For many business owners, the definition of “vacation” has become twisted into meaning “work lite.” You pretend you’re “vacating” the workplace when you’re really just taking it with you.
You tell yourself you’re “pulling the plug,” but you still check your email two or three times a day. You do less work at your desk—but you keep one eye on your laptop while you’re watching the kids in the pool. You take fewer calls but plan outings carefully to make sure you can still get decent cell reception on the beach.
Mobile technology, cloud computing, and SaaS (software as service) all sound like grand, liberating concepts. Until you find they’re tethering you to your business 24/7.
But if your technology solutions simply create an addiction to connectivity, then they’re not doing their job.
If you feel like your tech stack is chaining you to your business, then you may be working with an outdated mindset and outdated tools. Such technology baggage could be preventing you from reaping the true rewards of digitalization and from taking a true vacation.
Are you working like it’s 2013?
Eight years ago, the Harvard Business Review reported that 60% of executives, managers, and professionals were working for about 72 hours a week. On weekdays, they spent 82% of their waking hours “connected to their jobs” through their smartphones. On weekends, they took a little more downtime, but the weekly average was 62% of waking time connected to work.
But that was then, and this is now. So why are so many of us still fixated on staying connected when the right tools can minimize the need for human input?
It’s time for a mindset reset regarding the true value of technology to business. “Connectivity” was the buzzword of the 2010s, but today’s theme among savvy business leaders is “automation.”
A true vacation can be more than a dream
Best-selling business author Mike Michalowicz believes that all business owners have a duty, to themselves and to their business, to take at least one extended vacation a year. In his 2018 book Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself, he urges readers to commit to planning and executing a four-week vacation within a year of reading the book. He’s so sure this is possible that he invites readers to declare their intention to him by email and to follow up with him on the day they vacate the office.
Clockwork outlines a seven-step process for untethering the business owner from business operations. A pivotal phase is Step 4: “Capture Systems,” when the goal is to create a record of each process the company follows. Armed with this documentation, the business owner can then find ways to delegate and/or automate processes, extricating themselves from the day-to-day.
From where you stand, if a month-long break seems unbelievable, then your first step is to start documenting processes and procedures across your business. (Michalowicz is a big fan of using screen-recording software to capture the way things get done.)
Once you’ve recorded your processes, take a look around at what some other business owners are doing to claim their vacation time. That fellow relaxing on the beach without his laptop may be running a marketing campaign, paying his employees, and conducting job interviews—all without leaving his lounge chair.
Summertime, and the automation is easy
Here are 10 simple, inexpensive ways to introduce automation into your business this summer—maybe just in time for you to take some time off!
1. Automatic email responses to website inquiries
Instead of inviting web visitors to contact you by email, use a “Contact Us” form, linked to an automatic reply. That way, you can respond to prospective customers instantly and let them know when they can expect a more detailed response from your team.
2. Online scheduling tool
Still playing the game of email tag to set up appointments? Try subscribing to an online booking tool instead, such as Calendly, Bookafy, or Acuity. For the cost of a latte a week, you’ll save yourself time and improve the response rate to your meeting requests.
3. Customer onboarding kit
Give new customers a personal welcome by sending an email that includes content to help them make the most of your product or service. For example, you could include a video demonstrating how to use the product and contact information for your customer service department.
4. Social media scheduling
5. Automatic invoice reminders
No need to chase down late payments manually. Most accounting software packages now include a feature that allows you to issue invoice reminders automatically on a pre-set schedule (e.g., three days after the due date, then a week after the due date, and so on).
6. Customer service chatbot
Let a virtual assistant handle routine, predictable queries. While chatbots take some effort to configure, they will save you time in the long run. Plus, they offer a way to engage customers, who may otherwise turn away from your website if they can’t quickly find the answer to a question.
7. Satisfaction surveys
Drag-and-drop editors and templates for various business situations now make it super-simple to set up and distribute customer satisfaction surveys. Most survey tools also make it easy to compile, display, and export the data.
8. Smart spreadsheets
With just a little configuring, a spreadsheet created in Google Sheets can become a dynamic tool your whole team can use. For example, you can configure a budget spreadsheet to automatically highlight a given row once a figure goes below a certain amount.
9. Online payment tool
You don’t need to build an entire e-commerce site to collect online payments from customers. Consider offering Stripe or PayPal as on option for customers who want the convenience of being able to buy right away when they see something that catches their eye.
10. Video interviews
Pre-screen candidates by using a platform such as VidCruiter, which enables you to collect, view, and rate potential employees without needing to set up a live meeting.
This list just scratches the surface of the possibilities. Today’s digital solutions offer a multitude of ways to ease your workload, and maybe even ease you right out of it.
Whereas constant connectivity feeds anxiety about what’s happening in the business, automation releases you from worry. It’s like hiring an extra helper for your business, someone whose main role is to make sure you get ample time to do what you should be doing, including stepping away for some well-earned relaxation.
 Deal, J. (2013, September 12). Welcome to the 72-hour Work Week. HBR. https://hbr.org/2013/09/welcome-to-the-72-hour-work-we