The Ultimate Test of my Business Systems

Are you anything like me?

Going on vacation has always been a real test, both for how well I can unplug from work and also how well my business runs without me.

Maybe you can relate. You know you need to take time off to rest and recharge. You also love your work and get a little nervous about all those unread emails and how things are being handled in your absence.

Last week I decided to keep a running log of my vacation activities and how my two businesses operate, both completely without me and then what ends up needing my attention or intervention.

Guilford Family Counseling is 5 years old and quite stable with a good team in place. Productive Therapist is 3 years old and in growth mode, so it requires a bit more attention, but I also have a good team in that business.

One week prior I communicated with my leadership team about my vacation and arranged personal email and phone coverage by my practice manager Jamie.

I also notified all of my employees about my time away and let them know to contact Jamie with questions or concerns.


Jamie reminded me that Tiffany, our virtual intake coordinator was also going to be off on Monday because she requested a long weekend for the 4th of July. Tiffany and I were both going to be gone on Monday.

Shoot! Major fail right there.

I messaged Jamie back asking if she could cover, but it was literally the 4th of July so I didn’t expect her to respond right away.


We packed up the kids and the car to head off on our trip. Of course this took forever. LOL. My wife found me on the computer and asked what I was doing . . . just wrapping up a few work tasks before we leave, I said. I was clearing my email inbox and I checked our messaging system again to see if Jamie had responded about Monday. I shut everything down and did a good job just being with my family for the rest of the day.

I moved all my work apps into a separate folder on my iPhone and put them on the second screen, so I wouldn’t fall right back into my muscle memory habits. Check email, open ToDoist, check Quip for new messages, etc.

However, I didn’t do this on my iPad and caught myself checking again at 10pm. 🙁 Still no message from Jamie and I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to return phone calls and emails on my first full day of vacation.

Note to self: continue training Vanessa, our newest VA who will be providing backup for Tiffany going forward.


Today I am committed to not working, focusing on my family and getting some solid relaxation in. I’m reading the book Dream Big by Bob Goff and I wrote the following quote in my journal. “Sometimes the best way to make progress is by sitting still. Rest is wise.” Right on target.

I’m planning on not checking my chat messages until 10am. If Jamie is not able to cover for the day, I will step in and check 2-3 times.

Just checked my messages again. Jamie is all set to cover the phones today. She just needed the password to the GFC support email address. Now I am off to the pool to swim with my kids and read a magazine about backyard barbecuing.

End of day report:

It was a great day of reading, playing video games (Bioshock Infinite), swimming and dinner with friends. I didn’t get any work related texts or phone calls from either business. I enjoyed the day and didn’t check my email or do any work.

Actually, I guess I should be totally honest. I did check in on the time tracked by my virtual assistants and I did reorganize some of my to-do lists.


I got a call from Jamie at 9:17am and found out that one of our newer virtual assistants quit on the spot. Jamie felt badly for bothering me, but it was necessary. We had a 10 minute phone call to figure out next steps and I went about my day.

Trying not to worry too much, but of course my mind is at work trying to sort out how to solve the problems we are facing and strengthen the business.

Fortunately, we are headed to Lake Alpine today for a hike and possibly family canoe trip. I’m going to leave my business in Jamie’s capable hands. My wife told me I should do something special for her and I agree!

We had an amazing day. Picnic on Lake Alpine, short hike, canoe paddle out to an island and a chilly swim.

End of day report:

Today definitely threw me a curve ball. However, Jamie handled things very well. I did have to spend about 30 minutes on work related texts and one phone call, but it didn’t ruin my vacation at all.

I ended up even more determined to improve my business, while also coming to terms with what “could happen” if everything completely fell apart. LOL. I am not defined by my business success or failure. And I want to design my business to serve my life versus being a slave to my business.

More work to be done, but still I am proud of what I have built up to this present moment.


I felt a little restless and unsure about what to do with myself this morning. I think I am detoxing from work a bit. Ha! Got a message from Jamie to enjoy the rest of my vacation and that she has things covered. That makes me feel good for sure.

I spent the day at the pool, eating ice cream, playing games and reading. Feeling quite relaxed and a little more content without needing to be productive all the time.

I did spend a few minutes designing a new morning routine, based on an interview with Hugh Jackman on the Tim Ferris podcast. I also came up with some new ambitions to reach for, including going on a guided backpacking trip in a remote or exotic location.

New morning routine

  • Wake at 7am
  • Read for 20 minutes
  • Make tea for my wife and I
  • Write for 20 minutes (journaling and/or work content)
  • Write down top 3 priorities for the day
  • Take a 30 minute walk
  • Work for 60 minutes on my top 3
  • Check email around 10am
  • Back to the top 3

During some family down time I did somehow slip into my email for about 45 minutes or so. I cleaned things up and responded to a few Productive Therapist client emails.

Everything I did was not necessary and it could have waited, but I did feel a little better getting things organized so I won’t have to tackle it all when I get home. However, I am realizing again that I really need to try to batch my email processing and keep it to a few times per day versus all day long. Huge productivity killer.


Today we made a trip to the little mining town Columbia for lunch, tea and a little shopping. Then some pool time and finally dinner at the country club in Copperopolis where my friend Ivan is the head chef.

All is quiet with my group practice. Jamie has been handling the routine questions and issues around client balances and other small things. Tiffany is signing up new clients and handling intake as a pro like usual. GFC has not skipped a beat.

The only problems that have happened this week are related to Productive Therapist. My counseling practice is very stable and runs efficiently. TPT does have more moving parts and needs more attention, at least at this moment in time.

At this point, my evaluation is that my business systems are solid and my leadership team is even better. I would love to move forward with planning a 3-4 week vacation in 2021. Clockwork style!


Today we are packing up to head home. This was a pretty short vacation, but we enjoyed it. We are going to Murphy’s to get apple donuts, visit our favorite toy store and walk around the little Irish town.

I’m looking forward to getting back to my work, but also reflecting on how I want to avoid letting it take over my every waking hour. I need to be more intentional about how I work, as well as how I rest and how I play.

Interestingly enough, every time I take time away from my email and my work tasks I realize how much my business actually does not need all of my attention, all of the time.

I am so grateful to have two businesses that can operate without me, so I can have time freedom and financial freedom!

What are your tips for unplugging from work and getting some proper down time? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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