and enjoy themselves when they do take a vacation,  due to constant concerns about what may be happening to their business while they are away.

Regardless of the habits of American small business owners,  research indicates that vacations are more beneficial than they realize and that all those who work would be wise to take time off.  Doing so confers benefits to both one’s health and business productivity.  The landmark Framingham (MA) Heart Study revealed that women who on average took only one vacation in six years were nearly eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who vacation annually.  A 2008 study reported that men who do not take a vacation every year are 32 % more likely to die of a heart attack than men who do vacation every year.

No doubt other factors were involved in bringing on those coronary events,  but there is still a demonstrable positive correlation between stepping away from the grind of work and overall health.  To function optimally,  both the brain and heart like a little rest now and again.  Without adequate rest,  we descend into fatigue and fatigue makes it difficult for us to think either rationally or creatively and we are less able to make smart decisions.

Peter Handal,  CEO of the venerable leadership development company Dale Carnegie strongly recommends that workers take a few days off and do something that they enjoy.  A recent study by Intuit found that 82 % of small business owners who took a vacation experienced an increase in performance when they returned to their business.  A 2005 study by organizational psychologists Charlotte Fritz of Portland (OR) State University and Sabine Sonnentag of the University of Manheim (Germany) demonstrated the phenomenon of a post-vacation boost in energy reserves that results in greater productivity per hour worked.

The Protestant Work Ethic that the Puritans imposed onto the United States has in many ways done more harm than good.  In terms of the number of vacation days and holidays awarded to workers by companies in the industrialized nations,  the US ranks dead last.  Americans foolishly think that the workaholic is the virtuous, high-producing hero and that the more hours worked,  the better.  But Henry Ford,  who conducted various productivity studies at his Detroit plant for 12 years,   learned in the 1920s that worker productivity falls sharply after 40 hours/week.  That’s why he reduced his factory worker’s week to 5 days,  40 hours from 6 days,  48 hours.

Research about the optimal length of vacation time off is conflicting,  with some researchers advocating for shorter breaks and others recommending 2 weeks or more,  as is the standard in Latin America and Europe.  Vacations can be difficult for the self-employed,  who often have inconsistent income streams.  Still,  whenever you can,  take a few days off when you are not busy and get out of town.  Stay with a friend or get a bed from Air BandB.  Participate in low-cost activities that you enjoy,  whether it’s camping,  hiking,  going to the beach,  attending free outdoor music festivals or visiting museums.   Your smart phone will help you keep up with important emails.   You are guaranteed to lose a few layers of stress,  improve your overall health,  increase your productivity and feel better about your self.

On Thursday morning,  I will travel to Portland, ME for four days of R & R that will feature a scenic cruise on Casco Bay and lots of lobster!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Take a Vacation

It’s a counterintuitive approach,  but if you want to work smarter and be more productive,  then take a few days off and go away on vacation.  I realize that can be easier said than done for Freelancers and others in the billable hours universe.  Especially in a soft economy,  many of us are doing all we can to cover the monthly bills and the thought of slacking off on business pursuits is almost unthinkable.

Yet,  numerous researchers have demonstrated that vacations are comparable to a process improvement in your business,  resulting in increased productivity and efficiency.  Vacation does not mean that you no longer value the clients.  In order to avoid burnout and keep your batteries charged,  taking time off and traveling to a place that allows you to relax and unwind is a wise business strategy that pays personal and professional dividends. 

Every once in a while,  humans need to forget about work and relax and enjoy ourselves.  Recent research has shown that  a three to five day mini-vacation,  rather than the traditional two week time frame,  gives the most enjoyment.   As luck would have it,  that is exactly what fits well into a Freelancer’s often erratic project-based schedule.

A 2010 study by Jeroen Nawijn,  a lecturer at Breda University of applied Sciences in The Netherlands,  found that for most people,  the planning activities and anticipation provide more satisfaction than the actual vacation.  Nawijn suggests that if possible,  several three to five day trips should be scheduled throughout the year to reap the maximum benefits of the vacation experience,  starting with the fun we have doing the planning and enjoying the anticipation of the big adventure.  As further evidence,  psychologists Leigh Thompson of Northwestern University and Terence Mitchell of the University of Washington came to the same conclusion in their 1997 study of the psychological effects of vacations for workers.

Thompson and Mitchell suggest that vacationers participate in activities that completely absorb their attention.  Lolling on the beach and drinking pineapple rum punch is very nice,  but activities are more effective in helping us to disengage from work and business pressures and get the process of true relaxation underway.  That could be visiting museums,  touring the city,  hiking,  touring vineyards,  browsing at the bazaar,  or whatever else strikes your fancy.

It’s also recommended that you unplug your electronic toys and take a break from email and voicemail.  You might miss something,  but you’ll get over it.  In exchange,  you’ll receive the many benefits our brains and psyches derive from decreased stress.  A 2009 Boston Consulting Group study showed that taking time off results in improved communication skills,  decision-making ability and problem-solving ability,  plus decreased burnout and stress and higher productivity. 

I guess we can sum it up by saying that if we don’t take a few days off work every now and again,  we’ll just get tired and cranky and less effective.  We also won’t absorb information or learn as well,  which is why public schools give students 5 days off every three months or so.

I’m happy to tell all of you that I finally took a vacation myself,  after not taking any time off in about three years.  I spent 5 days on the coast of Maine.  I did not check email or voicemail.  I also missed my friend Jeremiah’s party (damn!),  but what can I say?  I had a great time soaking up sunshine,  drinking wine,  eating lobster,  visiting art galleries and taking in the sights.  I feel so much better!

Thanks for reading,

Kim