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The Absolute WORST Day to Take a Vacation (It’s Not When You Think!)

The Absolute WORST Day to Take a Vacation (It’s Not When You Think!)

    I need a vacation.

    For the last couple of months, I’ve been working like crazy getting my book ready for publication, and laying all the groundwork to promote it. I coordinated with my 30 contributing authors to get their chapters polished and ready, I got the books designed, printed, and then shipped out to reviewers, and I’ve written dozens of guest posts to help spread the word.

    Not to mention producing two video trailers, putting together a sweet launch offer, coordinating with reviewers… and doing everything I have to do as part of day-to-day client work.

    All to say that I’m tired, and I could use a break.

    And the book is done, launched last week – isn’t it time for me to be able to kick back and enjoy the fruits of my labor?

    When You’re Supposed to Take a Vacation

      The prevailing wisdom states that our lives should follow a pattern that looks more or less like the one depicted to the right;

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      1. We choose a new goal – something that is important to us, that we’re willing to put time and energy into achieving.
      2. We work towards that goal. A lot. There are setbacks along the way, but we keep on trucking.
      3. We evaluate our success. As long as we haven’t achieved that goal, we buckle down and get back to work.
      4. Finally, we achieve the goal. Success! Victory! Now it’s time to reward ourselves with a vacation.

      And of course, when we get back from vacation, it’s time to set a new goal, and start the whole cycle over again.

      This is the prevailing wisdom, and according to the prevailing wisdom, I should be packing my bags right about now; after all, the book is published, the guest posts are written, the marketing is all done – in other words, the work has been completed, and the goal has been achieved.

      Except that the prevailing wisdom is wrong, wrong, wrong. To understand why it’s wrong, we have to understand where it came from…

      Vacations in a Corporate Setting

      The prevailing wisdom comes from the corporate reality, and in that setting, the prevailing wisdom makes sense.

      The job of managers in a corporate environment is to make sure that other people do theirs. To do that effectively, they have to do two things (in addition to giving clear instructions and allocating the actual work, of course):

      1. Manage employees’ motivation. If employees aren’t motivated to get the job done, then they probably won’t. It’s the manager’s job to keep employees motivated to keep on working.
      2. Manage employees’ energy level. If employees are tired or burned out, then they won’t get much work done, either. It’s the manager’s job to manage workloads, and make sure that doesn’t happen.

      Putting a vacation at the end of a project helps to achieve both of these objectives; it rewards employees for their hard work, which helps to keep them motivated, and it gives them an opportunity to recharge, so that they’re ready for more hard work when they get back.

      But that logic doesn’t work if you’re running your own business, and in charge of your own income.

      For one, you shouldn’t need a vacation to reward you for your hard work; the results of your hard work should be all the reward that you need. That’s the beauty of doing your own thing – at least part of the reason why you do it is that you love it, and find the work itself to be motivating.

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      (This intrinsic motivation is also why I believe that entrepreneurs are capable of doing so much more actual work than corporate employees; if you want to learn more about that, check out Dan Pink’s RSA Animate video about his book Drive.)

      But even more importantly, because it doesn’t factor in two very important things: momentum, and the landscape of opportunity…

      Momentum is a Real Thing

      Momentum is a funny thing. You can’t touch it, or see it, but you can definitely feel it, and it can do wonderful things for your business. It is also the first big reason why you shouldn’t take a vacation after a big win.

      Here are three basic rules for understanding momentum:

      1. Wins create momentum.
      2. Action after a win multiplies momentum.
      3. Inaction dissipates momentum.

      Simple enough, and pretty intuitive, right?

      The upshot of these rules, though, is that after your big win, you should be doing everything that you can to ride and multiply the momentum, rather than taking a break and letting it dissipate.

      There’s an even better reason to work after a big win, though: wins change everything.

      The Changing Landscape of Opportunity

      Goals, by definition, are about changing something – if everything stayed exactly the same, then you wouldn’t have to work to achieve it. We have a lot of different kind of goals, but they all boil down to making us healthier, or happier, or better off. In other words, they’re about making our worlds a little bit better.

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      Better is good, but better is also different. It’s hard to change just one thing and leave everything else the same. Changing one thing changes everything. And when everything changes, new opportunities open up.

      Now let me ask you, as an entrepreneur – when new opportunities are opening up, is it time to take a vacation, or is it time to seize those opportunities? Any entrepreneur worth his salt would say that it’s the latter – that’s just a part of the mindset that allows entrepreneurs to do what they do…

      The Red Honda Effect and the Psychology of Success

      You know how when you start thinking about something, suddenly you start seeing it everywhere, as though you were “magnetically drawing it into your life”?

      Some people call it “the secret” or the “law of attraction”, but I call it the “red Honda effect”. Thinking about something doesn’t magically draw it towards you, but it does focus your attention, so that you start noticing it around you (just like when you’re thinking about buying a red Honda, you start seeing them everywhere).

      The same effect is at play when it comes to looking for opportunity. Just developing the mindset that opportunity is there, just waiting for you to find and seize it, will expand your frame of reference and allow you to see more possibilities.

      (Want to read more about this? Check out Mindset by Carol Dweck, or Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson.)

      Long story short? When things are going well, there’s always the opportunity to make them even better! :D Now, just to be clear, I’m not advocating the stereotype of the workaholic entrepreneur who never takes a break or vacation.

      What Vacations Are For, and When They’re Okay

      Entrepreneurs don’t need vacations to stay motivated, but we do need to manage our energy level, and vacations are a big part of that; it’s important for us to take breaks, breath some fresh air, and get some perspective on what we’re doing. In other words, even though we don’t need vacations as rewards, they’re great for resting and recharging – just so long as we don’t take one at a time that will take away our momentum, or kill an opportunity.

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      For an entrepreneur (or anyone who is in charge of their own income), vacations don’t come when projects are complete. On the contrary – they should come when the projects are still in progress, but you’re tired, and need to recharge to carry the ball the rest of the way:

        Celebrate, then Get Back to Work!

        Make sure not to skip the celebration box, because it’s important!

        As the diagram indicates, our projects aren’t as nice and neat as the projects of a corporate employee, with a start, middle, end, and vacation before the next one. Our projects are messy, and blend into each other in a continuum of work and the pursuit of opportunity.

        That’s great, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s also important to pause and celebrate the wins.

        After the launch, my wife and I went out to a nice restaurant, and raised our glasses to toast my book finally being done and launched to the world.

        But then the next day, I got back to work… ;)

        What about you? Do you believe in a vacation after a big win, or do you agree that this is the time to look for new opportunities, and build on your momentum?

        (Photo credit: Beach chair and umbrella from Shutterstock

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        Last Updated on April 23, 2019

        How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

        How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

        Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

        While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

        For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

        While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

        I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

        Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

        Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

        Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

        The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

        Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

        What Is a Stretch Goal?

        A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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        In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

        For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

        This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

        It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

        The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

        The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

        I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

        Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

        1. Get Outside of Your Head

        If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

        If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

        I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

        Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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        2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

        When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

        I see this in so many areas of life:

        When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

        In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

        “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

        Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

        3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

        When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

        The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

        For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

        We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

        From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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        When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

        Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

        4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

        S.M.A.R.T.

        is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

        While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

        Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

        For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

        By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

        5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

        I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

        The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

        When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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        One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

        Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

        I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

        A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

        As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

        From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

        The Bottom Line

        These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

        For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

        Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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