Vacations as a Forcing Function

One thing I continually try to do in my career is to work myself out of a job. My goal is to move things into a state where I could step away and all of my projects would keep running. That usually means that I am then free to take on other, more challenging tasks. That is how I grow.

I do this by:

  • automating the monotonous parts
  • building tools so others can help themselves instead of needing me
  • delegating items where eager owners arise
  • putting lightweight process in place to keep me out of day to day
  • dropping anything that isn’t adding value

In reality, this isn’t always easy. There are challenges that don’t go down without a fight, processes that don’t get adopted, fires that pop up and my own ego that ties me to things that should have long ago been abandoned or delegated.

Vacations are a forcing function. Especially truly offline vacations of one week or more. In preparation for leaving you are forced to account for the deliverables you own on a regular basis and assign them to a temporary owner. There must be someone else with the context to answer questions, tools to make decisions and confidence to react to the unknown circumstances that might occur.

Vacations are also a litmus test. If you aren’t able to take an offline vacation it indicates something about the state of your affairs – they aren’t in order. If that is the case it is very unlikely that you are able to on a monthly or weekly basis lift your head up and identify or invest in strategic future facing projects. You are too busy fighting the fires of the day.

If you aren’t able to step away for a week without the ship sinking. The ship is likely sinking anyways. Though it might be doing so slowly – you can rest assured that your strategy is not a long term one. A single person can not keep a leaking boat afloat forever.

How confident are you in the systems you have put in place? Can you go one week without being involved?

If not, please don’t consider it a mark of pride – one that indicates you are too valuable to be away. Realize that it is a mark of failure – one that shows you aren’t able to build a team strong enough to carry on for even one week, let alone grow into the future.

Take a vacation and force yourself to fix that.