How to take a (proper) Holiday

How to take a (proper) Holiday

Most schools break up this week and holiday season is upon us!  So it seems like just the right time for me to share this annual reminder of the importance of taking a proper holiday – and even some tips on how to do that – as busy business owners it can be too easy to not give ourselves the chance to switch off fully.

Over the years I’ve learned that taking a “proper” holiday twice a year is absolutely essential for giving me the energy, clarity and focus that I need to run my business for the rest of the year.   Yet each year I’m amazed at the number of people who tell me they don’t take holidays because they don’t have the time – some business owners have confided that it has been years since they took more than a weekend off.

But here’s the thing – working consistently with no breaks is no way to run a business – and no way to treat your most important business asset (that’s you).  So here are my tips on how to take a “proper” holiday.

And by “proper” holiday I mean one where you switch off from your business completely and give your mind, body, and spirit a chance to rest and recharge.   (As opposed to a “working holiday” which I also love to take, which is where I go somewhere beautiful with the intention of working from a fresh location, or on a new project).

Photos are of my 2022 summer holiday – Elsie (the campervan) and I went wandering on the Sussex and Dorset coast, enjoying beach walks, cold swims and lazy days

What is a “Proper” Holiday?
For me a “proper” holiday is not so much about where I go or what activities I do when I get there.  It’s more about taking time to rest and fully recoup my energy – and most importantly giving my brain a chance to slow down from juggling all the different strands involved in running a busy business.

The success of my business ultimately depends on my having the energy to do my work, and the sharpness and clarity of thought to help my clients and members with their business challenges.  For that reason taking time to rest is as important to me as any other business activity like marketing or sales.

But I didn’t always do this.  There have been many many times when I have felt I was too busy to take a holiday – but if I could go back in time to earlier in my business I would definitely take more holidays as I used to spend far too much of my time feeling tired and not operating at my best.

So in case you are anything like I used to be here’s my “recipe” for a “proper” holiday

1. Block it out in advance

One of the hardest parts of taking a holiday used to be that I didn’t have the space in my diary to take one without cancelling launches, programmes or clients, or reneging on commitments.  I’ve learned that it’s essential to block the time out in advance –  and then book in your client sessions and meetings around it.  And of course this also means being disciplined about saying “No” to anything that falls into that period.  (That said I once delayed the start of a holiday by 2 days because I was invited to speak at a conference alongside some of my business heroes  – so do be pragmatic – you don’t want to say no to the big opportunity you’ve just worked for 3 years to make happen!).

Oh, and when the time comes – actually go!  This is easier when you are holidaying with family or friends as you won’t want to let them down.  It also helps if you’ve booked a flight.  When the time comes if you feel you are too busy to go (yup, this has definitely been me) just shut down the computer and stick to your commitment.  All those things that seem so important I can’t afford to take a break from just don’t seem such a big deal two weeks later once I’m refreshed and clearer thinking with a healthier perspective.

2. Have an email embargo

Want a holiday where you actually feel recharged and rested and where you come home with a renewed clarity and energy for your business, and in tune with your intuition?

Then you need to SWITCH OFF.   And I mean REALLYswitch off.

The best way to have a complete mental break from work is to put your “out of office” on your inbox and walk away.  Or if that makes you nervous, then leave someone keeping an eye on your emails.

I can’t stress how important this is.   If you check your emails you will inevitably see something that you think needs to be dealt with, or tell yourself “Oh, I’ll reply to this, it only takes a few minutes” and the next thing you know you are sucked back into the work vortex.

One reason people find it hard to avoid checking emails (or social media messages) is the fear that there might be something urgent waiting that you can’t afford to miss.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • First take  a step back and challenge yourself to list all the situations that would genuinely be so urgent that it can’t wait for you to get back.  You’ll find that there are very few things that really can’t wait.
  • Have a VA (or even a friend if you don’t yet have an assistant) check your emails for you, with instructions to contact you if something genuinely urgent does come up (from that list you just made).
  • Add a note to your “out of office” saying “I will be away from the office until [insert date].   If your enquiry is urgent or you prefer to speak to me today please contact me via [insert mobile number].  This way you don’t need to worry about missing anything urgent.  When I used to do this nobody ever contacted me – most people will respect the fact you are on holiday.
  • Be accepting that things probably won’t go as smoothly if you are not around – maybe there will be a grumpy customer or a missed sale.   But you’re a human being and you can’t be “fully on” all the time and it’s really important to give yourself time to just “be” without worrying about the business.  An occasional hiccup or missed opportunity is a small price to pay for the energy to keep going all year round.

3. Have a Social Media holiday

Now you might actually relish your holiday because it gives you more time to really indulge in being on social media.  If that’s you and social media is part of the “fun” of being away then go for it.

However what if you see it the way I do:

Social media makes my mind so busy it could explode

Whether I see a question from a Business from the Heart member that I really want to help with, or a piece of strategy advice from a programme I’m in that I want to capture for future reference, or a comment from another business owner that gives me an idea for something new I could do, or a post by a friend that I know I should reply to, or an advert for a webinar that looks interesting…. and BOOM!  My brain is busy. And that’s just from one platform!

For me what makes a holiday a holiday is that I get to:

Slow…. My….  Brain….  Right….   Down.

It’s important to me to spend a certain amount of time every year not being bombarded by information that I need to process at a million miles per hour.

So even if you love your social media (heck, even if you teach social media) I would love to challenge you to take at least 1 full week 100% off social media and see the difference it make to your mental energy, clarity of thinking and creativity.

(If you want some inspiration to help with this then some recommended holiday reading is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport).

And if you decide to check in to your paid FB groups do it mindfully e.g. I checked in during my holiday to share some photos and check in with my members – but I limited it to just two visits of 30 mins.

4.  Don’t create that next programme

Yes, I’ve done this myself, and yes, I LOVED sitting in a Greek taverna overlooking a beautiful bay mapping out the content of an online course, and I wrote my best ever blog post from a pretty table outside a café in Cape Town.  But here’s the thing – although I loved it, when I got home I hadn’t had the complete break from work that I really needed.

There is nothing wrong with “working holidays” – I take those regularly too and love the inspiration that comes from working from different locations around the world.  But do be clear on the difference between a working holiday and a “rest and recharge holiday” and make sure you have at least one of the latter every year – honestly, your business and clients need you to.

5.  Take a break from books and podcasts related to your business

When I’m on a “proper” holiday I don’t read business books or listen to business podcasts – even though I can’t get enough of these the rest of the time.  To give space for creativity it’s actually really healthy for us to explore things unrelated to our work.  In my case I like to read lightweight fiction as a way of switching off, but you might have other non-business passions or interests that you like to absorb yourself in.  Giving your brain time off from thinking about your business and a chance to focus on other topics allows it to make new subconscious neural connections – and this is where inspiration, creativity, and new ideas come from.

(And trust me, you’ll find that the more you switch off from thinking about business, the more you’ll have inspired ideas that just pop into your mind while you are doing something entirely unrelated – so definitely take a notebook or use your phone to capture them ready for when you come home).

6.  Build in a buffer day (or two) when you get back

If you have managed to switch off completely then it can be really hard to step up a gear or several when you get back.  Don’t beat yourself up about this – it’s completely normal.   I recommend you build in a “buffer day” where you are still “officially” away (more if you’ve travelled long-haul) to gently get back in the swing of work by picking up the threads and planning the week ahead, but without any sense of pressure because you are not officially back yet.

Also, go easy on yourself for that first week back.  We are humans not machines and we don’t go in an instant from “fully off” to “fully on” so I don’t put myself under pressure to be motivated or massively productive straight after a holiday.  I just work through what I need to do and take as many breaks as I need – and by the second week, I’m fully back in the swing of things (I actually wrote this post in my second week back, from a holiday, which is when I was feeling most inspired to write it!)

7.  Banish the Guilt

A lot of people feel guilty taking a proper holiday because they feel they “should” be around to respond to all enquiries and emails, but here’s the thing:  Your clients and customers understand that you need holidays too – as long as you are not going off the day your  6 week programme starts (yes, I’ve seen people do that), or disappearing without any warning right before an important deadline!.  In fact the thing you should really feel guilty about is not giving yourself enough breaks and time off – because you simply can’t serve your clients to the level they deserve if you are burned out, or be fully present with your friends and family if you are overwhelmed and exhausted by the demands of your business.  You serve and take care of those around you best when you take good care of yourself.

8.  Don’t let finances be a reason

If you are in the early days of your business you might feel that money is too tight to take a holiday.  So how about a Staycation?  Simply tell your clients you are on holiday, pop an out of office on the emails, and if you have an actual office stick a “Do Not Enter” sign on it – for your benefit!   And then take a holiday without leaving home by following all the steps above and then doing only what you feel like every day – long lie-ins, reading, walking in the park, day trips to beautiful places.  Or make a holiday out of visiting friends, or do a house swap or house sit.  You spend money on food, utilities and other household expenses when you’re at home anyway – so just take that same budget and spend it somewhere else.

9.  Be Disciplined

The most important thing in all this is that you find ways of switching off from work entirely and spending time in that loose, in flow state where your mind feels clear and spacious and your body is free of stress or pressure.  It’s really worth being disciplined about this – if you are someone who doesn’t take a lot of holidays you’ll discover what a huge difference it makes to your energy levels, clarity and performance and you’ll come to see your holidays as a crucial element for success in your business just like I do.

If that’s you then I challenge you to go right now and schedule your next holiday into your calendar – just go over there now and block it out completely – and make sure you don’t allow any appointments to sneak in there!  (unless they are genuinely too good to say No to of course). And if you don’t trust yourself to actually take the holiday when the time comes then while you are at it book a flight, AirBnB, hotel or retreat as well – that’s one way of making sure you actually go!

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I’d love to know how this blog has landed for you. Has it inspired you to take more holidays? Or are you already pretty good at taking them but recognise that your business would benefit if you were to switch off even more fully?

Let me know in the comments below – I always love to hear from you!

Happy Holidays!

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Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts


  1. Teresa Nahajski on July 18, 2023 at 10:28 pm

    Great post! I’ve noticed that the times I think I can’t take time off work are the times I push on and then crash. And when I crash I clear my diary of all the nice things so that I can use my small amount of energy to work! Due for a week off next week and looking forward to early nights, sitting and reading, and maybe finishing the painting by numbers and crochet projects I started in winter! Thanks for the gentle prod! 😊

  2. Katie on August 4, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    This is brilliant, Catherine. I’ve read it at just the right time. I’m about to have a Space Month – not all holiday, some of it will be doing really boring things like getting finances in order – but I’ve been feeling guilty about telling my clients that I’m taking a whole month off. Now I’m ready to ditch the guilt and be an example for the busy leaders I work with. Thank you

    • Helen Vits on August 5, 2021 at 9:20 am

      Morning Katie, a space month what a wonderful idea and exactly what all of us need at times. We hope it goes well and look forward to connecting when you are back all refreshed and ready for the second part of the year. Helen x

  3. Alison Derrick on July 27, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    Totally agree

    For a proper break I have to take a two weeks – 7 days is useless . Can cope with just 10 days away if it is part of 14 days break.

    I tend to sleep for 2 days when I break for holiday so never plan to go anywhere for the first few days

    Because my birthday is near Christmas I try to take birthday to New Year off as leave – doesn’t always work but I try

    Completely agree with the need to have no work distractions. I have a separate work and personal phone so don’t take work phone or work computer so nothing I see ( assuming I log onto either) is to do with work.

    This year I have 2 days to wind down , 5 days at a spa hotel with partner and loads of fiction, visit my Mum for what would have been 62nd anniversary and then the rest of the second week doing what I like. Lets see how it goes

    • Helen Vits on July 28, 2021 at 2:01 pm

      Hi Alison, Thank you so much for your wonderful connection and we couldn’t agree more. Your upcoming plans for holiday sounds just wonderful we all hope you have a fantastic time and fully enjoy your R&R. Thanks Helen

  4. Sue on July 27, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Really needed this – i have just come back from a week’s holiday where I didn’t really take a break from my business. It was also a very busy family holiday “camp” trying to take care of everyone’s needs. Now I’m finding it hard to get back into the mindset I need to be effective. Realised I should have taken a proper break, and also factored in proper time off when I got home too.

  5. Gila on July 27, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Perfect timing! I just pulled out my calendar to schedule in a work break. Not sure if I will manage to get away but a home holiday is also terrific. I appreciate your tips so much. I think I might just share this and write that I will be on holidays.

    • Helen Vits on July 27, 2021 at 11:33 am

      Hi Gila, What a wonderful idea, enjoy your down time and we look forward to touching base on your return. Helen

  6. Jean Ramsey on August 7, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    Such good advice. We had a lovely week in Greece in May but that seems a very long time ago now! Supposed to be sailing our own boat for 2 weeks on the south coast but the weather forecast is atrocious so windy! We are not very brave sailors! We shall make the best of it and just use our boat as a floating caravan if we have to.

    I really relate to the buffer day or days . When I was teaching full time, I always likened the first week back to being in the slow lane on the motorway: drive carefully and definitely no overtaking i.e . do what you have to get back into it but no extras !

    • Catherine on August 10, 2019 at 3:06 pm

      Yes buffer days are essential for me. In fact I have a buffer week where I am not expecting myself to be fully in the groove and a buffer day where I am back but “pretend” to be still off so I can ease myself in! I was the same when I worked in corporate, it took me a whole week to get fully back in the swing of things.

      • Sue on July 27, 2021 at 11:48 am

        I’m in that buffer week now but it was unplanned! Thanks for helping me feel less guilty about it.

        • Helen Vits on July 27, 2021 at 11:59 am

          Hi Sue, so pleased this helped you take the pressure off and give yourself much needed time. Remember we are always stronger when we factor in time for ourselves. Good luck and we look forward to staying connected. Helen

  7. Susan on August 2, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Really shouldn’t have read this whilst on holiday…..,switching off now

    • Catherine on August 3, 2019 at 11:46 am

      Indeed – naughty! Glad to hear you have switched off!

  8. Anji on August 2, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Confession: I’m reading this on holiday! Caught my eye while I was clearing out my inbox while hubby was driving on our road trip.
    Thanks Catherine. Back to window gazing and book-reading. Xx

    • Catherine on August 3, 2019 at 11:47 am

      Aha, sounds like I sent it at the perfect moment for you – enjoy a proper break and recharge – so you have have the energy to bring your vision to the world when you get back!

  9. Judith on August 1, 2019 at 9:28 am

    Good advice as always.

  10. Gaelle Gosselin on July 31, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    Incredible ! I have just re-surfaced from a short burn-out and have been advised to take time away, but was reconsidering it since I’m feeling better…
    So, your post has come at exactly the right moment – I really must take a week to switch off – as crazy as it may seem. .
    Thank you for making up my mind for me !

    • Catherine on July 31, 2019 at 3:49 pm

      Hi Gaelle, Oh, I love that it came at such a perfect time for you! And absolutely you must take another week to switch off. And remember, you are not just doing it for you, you are doing it for the people you serve and care about.

  11. Silvia Meredith on July 31, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    I loved it Catherine and I am definitely getting better at it, however there is still room for improvement. Thanks for all the useful advice!

    • Catherine on July 31, 2019 at 3:48 pm

      Hi Silvia! I think there is always room for improvement for all of us – as business owners it is so hard to resist an occasional peek at the inbox or social media – but for me it’s also important that I have a time to remember who I am when I’m not “being” a business owner.

  12. Gillian hunt on July 31, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    Very interesting to read your thoughts on the subject of taking a proper holiday. I like the way you distinguish from ‘workcations’ and proper holidays. I can see that planning ahead is really important to make this a reality. The idea of taking a proper break makes a lot of sense, especially as more research shows how much we do need rest periods.

    • Catherine on July 31, 2019 at 3:46 pm

      Hi Gillian, yes and I love both! In the past few years I’ve had workations in Australia, South Africa and Devon. The difference is that I ‘knew’ it was a “working trip” where I would be half working and half holidaying. But it’s not the same as 100% downtime. And I agree with you about the research. I love the book “Rest” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

  13. Nicola on July 31, 2019 at 10:27 am

    What a great post Catherine. A really important one and one not much talked about. Thanks!

    • Catherine on July 31, 2019 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks Nicola, I’m glad you appreciated it! It wasn’t until I started taking proper breaks that I fully realised just how important they are.

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