Put the PDA down and relax!

Some tips on how to leave work out of your vacation

Heidi Schiller
   It’s a beautiful day in a tropical paradise — sandy white beach, glistening blue Caribbean waves, scantily clad tan bodies, and you: hunkered over the laptop and answering calls on your PDA while your spouse snorkels with the kids.
   You’ve worked hard for this vacation — but now you can’t stop working while you’re on it. Sound familiar?
   For many business owners, relaxing while on vacation is sometimes harder than putting in those long hours during the big deal or the high season that got you on this tropical island for a week’s break in the first place.
   As the holidays approach and people begin packing for a week in the Bahamas or a cruise in Hawaii, the idea might actually sound better than the reality for some who have difficulty relaxing while on vacation.
   People who take a great deal of ownership in their work have a hard time letting go of their work stress, according to Karen Aronoff, a local psychologist and professional coach who owns Thunderbolt Coaching & Consulting. Letting go of control can be difficult for people who are used to being in charge, she said.
   “Type A, hard-driving, overachieving individuals will have more difficulty relaxing,” she said. “On the other hand, I knew one very Type A person who said, ‘I work hard, I play hard.’ He took his vacations very seriously. I’m not sure how much he relaxed on those vacations, but he tackled them like it was another job.”
   Either way, Aronoff stressed the importance of taking a true break for business owners who tend to get caught up in the tasks of running a business.
   “An essential part of most businesses to keep them fresh and going is for the owner or the manager to have some time to renew themselves, so they can come back to it with new eyes or a refreshed look,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we have time for renewal and restoration.”
   Otherwise, burnout can occur, she said, and that’s an itinerary for business disaster.
   Dave Brumbaugh, a publicist who is the sole proprietor of Brumbaugh Co., said he usually works at least once a day while on vacation — checking e-mail and letting his clients know if their press releases were printed. On a trip to Missouri last September to visit his in-laws, Brumbaugh decided to leave his laptop behind and instead used his in-laws’ computer, which had dial-up Internet rather than the broadband he was used to at home.
   In a way, his decision to try to leave work behind backfired when he became more stressed out by the slow Internet connection.
   Brumbaugh said the idea of leaving work behind is a good one in theory — but in practice, it helps him relax to check in with work, and for that reason he is strongly leaning towards bringing the laptop with him on his next vacation.
   “I do believe that work should not interfere with vacation, not only for oneself, but for a business person’s family as well,” he said.
   Brumbaugh said that he and his wife have an agreement that he’ll only check his e-mail once a day while on vacation.
   Aronoff said the dynamic between a businessperson and their spouse or family while on vacation is often a struggle when one spends time working while the other just wants to relax or be a tourist.
   “It’s an issue that can get in the way of both people having a good time. If one of the couple is always distracted, then that person isn’t totally present in the situation, and that can make things less enjoyable (for the spouse or partner),” she said.
   Fortunately, that aspect of vacation stress is not a problem for Connie and Gene Shannon, owners of The Fairhaven Village Inn. In their case, they both need to check in with their business in order to relax.
   Connie said the Shannons rarely take long vacations because it’s too impractical while owning a business that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
   “We’ve settled into the getaway mode because our business needs us,” she said. They usually take three-day excursions to Seattle, Vancouver or the San Juan Islands, but a couple times a year will take longer vacations.
   Connie and Gene bring their laptop and keep in constant contact with the inn’s supervisors, usually at a scheduled time in the morning, which she said helps them relax.
   “Our supervisors actually make it possible for us to go away,” she said of her employees. She appreciates their dependability and trustworthiness in these situations, and also said it helps the employees to stay in touch, as well. “When we’re not here, they have an added level of responsibility, and it helps them to know we’re still only a phone call away.”
   Working a little on vacation could be helpful for some business owners to relax, Aronoff said. Others need to completely switch off in order to relax — it just depends on the person.
   An acquaintance of hers always carries a PDA with her while on vacation.
   “It actually helps her to relax because she knows she’s not going to be stuck with 300 e-mails when she walks back into her office,” she said. “She plans on spending a half-hour or so every day keeping up. Once that’s done, she’s completely capable of letting go and having a good time. For me, that would be agony, because when I’m away from work, I am away from work.”
   According to the Travel Industry Association, 24 percent of leisure travelers take their laptops with them on vacation.
   John Cooper, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, encourages travelers not to pack their work on vacation.
   “I’m a big advocate of when you’re there, you’re there. When you’re on vacation, be on vacation,” he said. “I think in this over-communicated society there is a physiological and psychological need to unplug … There needs to be a time when we can get away, and also to socially stay connected with people, whether it’s our friends, family, spouses or people we’ve never met before on vacation.”
   Aronoff encourages people to know themselves and know how they will best be able to relax on vacation.
   This includes the length of time and distance of a vacation a person decides to take. So if you’re a person who needs a few days to adjust before they can begin to relax, a longer vacation may be the best option. For those who can relax as soon as they are “off,” a shorter vacation may be all they need.
   “Its really an individual thing. If you can relax by taking the ferry to Victoria and back — great. That’s enough. If you’re somebody that really needs to get out of Dodge, maybe a week or two in a different environment is going to be what you need,” she said.
   Here are a few more tips for how to relax on vacation:
   Pick a type of vacation that is relaxing and fun for you. “I know people that relax after three days hiking in the mountains,” Aronoff said. “For other people that would be absolute death. A three-day hike for you may be great, a week at Saks Fifth Avenue might be more realistic for me.”
   Consider when the best time to leave is, and schedule accordingly. “If you have a huge d
eal going on, or something that really needs your attention, it may be a bad time to leave,” Aronoff said. Or, if you know you make a large portion of your income during a certain time, it probably isn’t the best time to leave.
   Prepare things at home and work before you leave. This includes leaving someone in charge of business operations while you’re gone, providing them with emergency phone numbers and contingency plans. “You may spend a frantic day getting ready to go, but once everything is handled, it feels really good,” Aronoff said.
   Give yourself permission to relax. Businesspeople, in particular, have usually been raised with a strong work ethic, and therefore it is hard for them to give up working for a while. Connie said it helps her while on vacation to do uninterrupted things, like reading or lying on a beach. “Because our real life is a series of interruptions,” she said.



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