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Issue #3: Breathing Room

I've always been jealous of my friends who are able to take time off from work. Whether they travel a

James Costa

March 14 · Issue #3 · View online
A batch of thoughts, resources, and motivation from a friendly digital agency owner delivered every Monday at 6am ET.

I’ve always been jealous of my friends who are able to take time off from work. Whether they travel abroad or sit at home and watch Netflix, they seem to be able to completely disconnect from work without concern. This got me to thinking: why can’t we, as agency owners, seem to take any time off without completely disconnecting?
For me, it has always come down to a deep-rooted concern for the business. It’s like leaving your child for the first time: you feel extremely guilty for wanting to, and are worried about what’ll happen to it, so you never do.
What I’ve tried really hard to do is make myself completely replaceable at Phuse. I’ve always believed that the best test of a business’ health is it’s ability to run regardless of whether the owner is there. We’re not a big shop by any means, but we have an operations team that handles the majority of the ongoing needs of the business (the only exception being sales and strategy). As much as possible, I work on empowering them to make decisions without needing to come to me, and making sure they feel ownership with the company.
Last October I took a 6-day trip to Cuba to get away. I had taken vacations before, but always worked throughout them (much to my family’s chagrin). This time I went into it knowing that I wanted to completely disconnect (for the first time in 7 years) so that I could catch up on some much-needed relaxation.
To my dismay, anxiety set in a couple days before the trip and made it tough to sleep and function properly. I kept thinking of all the things that needed to get done, and was worried about anything being forgotten, so I created a list (it was pretty long) of all the things I thought needed to get done while I was gone, and kept adding to it as I thought of things. This was a huge help mentally, and allowed me to really enjoy the time on the beach (drinking strawberry daiquiris and reading books on business on the beach like a champ).
The hardest part was coming back. I had hundreds of emails to sift through, and quite honestly came back to the hardest point our business has ever had. Somehow, and to no fault of anyone, we had a few problems that started a wave of other problems. These aren’t things that would have changed if I had someone filtering through my emails (though, in hindsight, that would have been a good idea), and it didn’t help with my feeling like I could never take a vacation again.
So, why am I saying all of this if I’m telling you to take breathing room from your company? While everything that could have gone wrong seemed to have gone wrong, that was not because I took a vacation. I mitigated risk in every way I could by delegating things to the team, and empowering them over time to make decisions. I’m proud of how they reacted, and that the business ran without me. Coming back, I also had a renewed sense of self, understanding of what I needed to do, and vision for how we could do it.
I guess what I’m saying is, you deserve it. But, if you want to look at it from a business perspective, the best way to look at it is through the metaphor of cutting down a tree (a truly Canadian way to end a message). You can only get so far without sharpening your saw.
Pro tip: if you’re planning on taking a vacation and tend to feel as guilty as I do, come up with one thing you want to change / do when you come back for every day that you’re away. Building that excitement over the course of the trip will help with momentum when you get back.

Thoughts from Slack
The Toronto Agency Owner community has a Slack channel where we share thoughts, accomplishments, upcoming events, and ultimately support one another. If you’d like in, just reply to this email and ask (nicely)!
This week, we asked the community: Have you ever taken a vacation (a real one: without checking email, or doing ​any​ work)? If so, how did it go and how often have you done this?
Marcello Gortana (Also Collective): “We have a max and mandated vacation policy for partners. If we get close to the year and someone hasn’t taken the time off but doesn’t have anything planned then they need to just take two weeks locally but time off is super important. We also look at time off as a stress test for the business we keep striving to be able to run just as strong without someone pivotal as if they were here.”
Paul Dowman (OK GROW!): “I have a hard time taking time totally unconnected. Having partners would help a lot, but it shouldn’t be an excuse really, there should still be someone else responsible for most things.”
Jasdeep Narang (Metaware Labs): “I cannot remember when the last time I took a vacation where I was completely disconnected from emails and work. I’ve definitely tried on all my vacations to strive for the "No Technology” policy but always failed. [Except Christmas break, when everything is slow and you can get away from emails and your laptop.]”
Good Reads
The agency is dead. Long live the agency.
How Much Do Startup Founders Pay Themselves?
Viscerality, Cadence, and Organizational Momentum
Slack, I’m Breaking Up with You
What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team
It doesn't matter where you work
Inspiration for the Week
“Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere.” — Paul Ryan
In Closing
SXSW is going on this week which means everyone is going to hear about it whether or not you asked. So, while you head over to Twitter and try and figure out how to mute that friend of yours who is going, let’s remember how funny our industry is.
If you have any questions or I can help you in any way, all you have to do is respond to this email.
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