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Can entrepreneurs ever take a real vacation?

When you’re a small business owner, you can’t just ask the boss for a more generous PTO policy. One of the biggest perks of owning your own business — independence — can feel a little ironic when you’re so busy or cash-strapped that you don’t have the freedom to take a vacation once in awhile.

According to a Funding Circle survey*, half (49%) of small business owners plan to take less than three days off during the entire holiday season – and, even on those rare days off, they don’t always know how to disconnect from work. In fact, nearly 70% confess that they will likely work a bit or at least check work emails on Thanksgiving Day even if they officially take the day off.

Nearly 70% of business owners confess they will work a bit on Thanksgiving Day even if they officially take the day off.

When you’re responsible for keeping the lights on whether you’re there or not, it’s hard to take time for yourself and fully unplug. You wear a dozen rotating hats, and you want to make sure that being away for a week doesn’t somehow undo everything you work so hard everyday to build. In fact, 19% of small business owners admit they feel guilty when taking days off from their business over the holiday period.  But science shows that not taking sufficient time away from your work is bad for your health and the economy’s. The upsides? Lower stress levels, better creativity, lower chance of heart disease, better fitness, and a longer life overall, just to name a few.

Here are four tips for unplugging from your daily grind during your vacation this holiday season — and returning as your best, most productive self.

1. Put your smartphone away

This is a tough one: you probably use your smartphone so much it feels like an extra limb. It’s your alarm clock in the morning; your instant access to emails from customers and vendors; your music throughout the day; and an easy way to work well into the night when the kids are asleep. But don’t forget: up until 15 years ago, everyone traveled smartphone-free. If you are concerned about someone from work needing to get in touch, share the name and contact information of your hotel or your great Aunt’s house in case of an emergency. Most likely, no one will call and you will have a blissful and uninterrupted Thanksgiving and holiday season with your family.

2. Travel somewhere without wifi

If the temptation of instant access to work is too hard to resist, consider traveling somewhere that won’t enable you to sneak a peek at your emails. If you love the great outdoors, camping is a great option — especially if you’re on a tight budget. Most campgrounds don’t offer internet access, making it the perfect place to escape without the option of virtually returning to the office at the flick of a button. If you don’t necessarily subscribe to the “dirt don’t hurt” philosophy (and you have a little extra vacation savings to enjoy), consider options like “glamping,” or retreat centers designed to make you feel a little pampered while also enforcing your health and wellness even when you won’t. (The latter usually have really tasty buffets.)

3. Reserve designated work time

If it’s simply too difficult not to check work emails at all, set aside a designated time during your vacation to allow yourself the guilty pleasure of checking in on that inventory order or customer feedback score. For example, dedicate 20 minutes in the morning to log in and make sure everything’s running smoothly — and after that, forbid yourself from checking again throughout the rest of the day. Set your phone to airplane mode so you aren’t constantly receiving notifications, and pick an accountability buddy to keep you honest, so you can enjoy your time off without missing out on the fun around you. Trust us: the people you’re with will appreciate your full attention, and those phantom phone vibrations will fade away after a few days.

4. Exercise your creative muscle

One of the most underrated and scientifically proven outcomes of taking a break? Fresh creativity, problem-solving, and new ideas! The headspace to look beyond your day-to-day and brainstorm new ideas that make your entrepreneurial lightbulb flicker anew is priceless — and more than justifies the time you take away from your business. Eyal Levy got the idea for his business, Yogibo, while traveling with his very pregnant wife on a “babymoon” trip to Israel. Today, Yogibo is a multi-million dollar retail business with 20+ stores around the country. Viola Sutanto, owner of Maika Goods, dedicates some of her time abroad in Asia to look for new design and material inspirations in local communities and at trade shows. Even if you’re not straying far from home, take a notebook and observe your surroundings wherever you are. You never know when creativity will strike!

To the 22 percent of small business owners who plan to take a maximum of only one vacation day this holiday season: rethink your itinerary and see where you can squeeze in a few days away. There’s no better way to ensure the long-term health of your business than prioritizing yours.

* Funding Circle Small Business Holiday Survey, October 2016
Results for the Funding Circle Small Business Holiday Survey were collected through an online survey conducted by Survey Monkey. A total of 1,388 U.S. small business owners completed the survey between October 25-29, 2016.

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