The Right Way to Take a Working Vacation

You wake up at 6:30, refreshed after a good sleep, and look out your hotel window at Kensington Gardens, already lit up with sunlight. Summer days in England, you remember, are very long.

“So much the better,” you think, for it’s going to be a good day. You throw on sweats, take the elevator down to the small lobby of the Milestone Hotel. The receptionist and concierge wish you a bright “Good morning.” Outside in the shade, the air is bracingly cool. But across the street in the park, you are warm in the morning sun. Walking along the pond, you feel glad to be in London.

At 7:00, you are having breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Twenty minutes later, you are in a taxi passing Westminster Abbey on your way to work. “I’ve got to see that again,” you remind yourself. At 7:30, you are sitting at your desk in the temporary office they’ve set up for you. Your view from the seventh floor of the Sea Containers House overlooks the Thames.

For the next four hours, you help run this business. There are meetings to attend, interviews to conduct, memos to write and read. It is an ordinary working day in some respects, but it’s more intense and is finished before noon. At 11:30, you are exercising. Ninety minutes later, you are having lunch in Wagamama’s, a trendy Asian restaurant near your hotel.

The afternoon is devoted to fun: sightseeing, shopping, gallery hunting. You return to the hotel at 6:00 for a sauna or a nap, and then dress for dinner at a local restaurant that the concierge has recommended. You enjoy Prosecco with your first course (a yellow bean salad), Bordeaux with your second course (a grass-fed steak), and a Muscat with dessert (berries and cream). Walking home, passing white stone townhouses that you guess must be worth five to 10 million dollars apiece, you enjoy a small Tuscanella cigar.

By 10:00, you are comfortably settled in your bed, a good book in hand, looking forward to another amazing day.

Welcome to the four-hour workday.

What I’ve just described is more or less the life I have been living for about a week now. And it’s the life I hope to continue living for five more weeks this summer.

Last year, I spent the month of June in Chicago, writing Ready, Fire, Aim in the morning and touring the city with K in the afternoon. It worked out great – both in terms of the amount of work I got done and the amount of fun K and I had. So this year, I am extending my “working vacation” to six weeks.

It’s a nice schedule. But I’m not fooling myself. It’s not something I could have done years ago, when my business interests needed more of my attention. Nor is it something I can do now all year round. But for six (maybe eight?) weeks a year, yes.

You can do it too – enjoy a working vacation of half-days. The idea is that instead of taking a two- or three-week vacation without work, take a four- to six-week vacation working just four hours a day.

“A four-hour workday,” you are thinking. “Wasn’t there a book published recently on that subject? Didn’t I read about it in ETR?”

Yes, there was a book published called Work a Four-Hour Day.  It was published years ago. I have it in my library.

But that’s not the one you are thinking of. You are thinking of a book called The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss. Ferriss’s book has been on the best-seller lists for months. And it will likely stay there for some time to come.

The book’s success is a tribute to his great skill at social media advertising. (MaryEllen Tribby and I take a look at what he did in Chapter 4 of our soon-to-be-published book Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Extra Millions for Your Business.) But it is also due to its title: The idea that you can run a profitable business working just four hours a week is very tempting. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

In the book, Ferriss says he managed to reduce his workweek to four hours by using freelance executives and services linked together by the Internet. I only half-believe him. I believe he was able to keep his business going by working only a few hours a week while he was traveling to Asia. But when he came back home, I’ll bet his working hours shot way up – maybe even into the 60- to 80-hour workweeks that are normal for successful entrepreneurs.

Ferriss admits that spending so little time on his business when he was away created some problems – including customer service problems – that he had to straighten out when he got back. That’s not a business practice you want to perpetuate. Good service means good service all the time – which is what you have to provide if you want to develop a multimillion-dollar business.

Tim Ferriss’s four-hour workweek is an exaggeration. But it’s a useful exaggeration, because it emphasizes a welcome fact: that you don’t have to work 60 to 80 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, to have a good business. You can take extended vacations. And during those vacations, you can work much less than you do when you are home.

But I don’t think you can get away with just four hours a week. I’m happy with four hours a day.

I recommend The 4-Hour Workweek because it’s full of the kind of good sensible advice you can get only from people who have succeeded by doing what they’re telling you to do – though I doubt Ferriss has been able to live his dream since the debut of his book. While it’s true that you can put your business on remote control when it is small and stagnant – and if you have very good people helping you run it – once it starts growing, the way Ferriss’s business must be growing, you can’t possibly neglect it benignly. And make no mistake about it, working only four hours a week is benign neglect.

Growing businesses create new and challenging problems for the entrepreneur. These are not the sort of problems that can be delegated to the troops. The founding father must get involved at some level. And if the business is growing quickly, this demand alone will consume more than four hours a week.

If you want to grow your business – and enjoy the benefits of a growing business – don’t set your heart to the dream of the four-hour workweek. It’s much more realistic to assume you’ll be working 60 to 80 hours a week. That’s how much time Bill Bonner works. And MaryEllen Tribby. And Brian Tracy. And Charlie Byrne. And Jay Abraham. And just about every expert whose advice you read in ETR.

But once you have hired a few superstars to help you run your business, you can start working on reducing your hours from 80 to 60 and then to 40. And you can start extending your vacations from zero to two weeks to four and to eight, while working four-hour days like I’m doing now.

I like and recommend the four-hour workday extended vacation. I like it better – much better – than a shorter vacation where I’m doing nothing. Extended, half-day working vacations offer the following benefits:

  • You don’t have to worry about anything really bad happening to your business while you are on vacation.
  • For four hours a day, you focus on the most important, most rewarding business work you do.
  • You give your superstars a chance to upgrade their skills and build their confidence (which makes it easier for you to take another, possibly longer, extended vacation next year).
  • If you are vacationing with a friend or spouse, you give them the chance to do their thing while you are doing yours.
  • You never feel guilty about being on vacation.

It helps, of course, to have an international business like I have, with offices in top vacation spots like Paris and London and Buenos Aires. But even if your business is based entirely in the U.S., you can still take an extended working vacation somewhere else – in Europe or the Caribbean, for example – as long as the place you choose has high-speed Internet access, which is almost universal today.

Here’s all you have to do:

  • Schedule the time. If you plan to take two weeks of workless vacation, schedule four weeks of half-days.
  • Identify your priorities. To stay on top of the most important aspects of your business, analyze how you currently spend your time and identify the tasks that have the biggest long-term effect on profitability. Generally speaking, 20 percent of the work you do will create 80 percent of the long-term profits. Figure out what those tasks are. During your vacation, focus on them.
  • Identify your time wasters. While you are identifying your most productive tasks, identify your biggest time wasters. If you’re like me, most of them have to do with e-mail. So, well before you leave, let everyone you work with know that you’ll be on vacation – and ask them to e-mail you only if absolutely necessary. (You’ll be amazed by how many questions and concerns people can handle on their own if you give them a chance – which you should be doing anyway.)
  • Stick to your schedule. You’ll be tempted to work more than four hours a day as demands for your time come in. Resist it. A vacation that involves six- or eight-hour workdays is unfair to your vacationing partner and not much fun at all. The best way I’ve found to stick with my schedule is to get to work before everybody else so I have some time alone (which is what I’m doing here in London) and schedule something (like my 11:30 Jiu Jitsu workout) that forces me to leave on time.

So here’s something you can do today … something fun over a glass of wine this evening. Get out an atlas or go online … and start dreaming.

For inspiration, here are a few ideas from the folks here at ETR:

Jason Holland, ETR’s Editorial Assistant, recommends Costa Rica, the Caribbean, and Sevilla (southern Spain). Prince Edward Island and Tokyo are favorites of Sharika Kellogg, ETR’s Customer Service Manager.

Suzanne Richardson, ETR’s Managing Editor, is wild about Berlin, Stockholm, and Warsaw. “Warsaw is a surprisingly beautiful city,” she says. “And the history and spirit of resilience you encounter around every corner makes the whole city shine.” If you prefer to stay in the States, she suggests the Swan Valley in Montana.

ETR’s Associate Publisher, Charlie Byrne, likes to stay state-side. He says, “Since I live in Florida, it’s nice to escape the intense heat in the summer. I love heading up to New England … in particular, the coast of Maine. While my friends are suffering in swamp-like conditions down south, I’m enjoying cool ocean breezes, brisk walks amidst the tall pine trees, and romantic foggy evenings in front of the fireplace. And that’s in the middle of July! The peace and quiet (and the 4:30 a.m. dawns!) provide an ideal environment for putting in four hours or so of work in the morning and still enjoying the rest of the day.”

You may come up with an altogether different idea that’s right for you. Just take that mental tour of the world this evening – and then let us know where you’ll be spending your first working vacation

[Ed. Note: When you have an Internet business, you truly can work from anywhere in the world. Setting up a fully functioning business is easier than you may think. Get step-by-step guidance – and secrets to making your business grow – from ETR’s marketing and business-building experts. Learn more here.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.