Monday, April 13, 2009

The inability to unplug

What is it that makes us stay so connected during vacation? Is it just that we have responsibilities that continue whether we are in the office or not, or is it a deeper level of co-dependency?

I took a few days off two weeks ago and found myself stressed if I could not stay connected and this caused me to examine what was going on with me and my teammates when we take time off.

I break the reasons to stay connected into three buckets
1. You have real work to do. This particularly happens to R&D. There's a major project under way (we have a fantastically exciting one coming up right now), you are responsible for a critical piece of design or implementation and the team can't wait for you. In this case we'll work at night or early in the morning on our vacations because the work is just too important to slip a day.

2. You need to keep other people moving along. This happens to sales. You've got business moving through the pipe, you want to keep the user evaluations going and if you're working paperwork for an order you want to keep your buyers on their toes and not delay the order. You may think me a hard driver, but when my sales guys take a vacation I ask them to stay connected with their pipeline and to keep their orders moving along. Since this affects their commission I rarely get any push back.

I also find myself in this mode for major projects. By staying on top of progress, reviewing documents, asking questions, I can keep the company's major activities running remotely.

This category is much more apparent in a small company than in a large company. When I ran a large business at Cadence I had a number of very senior people working for me (including YY who is with me at FirstRain) who kept everything moving without me, and the ship was so large, with so much inertia, nothing major would go wrong if I took a couple of weeks off. I remember taking 3 weeks one summer and telling the CEO I wouldn't be checking in but I was confident everything would be OK, and it was.

In a small company checking out completely is much more risky because everything is moving so fast and you don't have mass and inertia on your side. There just are major decisions every couple of days - strategy, design or deal related - which we make quickly by talking to each other frequently as the parameters of the decision make themselves visible to us.

So then that leads to the third reason
3. Peace of mind. This is probably the one that holds me to my iPhone/PC more than anything else when I am on vacation. I have hundreds of balls in the air at any one time with customers, partners, distributors, board members, projects and people and if I am out of contact and unable to practise #2 above I get incredibly stressed. Sad I know. On our college trip 2 weeks ago my husband and daughter dropped me at a Starbucks in Pomona for 2 hours so I could work and chill out.

I love what I do. No question. But I would like to learn the art of vacationing while running a small, rapidly moving company. I'm taking a week in Rome this summer with a friend who calls me on my b.s. We'll see how much of my stress she'll take before she ditches me in a Roman internet cafe.

1 comment:

tom brakke said...

It's hard to do. I just returned from five days being completely unplugged (it did include a weekend) and it was fabulous.

I anticipated my journey with a posting in advance on the tools we use and have done two since (with more to come) on how we gather information and how connected we need to be. Running a growing business like you do is probably the toughest case, but the same issues still apply.

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