You Need a Vacation

Being too busy should never be a reason you forego taking some time off to relax. Here’s how to plan a getaway without your business suffering.

April 7, 2015

Here’s an oxymoron: becoming a successful real estate professional so you can take the best vacations. This business is 24/7, and many can’t find the time to go anywhere but to client appointments. Doesn’t traveling require time away from work? Who can afford to do that?

Cue Sarita Dua, ABR, GRI, principal broker with Keller Williams Realty Professionals in Portland, Ore. Last year, she served 158 clients and closed $68 million in sales — in between the 68 days she took off to travel to Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and around the United States. While a few of the trips combined business and pleasure, Dua plans to take even more vacation days this year. Her goal is to replicate last year’s sales volume while taking 100 days off.

That probably sounds unimaginable to most. In our increasingly workaholic society, taking a vacation — not to be confused with the recently popular “staycation,” which can easily turn into an extended work-from-home period — is becoming a rarity. It’s not a phenomenon only for busy entrepreneurs who fear stepping away from their business for too long. American workers collectively passed on $52.4 billion in employer benefits in 2013 by not taking all of their paid time off, according to the U.S. Travel Association. That year, employees took an average of 16 vacation days, down from 20.3 days in 2000.

But an abundance of research has shown that working longer has the opposite effect on people than intended. It doesn’t mean they get more done; it makes them less productive. “People are craving some sort of rest,” says Tanya Schevitz, spokesperson for Reboot, a Jewish think tank that’s aimed at redrawing cultural norms and has coined the annual National Day of Unplugging in March. Making time to get away from it all will help you stay better focused when you’re in work mode, but what happens to your business if you go on vacation? Can you be totally unplugged while you’re gone? After all, your clients depend on you to be available.

Dua and other practitioners who make vacationing a priority on their calendars say it’s all about planning ahead and getting support to keep your business functioning when you’re out. Here are some of their tips for breaking away without breaking down.

Plan Vacation Time You Can Commit To

Your vacation schedule won’t be the same as the rest of the workforce. Most people consider taking a trip in spring or summer, but that’s when the real estate market is at its busiest. Plan to get away during your slower periods, which may coincide with off-peak travel times. These are times when you are less likely to have to change plans at the last minute because of business obligations, so planning a getaway should be less stressful.

Don Faught, CRS, GRI, vice president and managing broker at Alain Pinel, REALTORS®, in Pleasanton, Calif., and his wife, Leslie, a sales associate in the company’s Livermore office, have taken the same two individual weeks every year for the last three years to stay at the same resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “We know exactly where we will be every year during those weeks, and it’s a commitment that we keep,” Don says.

Though you might not want to travel to the same place every year, planning a vacation at the same time annually gives you built-in days to get away. Because of the unpredictability of the real estate business, scheduling vacation at different times of the year can easily become unmanageable. “Real estate is a lifestyle,” Leslie says. “We have long hours and need to be accessible to clients, but you have to take breaks and vacations to be able to turn off and re-energize.”

Their breaks are much-needed: Don oversees 80 agents and is on the National Association of REALTORS® Board of Directors. In 2013, he traveled 230 days in his official capacity as president of the California Association of REALTORS®. Leslie says the yearly retreat to the Mexican Riviera strengthens their 17-year marriage.

Have Support While You’re Gone

Dua is confident her business won’t fall apart even if she’s out of the office for 100 days this year because she has a team she can rely on. She has a transaction coordinator, a listing coordinator, and three buyer’s agents who can hold down the fort in her absence. But even with a team, you may need to hire support for the time you’re gone. Because her travel goals are becoming loftier, Dua recently hired a director of operations who acts as her “mission control,” keeping the team on track whenever she’s out.

Of course, not everyone has a team to fall back on. Individual agents can try the buddy system: Pair up with other agents in your office to help each other out when you’re absent. Leslie Faught has a couple of agents in her office who act as the point person for her clients while she is away, and she returns the favor when her colleagues need a break, too.

“My colleagues continue to keep in very good contact with my clients while I am away,” Leslie says. “About a month ahead of our vacations, I will start informing clients of my time away and let them know they will be well taken care of. This works wonderfully because they know what to expect. There are no surprises. It allows me to fully relax and recharge. And clients are appreciative and understanding.”

How Off-the-Grid Can You Be?

Many people worry that taking a vacation will impact their productivity at work, so they never truly stop working. Forty-four percent of employed U.S. adults say they check their work e-mail at least once a day when they are on vacation, according to a 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association. Even more report doing the same on weekends, weeknights after work, and when they are home sick.

Why are we all so afraid to turn off? According to a survey by global human resources services provider Randstad, 77 percent of employees say the work pileup they return to after vacation is the biggest aspect that prevents them from enjoying time off. Of note, Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds), more than any other age group, say they find it hard to enjoy vacation time, according to a separate Randstad survey.

There’s no arguing that detaching from work, hard though it may be, has a lot of psychological benefits. If your goal is to be totally unplugged while on vacation, then you’ll need to be comfortable with someone else handling your potentially sensitive information. Dua advises that you have someone in your office check your e-mail for you daily to avoid the dreaded e-mail buildup when you return. You can set up a priority e-mail folder in your inbox before you leave, and that’s where someone can file important e-mails for you. Otherwise, direct them to respond to or delete noncritical e-mails.

Also, make sure to let people know ahead of time that you plan to be incommunicado while on vacation — but pick the time to tell them wisely. “Don’t tell them too far in advance,” Dua says. “I find that if you tell people too far in advance, you stress them out.” She suggests letting people know about two weeks ahead of your trip, and emphasize that you have a support team to take care of them during your time away.

In case of an emergency, make sure your team has a hotel phone number where you can be reached. “But how many times is there a true emergency?” Schevitz notes.

If you can’t bring yourself to go completely off the grid, set some guidelines for yourself. Check your phone every three hours, and check your e-mail in the evening after you’ve enjoyed the day. Give yourself a time frame — one hour, for example — to dedicate to work e-mail.

Schevitz left the tech behind, including her phone and camera, when she took a vacation with her two children, ages 6 and 11, to Mexico in November. Despite not having any pictures to document the journey, Schevitz says she felt truly rested. “I was dreading coming back, not because of the crush of e-mails but because I was in such a great state of relaxation,” she adds. “It makes a huge difference to put away the phone.”

When You Return, Dive Back In

Most people probably can’t transition back to work with lightning speed the way Dua can. When she returned from a family trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in March, Dua landed at 10:47 a.m. After leaving the airport, she headed to a showing at 1 p.m., then zipped over to an appointment at 3, met a buyer at 5, and finished the day with a 6:30 listing appointment.

“Most people spend one week getting ready for vacation, one week on vacation, and one week” mentally getting back to the job, Dua says. “But I downshift and upshift pretty swiftly, so I can be incredibly efficient.”

For those who don’t move at warp speed, think ahead and make small preparations to minimize the stress of the first day back at work. Have a few basic groceries delivered to your house — milk, juice, eggs, bread, butter, and coffee, for instance — so you can start the day with a healthy breakfast. Set out your work clothes the night before to ease the shock of going from flip-flops to wingtips. Get your car ready to gear up again by filling up with gas and checking the tire pressure.

Once you’re back in the office, use that first day wisely. You can show the vacation slide show later; take the first day to request updates from staff members, administrators, or colleagues. Arrange a first-day-back lunch with the team to catch up and get back into the professional grove. And sift through e-mails, deleting junk and contributing to a more organized transition.

Schevitz says it took her about two hours to go through her personal and work e-mails after her last trip. “But if you think about it, it is worth investing that time when you come back to have the real time away,” she says.

While there are obvious production advantages to getting right back to work, Leslie says to consider the emotional benefits of taking a down day after returning from vacation and before heading back to the office. “I take one extra day at home to unpack and get everything back together, do laundry, go to the store, and prepare,” she says. “It really helps me get centered and find my bearings.”

It can take a bit of work to plan a vacation around a busy business, but in the end, it will all be worth it. Just imagine how much more refreshed you’ll feel and how ready you’ll be to get back to the grind once you’ve had some time off. And not the least of the benefits of getting away is the chance to just live your life. Dua, who plans to take 50 consecutive days off in Europe this summer, admits the adventure will require “a couple more pieces in terms of key hires or vacation coverage. But I am motivated to pull it off. My children are in eighth and tenth grades, and the memories we make are priceless.”