Need perspective? Then go on vacation

A few of my faithful blog readers noticed that I was radio silent last week (thanks for the emails!). Well, the reality is that I was about a million miles from any computer, website, or startup thought. That’s right, my wife and I took a much-needed vacation.

Those who have worked with me know that I’m a pretty intense guy. I work very hard to achieve goals and set milestones that are challenging to reach. I push myself to the point of obsession, and I’m not satisfied unless I feel like I’ve given it my all. I typically work 6 days a week, 12-14 hours a day and after several months of this I start to feel pretty burnt out. That’s when I know I need a vacation.

When I go on a vacation, I make sure that I am completely unplugged. I try to pick a place where my cell phone is out of range (it’s getting much harder these days), and I don’t have access to email (or any computer for that matter). This time, we didn’t even have access to a landline phone, and it felt great. Brad Feld wrote an great blog post a while back about how he unplugs once every quarter. Fred Wilson noted the merits of Brad’s approach, even though he’s online during his time off. My approach is even more extreme than Brad’s approach: I’m completely unplugged and unavailable for any work-related issues.

If there’s a family emergency, I can be reached. But for anything work related, I’m not available. Some of you are probably reading this and thinking, “what about the business?” or “what if there’s an important business decision to be made?” Here’s the reality: if you’re that important, then you are probably not building a solid business. As much as I like to think that I’m critical to the success of MyPunchbowl.com, I also know that I’m surrounded by a team of really great people. Any business issue can be handled by my co-founder Sean, and any technical issue by Gerard. I’m only gone a week; they can move the business forward. Michael Feinstein wrote a great piece about this recently: A good leader can take a vacation. I agree wholeheartedly.

I usually spend the first several days of my vacation trying to clear my head of any business thoughts. I try to deeply relax, sleep late, eat slowly, drink a few too many beers (did someone say “tequila”?), and notice all of the small things about life. If things go well, by mid-week my head is clear, and I spend an hour or so jotting some thoughts down about the business. In the last few days of my vacation, I spent a few hours each day thinking about how the business has progressed to date, and where we’re going from here. I’m able to think about aspects of the business that I rarely get to think about– and brainstorm about ideas that have been on the backburner for too long. I come back with fresh ideas to bounce off the team, and feel ready to take on the next set of challenges.

I’m a Type A personality (yes, I’m the guy who hits the elevator button three times). I need vacations a few times a year to reset my brain and give me perspective. Because of my time off, I’m more equipped than ever to lead the great team at Punchbowl Software. I can’t tell you how calm, cool, and collected I feel today– I’ve been more effective than ever and I’m able to focus on the things that really matter.

If you’re the founder of a startup who feels like you are on the road to burnout or can’t seem to shake the “I have so many things to do” feeling, then take it from me: take a vacation, unplug completely and you’ll regain perspective. It’s a great feeling.

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