Because our business promise to our advisor clients is to help them create their ideal life in four years, or less, I have learned a lot about what it means to many advisors to have their ideal life.
There is always an element of working less and enjoying other aspects of life more. More time for family, more time for non-work fun activities, more time to be physically fit and healthy, more time to make a difference, more time for spiritual exploration or enlightenment and more time to just relax and "be." This article will explore the challenges even the most successful advisors face to take more real vacation and tactics you can implement to truly unplug from work.
What is a real vacation? A real vacation is when you are completely unplugged from work. That means no business e-mail, no business phone calls, no checking the market, no reading of business books or business magazines, no business conversations, no client calls, no contact with your staff, etc. Can you imagine a week like this? In a word, glorious! How would taking real vacation benefit your family, your physical health and your mental health? Real vacation makes you a better human being. And everything that makes you a better human also makes you a better advisor.
This past March I was helicopter skiing in a remote area of British Columbia. There were about a half dozen financial advisors and investment people on the trip. (They were with a different group than the friends I was with.) As much fun as everyone was having, it was obvious that the financial folks were not completely unplugged. They had regular discussions about the markets, clients and investment portfolios, and they were all staying in touch with their offices via their laptops, iPads and smart phones. And these were all very successful financial professionals who, I imagine, said to themselves at some point in their past, "Someday when I am very successful, I will take real vacations where I fully unplug from work." Sometimes being successful is easier to accomplish than fully enjoying that success.
Why don't financial advisors take more real vacation? Here are a few reasons I have heard from advisors:
Fear that they can't really afford to.
Feel that good customer service means being on call 24/7, especially being available for "emergencies."
Ego. Being available to solve problems and put out fires makes them feel important.
Fear that their staff will not stay on track/be productive if the boss doesn't check in.
Fear of being overwhelmed when returning from a real vacation with a mountain of e-mails, phone calls and tasks.
The bottom line is that staying connected to your office, your clients and the market is a choice, not a need. Here are a few tactics you can implement to work toward taking more real vacation.
1. Do your business-planning math differently.
One of my mentors, Norman Levine, the co-author of our book High-Trust Leadership, has a great tactic for taking 12 weeks per year for vacation and community service. He simply divides his business revenue goal by 40 weeks instead of 52. He then puts 12 weeks of vacation and community service on his calendar in the beginning of the year and is highly productive during his 40 revenue-generating weeks. He assumes, rightly so, that if he's focused and productive during his 40 work weeks that he can earn all the money he needs in those 40 weeks. What would have to happen for you to be more productive at work so you can take more real vacation?
2. Set expectations with your clients that there are no financial services emergencies that require yours and only your attention.
(A client having an inappropriate emotional overreaction to a world event, market event or economic event that is beyond everyone's control is NOT an emergency.) What conversations do you need to have with your clients so they don't mind you taking a few weeks of real vacation per year?
3. Choose quality of life over the ego of feeling important.
Hard truth: People a lot more important than you have died and the world has continued to function. Like it or not, businesses find new leaders, clients move on and are happy, spouses fall in love again and get remarried, and children go on to lead happy and productive lives. You are just not as important to the world as you might like to think you are. Get over yourself and take some real time off. The world will not be nudged off its axis because you're not contributing today. What has to happen to manage your ego so you can take more real vacation?
4. Empower staff to be accountable to results, whether you are at the office or not.
Consider communicating something like this in your next performance meeting with your key staff: "The reason you have this job is to get things done without my direction. You are worth a lot more to me and this organization as a person who can figure things out than you are if you need to double-check everything with me." The bottom line is that you simply might not be working with the right people. The only way to find out is to empower them to be accountable for results. If they produce the results, you have the right people. If they don't, you don't. When will you have this important conversation with your key staff people so you can take more real vacation?
5. Establish a process with your staff for communicating with you when you return.
Here is the e-mail I sent to my direct reports before that ski trip I mentioned earlier: Just a friendly reminder that I will be out of e-mail and phone communication March 26-31st, so please follow the process. Which is: Please do NOT send me multiple e-mails on various subjects throughout the week. Instead, maintain a place where you capture everything that you want/need to communicate to me and send me one e-mail on Friday afternoon. It is helpful if you prioritize the action items in your e-mail.