Not taking a holiday is bad for your brain and small business

In exactly 12 days, I will be going away on a 10-day holiday. The thought of this impending time off from the daily grind of work exhilarates — and worries me.

On the pro side is the anticipation of rest, renewal and relaxation. Weighing in on the negatives are preparing to go in the first place and a heavier workload when I return.

“We skip vacations because we worry that the person next to us will get ahead while we’re gone,” says Don Joseph Goewey, author of Mystic Cool: A proven approach to transcend stress, achieve optimal brain function, and maximize your creative intelligence. “Or we’re afraid that the work piling up on our desk will put us so far behind that we’ll never catch up.”

As it turns out, however, not going on holiday might be bad for our brains and our small businesses.

Research shows that constantly being under pressure floods our brain with stress hormones, which then erode the higher brain function we need to sustain peak performance,” says Goewey. “The opposite is also true. Activity in the hippocampus and neocortex centers of the brain (the place where everything we think of as intelligence is generated) increases during periods of wakeful rest, such as breaks during the day, time off during the week or a vacation during the year.”

Goewey says that the reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence, common sense and physical energy needed for small business owners to stay at the top of their game.

David Allen, best-selling author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life, is a strong proponent of the power of taking vacations as well.

“I think productivity is always enhanced when you have the chance to evaluate your life and work from multiple horizons,” says Allen. “Vacations help you from getting too far down in the weeds and provide an opportunity to refresh and restore.”

But despite all expert advice and scientific evidence, a recent survey by the American Express OPEN Small Business Vacation Monitor showed that less than half (46 percent) of small business owners plan to take a vacation this summer — down from a high of 67 percent in 2006 — and 37 percent list a busy work schedule as the culprit. And even for those who do plan on diving in and taking a few days off, 68 percent say they will stay connected to work and check in while on vacation.

So why not build up your brain’s higher function, get a perspective on your life, reinvent your career, play some golf, eat an ice cream cone and hike with the kids. It will be good for your well being and, ultimately, your business bank account.

Be sure to check back next week when I will be doing the second post in this series on taking a vacation with a focus on stress-free tips on how to prepare to take, and return from, a vacation with ease.

Do you plan on take a break any time soon? We would love to hear your comments.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group, where she helps businesses negotiate the wired world of today’s media landscape — social and otherwise.

17 Comments

Blair Hughson
July 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

Totally agree, holidays are so important.. I’d go mad without them. Although I have to admit that going overseas on my honeymoon later in the year for 4 weeks does worry me a bit.. as a sole trader, nothing will happen while I’m away so it’ll be lots of hard work on either side.

Matt Allen
July 5, 2011 at 11:40 am

We’re about to head to Europe for 5 weeks, I have to say, being a small services company means that there will be a lack of revenue over that time and it’s kinda freaking me out a little.

Oh well, Viva la France!

Matta

Anonymous
July 5, 2011 at 11:58 am

Not sure that this new freelance content you are using from Karen Leland is really working out. We can get this sort of information from a million different websites, why do we need to get it from Xero?

Karen Leland
July 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Matt; I can certainly understand the possible freak out over revenue generation loss while gone for 5 weeks, but for France, anything is worth it! But seriously, I have always had the motto “The more vacations I take the more i make.” Meaning that I have over the years found ways to keep the biz humming, even while I’m away with minimum effort. You might want to brainstorm with a business associate, friend or other trusted source on how you can do this. Have fun and eat lots of pastry for me.

Karen Leland
July 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Dear Anonymous;

I understand your point, but I find that even things we should know, or have heard before in one form or another, often require repeating. That having been said, if you have a small business topic you would like to hear about, I’d love to hear you thoughts and write about it, if it fits.

Karen Leland
July 5, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Dear Blair;

Interesting what you said about ‘nothing happens’ when you are away. Similar to what Matt wrote, I think small business owners do need to figure out a plan for keeping their businesses humming along -even on simmer, when they are away. I will do some research since this seems to be a theme and see what I can some up with. Stay tuned.

James R
July 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm

It has been really good for our business for the founders to take at least a month off every year or two. It has forced us to unearth the processes that only exist in our heads and transform our business into an entity that can function without us.

Anice McNamee
July 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I have 6 days to go before I leave to go on holiday for 10 days. I am working like mad at the moment to get everything prepared for when I’m away, blog posts, my design team having everything they need when I’m not here infront of this PC. Though I will be logging in once a day whilst I’m away to answer customer queries etc. Being a sole trader is hard. If you don’t do it, it isn’t done hence the frenzy now. Can’t wait to get away though!

Alastair Dawson
July 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Holidays are an important part of employment. One of the things I most love about taking holidays (apart from parking my brain in neutral over a good book or glass or two of wine) is the opportunity to give some of my more junior staff a chance to shine. They take over the role in an Acting capacity with full authority to run the role as they see fit. In the past 15 or so years I have never had a disaster or a shrinking violet in the role becasue we spend time in the lead up giving people confidence in their ability. Best of all, I never get a phone call whilst I am away. Trust is a big issue in giving people confidence to get things done in your absence.

Jordan
July 14, 2011 at 4:33 pm

“Interesting what you said about ‘nothing happens’ when you are away. Similar to what Matt wrote, I think small business owners do need to figure out a plan for keeping their businesses humming along -even on simmer, when they are away. I will do some research since this seems to be a theme and see what I can some up with. Stay tuned.” – Did you come up with anything Karen?

Starky
July 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I couldn’t agree more with the general sentiment here. Studies have always re-affirmed that holidays are imperative for physical and mental well-being.

Chuck Lemonte
July 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Let’s not forget physical health as well. I heard that holidays also diminish the risk of heart disease and other stress-related illnesses by up to 32%. I can’t remember the source, so don’t quote me on this, but I believe it!

Renee
July 15, 2011 at 10:51 am

Yes, small business owners are notorious for over-working. I have been there with 4 businesses and I must say, TAKE THE TIME.

StarPheonix
July 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

Approximately 25% of American workers do not get paid vacation time and there is a growing worry as to the negative effects of an overworked population… a very timely and much needed post. Thanks Karen!

Manny Colderone
July 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm

In my opinion holidays are as, if not more, important than sleep, healthy eating and exercise. It’s just another piece of the healthy lifestyle puzzle.

Karen Leland
July 16, 2011 at 1:19 am

Jordan;

Have not come up with anything yet. On vacation right now, it’s on my list for when I get back :-)

Karen Leland
July 16, 2011 at 1:21 am

I love the comments everyone is making here about vacations. What I find interesting is that despite the challenges of getting away and taking a holiday, everyone who has weighed in so far seems to agree on the benefits as a small biz owner.

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