The Upside Of Downtime

Professors take sabbaticals, law enforcement officers have paid-administrative leave, and employees have PTO, but business owners rarely ever stop. While this can lead to sickness and mental health issues, there may be another consequence we don’t take into account: Our busyness hurts our business

As a business coach and consultant, I’ve come to admire small-business owners immensely. They are the heart of the American economy providing vital jobs for communities. I’ve observed that at the beginning of a start-up, business owners spend countless hours imagining and thinking through their business model and core values. Or just before buying out an existing business, much thought goes into how things could or should be different once ownership is transferred. 

Roll the clock forward a few years, and the day-to-day “running of the business” prevents the average owner from truly “owning the business.” When you are running your business 24/7, you find out that the business actually owns you. There is rarely any time for thinking, processing, planning, and strategizing. 

We all know this is a recipe for burnout (for the owner and all involved), but we don’t often make time to take a business break. To be clear, I’m not talking about a break from the business, I’m talking about a break!

“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.”

Warren Buffett

Here are some benefits of taking a break for your business. 

    This can only happen if you take time…and make time to think. Warren Buffet estimated he spends 80% of his time reading the thinking. However, this can only happen if you have a structure of personnel to support your work. Small business owners may find it better to take a few days for concentrated seasons of thinking. 

    Setting aside a few days can pay dividends down the road. However, you will take a few hours (if not a couple of days) to actually enter into “thinking mode.” You’ll need to find a time, place, and opportunity for this. Here’s what you’ll need to make this happen:
    • TRUST your team
    • SCHEDULE a space conducive to your goals
    • PLAN your beginning to ensure you shift into thinking mode
    • DON’T set yourself up for failure by known distractions 
    • DO make it a get-away, not just stay-away
    When I took my business management courses at CSUS (California State University – Sacramento), I was surprised to learn the science behind the 40-hour workweek. In summary, the professor noted that humans are good for about 35 hours of productive work each week. Add in lunch, breaks, etc. and you end up with 40 hours.

    He went on to note that most work done after 40 hours – on an ongoing basis – produced substandard work that often had to be redone or reworked the next day. This led to workers having to stay after to clean up yesterday’s mess before they could get to today’s list…ironically leading to an even longer day in constant catch-up mode. It becomes a vicious, under-productive cycle for many owners and workers.

    OSHA Studies note::
    • “Worker fatigue increases the risk for illnesses and injuries. Accident and injury rates are 18% greater during evening shifts and 30% greater during night shifts when compared to day shifts. Research indicates that working 12 hours per day is associated with a 37% increased risk of injury.”

As owners, we know this is true for our workers, but often assume it’s not true for us. Think again! (pun intended)


Self-care has become a buzzword for many and can be misused. However, the psychology behind self-care is critical for anyone in leadership positions.

Bill Gates has often been cited for his “think week” practice that began in the ’90s. Each year, he would seclude himself from society and technology to read, think, process and plan. Some of the greatest Microsoft products resulted from this practice.

Here’s the point: Taking care of yourself on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis is critical for successful business leadership. The best business owners are also the best business leaders…meaning, you understand leadership may be the single most important component for success. notes 8 essential practices for self-care for the entrepreneur. While their list is focused on daily routines, their summary sentence states, “It’s about taking time to be self-aware; to gather your thoughts, reflect on the day and take stock of where you’re at and where you’re headed.”

Good leaders build this intentionally into their rhythms and life flow (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, and every 3-5 years).

Owning a business is an amazing opportunity. Coaches and consultants who support business owners know the importance of disciplined, intentional time to think, plan, and imagine. If you want your business to win, then you have to train yourself to think. Make the time and experience the difference!