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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: recharging by unplugging

Technology has made it even harder for entrepreneurs

Technology has made it even harder for entrepreneurs to disconnect from their businesses when they are going away for any extended periods. (July 3, 2013) Credit: Bloomberg

Technology has made it easy for entrepreneurs to stay plugged into their businesses 24/7, no matter where they are. But that's not always a good thing, particularly when it comes to taking a mental break during time away from the office.

While most entrepreneurs find it difficult to completely unplug, being able to disconnect from your business — even if it's just for a short while — can be just what you need to stay recharged and focused, say experts.

"The future of the free world does not rest on you," says Alice Bredin, a Cambridge, Mass.- based small business adviser to American Express OPEN, the small business arm of American Express. In most cases, "if someone waits another 24 hours to hear from you, I think the world will keep spinning."

But entrepreneurs are so connected to their businesses that it's hard for them to even think of getting away for any extended periods.

A recent American Express OPEN survey found 49 percent of small business owners plan to take a vacation of at least one full week this summer, down from 54 percent last spring.

Contributing factors likely include improving economic conditions and a heavier workload, says Bredin.

Ron Wood, who runs his own public relations firm in Calverton, is one such entrepreneur who doesn't take a full week off.

"I'm not that important that I can't be away, but I'm not comfortable being away," says Wood. "I'm always thinking about my business."

He says he can unplug for an hour or two, but if his clients need to reach him, they know they can. For urgent matters he tells them to text him 911.

"Part of my business is crisis management," he notes. "If a business is in trouble, they need to get me now."

But everyone needs a break and taking one must become part of your mindset.

Baby steps: Start small and unplug for limited periods, and then gradually extend that over time.

Focus on something other than work, advises Eileen Lichtenstein, chief executive of Balance & Power Inc., a work-life success coaching firm in Wantagh. "Focus on your breathing while you're walking," she suggests. Or focus on a visual like water. Do something active and outdoors, she recommends.

Announce goal, set limits: Have family or friends hold you accountable to unplugging and disconnecting while you're away, says Lichtenstein. And if you're going to check in throughout the day, set time limits, she adds.

That's what Adrian Miller of Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington does. She loves to travel and takes at least four weeks of vacation a year, plus a few assorted multiday trips throughout the year.

"Travel has always been part of my DNA," says Miller, who recently traveled to Berlin. She has set up a routine where she checks her email twice a day each day while on vacation.

"I respond to everything that may be time-sensitive," she notes. But as a sales trainer, she's usually scheduling her training sessions ahead of time, making it easier to plan vacations around that.

"I take care of all mission-critical stuff before I leave," she notes.

Delegate: The more you can delegate or hand off early on, the less pressure you'll feel to constantly keep connected, adds Lichtenstein.

Designate a point person to field questions and deal with daily issues, suggests Bredin.

"Only one person within the company should be reaching out to you, and all questions should go to that person," she says.

Unplug: And be sure to carve out some completely unplugged time where you're not checking any electronics at all.

"If you don't get a real break, then you're not going to come back from vacation refreshed," says Bredin.



Fast fact


85 percent of small business owners say they either sometimes or always work while on vacation.

Source: Rocket Lawyer 2013 Semiannual Small Business Survey

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