WW#008: Life Needs Punctuation

If there’s one thing I see time and time again working with business owners, it’s their reluctance to take time off. They all tell me they’re exhausted, burnt out, desperate to take a break, but strangely unwilling to bake any holiday time into their schedule.

  • ‘But it’ll all fall apart if I’m not there!’ is a common reason they give. Let’s unpack that, shall we? If that sounds like you, think back to when you started your company. Were you always intending to be a sole employee, or did you envisage a team underneath you? Did your business plan include a section where 15 years down the line you were still working all hours, trying to fit your invoicing in around client meetings, wondering if you could get away with doing your website updates at the weekend, instead of going to your in-laws like you promised?
  • Of course it didn’t: you were intending to do less as the company grew, not more.
  • Look, I get it. Your business is your baby – the amount of time and pressure involved in getting a startup off the ground is immense. But just like with an actual baby, at some point you have to loosen the apron strings. If you feel like you can’t leave the business with your team, you’re either doing them a massive disservice, or you’ve got the wrong team in place.
  • A team that’s being micromanaged by a boss who won’t leave the office is either going to be unmotivated and unproductive, or you run the risk of letting your talent walk out the door to work for someone else who gives them a bit of autonomy and trusts them to do the job they were hired to do in the first place

Start small – take a Monday off and turn your out of office on. The company won’t explode because you aren’t there for a day and I’m willing to take a bet that very little will happen that a colleague can’t deal with (or at the very worst can’t wait until the next day for you to handle). Try not to check your emails. Feels good, doesn’t it?

There can sometimes be a tendency to think of busyness as a virtue. Time has become a status symbol and taking a holiday is a luxury for the less-driven. This is, to use the technical term, complete drivel. There’s no nobility in being so burned out that you can’t work effectively, and you owe it to your team to be in good shape. If you can think back to the last time you were on a plane, remember the safety announcement before take-off: in case of an emergency, put on your own mask first before assisting others.

It’s crucial to allow yourself to pause, because if you aren’t looking after yourself, who is? You can’t make good decisions if you’re so strung out that you’re existing on coffee and the lunch you’re desperately shoving into your mouth, at your desk, in between meetings. Stop. Go outside, breath some fresh air. Look at the sky. It’s amazing what ideas come to you when you’re not staring obsessively at your computer screen. Give yourself permission to take a break. No-one else can do it for you.

Look at your workload. What can you delegate? What can you outsource? Where is there a gap between projects that allows you to take some time off?

Personally, I try to work in 3-month cycles, and take a break at the end of each quarter. This not only gives me time to recharge, but also to reflect on that last quarter and take away any lessons learned. Is there anything I would do differently going forward? What new strategies worked, and which ones need to be filed away for further development?

I’m stronger and more effective for it. I have more clarity and creativity, for my own business, and for my clients’. So, give yourself permission to take a break, an extended pause – you owe it to yourself!

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James Potten


On a mission to democratise entrepreneurship by providing access to best practice, helping startups sustainably scale up.