I remember the dot com era well. Everything was rush, rush, rush. I wasn't used to it, and I didn't embrace it. I had just made a transition from the commercial real estate development industry to the tech industry. I was used to projects taking 3-5 years. Patience was definitely a virtue in that business. Then I was thrust into an environment that if you didn't get something done in the next three hours, people were mad; and someone else did the job instead. I know it's been said a sense of urgency is one of the pillars of a great company, but I think many times it hurts more than it helps.
I say this in the context of Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; a bible of sorts for time/work management. In the book he describes four quadrants, with the axes of his graph urgency and importance. His says urgent/important "Quadrant 1" issues should take top priority, but most people spend too much time doing "Quadrant 3" urgent/not-important and "Quadrant 4" not-urgent/not-important activities. He goes on to say the goal is to spend as much time as possible in "Quadrant 2", the important/not-urgent sector; which if done right, will actually decrease the amount of urgent/important items that come up.
So what is urgent/not-important? In a word, strategy. It's thinking past your nose. And my one take away from the dot com era was not too many people thought past their nose. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we should all sit around in a conference room and talk about how we're going to conquer the world. I've seen too many start-ups that did only that. Things need to get done. If I had to pick a word for what I'm trying to say on this point, it's balance.
Obviously, it's a goal of everyone to achieve success at work; being energetic, getting things done, and making a difference in the marketplace. The opposite would be being tired, scattered, frazzled, and spinning your wheels or making constant missteps. As Covey points out, the best way to achieve this goal is to have the proper balance of urgency and importance. I will add my opinion that one of the best ways to be balanced at work is to be able to step away for the fire. Zoom out, as the management consultants like to say, and take a looking-down-with-an-outside perspective of your work environment and your role therein.
And this is where vacation comes in. Vacation allows you to get away from it all, charge your batteries, have time to think strategically, and come back to work ready to put the war paint on and go slay the world. But this doesn't seem to happen often enough in the start-up world here in the U.S. And why is that? It's simple. Start-up employees in the U.S. don't take enough vacation. It's a day here or there, or as some like to brag "I haven't taken a day off in two years". Rarely is there a one or two, let alone three to four, week-long stretch to get away from it all; really checking out, recharging, and having the time think differently.
I, fortunately, don't have that problem. The reason is that I work for a European company, and Europeans have live/work balance down way better than we do in the U.S. There is a list of 11 reasons on Jimdo's website why it's cool to work here, and many speak to live/work balance; flex schedules, no workaholics need apply, and vacation. Simply put, I get more vacation here than any other job I have had in the U.S., and it's paying dividends.
One of the co-founders said to me that people don't travel enough in the U.S., and he said the main reason was U.S. employees don't get enough vacation. I couldn't agree more with him. Vacation lets you travel, which in turn is one of the best ways to truly get away from it all. To put it succinctly, it's good for business.
So what's the take away for you? Quit thinking that you're helping the situation with a no-vacation, frantic, look-at-me bravado about never taking time off. You're not thinking about the big picture and executing effectively. You're burning people (you and your co-workers) out. And you're definitely not sustainable.
My advice? Take a vacation; it's good for business.