My e-mail says I am “out-of-the-office on vacation.”  Or am I? Let’s face it — if you own a small business you may be out of the office but you are rarely on vacation. It’s not that small business owners don’t try to take time off, it’s just that it is challenging.  


The reality is that there are not enough hours to do the work, which is why we often play catch-up on weekends. Take a week of vacation and the work really starts to pile up. My first few years in business, vacations were non-existent.  I knew that was not healthy. One year I tried a different approach — take off every Friday during the summer.  I only managed to make it work twice. Good thing I love my work.

 For several years, I tried to match my time off to times when my customers were slow or not working — generally around holidays. That worked for a while. Then many companies downsized so they, too, are working all the time. 

 I tried scheduling vacations far in advance only to see the time melt away. Last summer, a good client had an 11th hour request. They were under final consideration for a huge job and needed a presentation ASAP, so I cancelled my vacation (flights, hotel, etc.) and went to work. On another occasion, I was in Florida when my cell rang.  My client got the out-of- the-office message that said I was not accessing e-mail, so he called.  I spent the next three days at the pool working.

 The reality is that customers expect a lot but as small business owners we must also take the blame for our lack of time off.

 We worry so we don’t unplug.  We are addicted to our smartphones and technology. The sheer idea of constantly being connected is like a drug. What if we miss something important? What if we don’t appear to be responsive? What if the staff can’t handle this or that?

Business owners also don’t know how to wind down. So far this year, I have been on more than 20 business trips and I know more and more individuals who have to travel for business. That makes it hard to even think about traveling for vacation.

 Maybe what I need is “Vacations For Dummies.”  We business owners could use a little vacation help. I do have few things that I am going to try this year. I am planning a couple of four-day getaways within driving distance. (Yes, that does include the weekend so it’s really only a couple of days but it’s a start.) They will be far enough away so that I won’t be tempted to go into the office.

 I am also limiting myself to one phone call a day to the office. I can’t go cold turkey.

Finally, I have a new e-mail reply drafted it says: “I am out-of-the-office sitting on a beach or golfing because I deserve some time off  but I promise someone else will handle your request.”

 Think this will work? 

Cynthia Kay is president of Cynthia Kay and Company, a media- production firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., that serves small businesses and Fortune 500 companies.