Family and Business And Taking Time Off

Thrive Arianna Huffington

There are many ways to run a business, and it depends what you want to get out of life really. We don’t want to be millionaires, who rarely see their families, we’d rather make enough to feel comfortable…and then go camping! (Artemis Russell, Junkaholique)

This week I returned from a two week holiday in France with my family.  The holiday was wonderful – a very much needed break from the routine of work and the constant 24/7 style accessibility that, frighteningly, seems so normal and accepted these days.   We made Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris our home for the first part of the holiday – we had breakfast with Mickey, explored the pink palace, watched the spectacular light show in the evening and notched up more queueing hours than we had accumulated in our combined lifetimes up to then – all for  a photograph with the ‘real’ Rapunzel – but it was worth it 🙂  An unexpected room upgrade to a top suite was a lovely surprise and four sleeps later, we headed south for a week’s stay at this lovely Dordogne cottage.

In the days before we left, I worked my socks off with support from my amazing team, to schedule two weeks worth of blog content. It left me sleep deprived, stressed and headachey in the run-up to my holiday. Eventually though, and just in the nick of time, I was able to declare victoriously, if not wearily, ‘the out of office is on!’.

For the following two weeks, my out of office worked like a trooper, pinging auto-replies to anyone who sent me an email – about 1,200 of which had accumulated in my inbox in time for my return.

After a a period where I have to admit, I wasn’t managing my inbox all too well, I’ve spent the past 18 months getting new systems in place to support better communication, and I’m now really proud how my team and I handle and respond to email.  Thus, the prospect of returning to a heaving inbox really freaked me out. This is partly why, against all very well meaning Facebook recommendation, I took my Macbook on holiday with me.  The intention was to steal a little time here and there to check emails and I did this only once my daughters were in bed – clearing out spam and, on occasion, forwarding items I knew could be dealt with by team members in my absence.  I also ended up unexpectedly working on a couple of time-sensitive posts – so concerned I was with protecting our reputation for good customer service that I’d have rather interrupted my holiday than ask my colleague to apologise and explain I’d deal with it promptly on my return.


None of this ‘consumed’ my time away as such, but it did interrupt it and meant I was actively engaging in work whilst on holiday.  As the holiday came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel I’d cheated myself out of a wonderful opportunity to truly, 100% switch off and re-engage with my family and with myself, to be in the moment, and more mindful of what opportunities my French road trip was offering, rather than what disasters I was averting through my inability to switch off.

This week I returned to work – in full ‘school holiday survival mode’.  I’ve still not cleared my inbox yet – it’s been quite overwhelming.  Please don’t get me wrong, because I really appreciate I got to take a holiday at all, and how lucky this makes me – genuinely I do.  2012 was spent writing my book and I barely saw my family (seriously).  I’d had no experience writing a book before and the experience swallowed all of my ‘spare’ time.  We holidayed that year, but I was too stressed to relax and enjoy it.  I became really quite poorly through the stress of it all which had a huge impact on my personal health and family relations – which took months to recover from.  2013 was super-busy spent promoting my book and we had no family holiday at all.  This year, it was the first time in a long time  that I felt I had a wonderful opportunity to disengage whilst on holiday and fully relax.  So why didn’t I?

Reputation is everything in business and it’s no different for bloggers; one or two negative comments on a private Facebook forum and we’re done for.  We truly do work really hard to ensure that everyone we liaise with feels like they have had a great experience working with us. We set clear expectations on timings and we stick to them – so, it shouldn’t have been too difficult for me to stick to my own ‘out of office’ notification and properly switch off for 2 weeks should it?

As I’m sure anyone who runs their own business will understand, I find it really hard to switch off.  Can you every truly switch off when you are self-employed?  This is my business, my livelihood, and I feel deeply responsible for it.  For the first time since I established Love My Dress in 2009 however, I have an expanded team of support and am really beginning to feel the benefit of this.  It’s something I’ve been working on for a year at least  – getting support in place that would enable me to take a step back from the 70+ hour week I’d become accustomed to and adjust my work life balance to something more healthy, stress free and family focussed. It had become an absolute necessity if I am honest – my family relations were becoming strained and the notion of ‘quality time’ with them had become near none existent.

Yet knowing all of this, I still took my MacBook on holiday.

We are so hard on ourselves – as small business owners we allow ourselves to be accessible almost all of the time, mostly to the detriment of our personal health and relationships.  I am sure there are many of you who are better than me and find it much easier to switch off when you need to, but equally, I’m pretty certain there are many of you just like me who struggle to stay away from the handheld devices that make it easy to check in on email and social media and all those other distractions through fear of missing out.

This week I came across an article on Twitter, via lovely Franky, my former Love My Dress colleague.  It was a BBC report on how German company Daimler handle their out of office notifications. This is what their notifications say:

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.

This struck such a chord with me. My initial reaction was to consider it a little extreme and not practical for our working culture here in the UK, but why shouldn’t it be?  The more I thought about it, the more it made complete and utter sense.  It does after all provide support for urgent enquiries – and if we are honest with ourselves – can’t everything none-urgent wait a little while?

In many ways, going on holiday when you are self-employed is traumatic! The preparation for being away takes a great deal of effort, and then we face a gruelling period on our return as we attempt to overcome an inbox that is fit to burst. It can be really stressful and counter-productive. I often think it’s like you need a holiday to recover from the holiday! There has to be a better way, and I’ll wager that Daimler is pioneering it right now.

Listening to this TED talk recently, I discovered that designer Stefan Sagmeister and his entire design studio take a whole year off every seven years to ‘pursue experiments that are difficult to accomplish during the regular working year’.  During this time, they are totally closed and not contactable at all, not even to their existing clients.  The video gave me a fresh perspective on the value of taking time off.  “As you can imagine,”, says Sagemeister, “it is a lovely and very energetic time”.

Thinking how lucky Stefan Sagmeister’s employees are, it also reminded me how critically important it is for us self-employed folk to take responsibility for factoring time off in to our schedules.

Without that time ‘away’ from the business I believe you lose perspective on life. You become involved within the business, blinkered from the outside world and opinions. Sometimes you need to unplug from work, spend time with your loved ones and actually think about why you work so hard in the first place. (source)

Taking time off is vitally important for us all – for our brains, for our health, for our relationships – and for our businesses.  This article which cites this report claims that a culture of ‘all work and no play’ in the UK is damaging family life, causing high stress levels, cutting time spent with loved ones and creating an inability to switch off from work;

Given the pressures on people with increasing workloads, the demands by clients for the completion of work instantaneously and the ability to interface with people 24/7 through new technologies means it is vital people find time for their family during the weekends, family holidays and at least two to three nights a week.  (source)

Big. Fat. Fail.

But seriously, it is unbelievably hard work maintaining a ‘work life balance’ when you work for yourself.  Books, seminars, Google+ hangouts, self-made experts pushing out videos on how to achieve the perfect balance and messages of how to ‘work to live, not live to work’, and ‘work smarter, not longer’  – the positive mantras are ubiquitous, but there is such a cacophony of well meaning noise out there, that it can be difficult to know what to fine-tune in to.  One of the best sources of advice I’ve discovered in a long time is the the new book by Huffington Post founder, Arianna Huffington.


Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life‘ is an excellent read – an honest, well researched book full of startling facts that will definitely make you think twice about staying up past midnight to work again or taking your MacBook on holiday!  Arianna has been there and done it – established her own business, dedicated most of her waking life to it, suffered from lack of sleep by working stupidly long hours and fallen ill because of it.  Her wake-up call was a defining moment that led to her making radical changes and rebalance her work/life commitments.  It really is an inspirational read, plus, the book provides an insight in to the life of one of today’s most successful business women.  If I could gift all my self-employed girlfriends with a copy, I would.

Like one of my favourite bloggers, the lovely Artemis Russell says, ‘there are many ways to run a business, and it depends what you want to get out of life really’.  I don’t want my business success to be at the expense of my beautiful family – I don’t want for my daughter Eska to ever have to ever say again ‘Mummy, you are always working, can’t you come and have some fun with us – Daddy always has fun with us.’.  I want memories of her childhood to be filled with happy times of us together, not of an absent mother always missing out or too tired to have fun.

There’s a collective longing to stop living in the shallows, to stop hurting our health and our relationships by striving so relentlessly after success as the world defines it – and instead, tap in to the riches, joy and amazing possibilities that our lives embody.  (Arianna Huffington, Thrive)

Next year, I’m going to try following Daimler’s policy when I set my holiday out of office message.  In the very least, I promise my family that I will be leaving my Macbook at home (I know my husband will be reading this – yes, you can hold me to this Philip!).  I feel as long as I am setting clear expectations and that I notify those who matter – my sponsors, friends and family – then there’s no reason this shouldn’t work.  We all deserve a holiday and we all have the right to feel comfortable about fully disengaging with work and re-engaging with our lives and families on a guilt and stress free basis.  Who’s with me? 

I’ve long been grateful for the support and advice the blog reading and self employed community is so willing to share, so I’d love to hear your thoughts; do you struggle to switch off when it’s holiday time too? What about those of you working alone with no team support – how do you cope when it comes to holiday time?  How would you react to an out of office that advised you your email would be deleted?   Do you take your laptop or log in to email whilst you are on holiday?

Love Annabel x


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Founder of Love My Dress. Passionate Podcaster and Editor. Annabel lives in rural North Yorkshire with her husband and business partner Philip, their two daughters and menagerie of furry hounds. She loves photography, meditation, walking, being outdoors and star gazing. She is fierce when it comes to championing talent within the wedding industry and when she's not working on Love My Dress, she supports her husband Philip in the running of the family's sustainable flower farm and floral design business, Moonwind Flowers. In 2013, she became a published author.

39 thoughts on “Family and Business And Taking Time Off

  1. Oh Annabel, this is so me! I’ve spent the whole of August feeling like I’m juggling my beautiful children and enduring some of our ‘getaways’ rather than fully focusing on what’s really important. It’s a huge challenge being a business owner, even with a team behind you. The pressure never really goes away…it’s always there as a little thought in the back of my mind even when fully stretched out on a sun lounger, or at Disneyland…or at the park. The dream of a full week off, with no laptop, emails or work thoughts remains, after nearly 5 years. I’m a lot better than I used to be but it looks like I need to change my out of office 😉 And I’m definitely off to buy this book right now! Xx

    1. Thank you for taking time to reply Lisa – you must buy the book, it’s a really great read and really helped to refocus me and introduce some sensible practices.

      Having started our businesses at around the same time, I’m probably like you, I’ve learned so much, but crikey, I’ve put myself – and my family – through the mill to get here. I feel much more positive about the ‘work life balance’ now but it’s taken getting to the point where I can take on a team to be able to feel that way, doing it all by yourself can be so very exhausting – sometimes you have to ask, ‘why am I doing this?’.

      I adore my job, I just adore it so much, and my blog and everyone I work with so I’m determined to make a success of Love My Dress AND of raising a family and being a wife.

      Have a lovely Sunday xXx

  2. I’m just getting my business Vintageyboo off the ground and already it has become like an extra limb!
    I think (especially as women) we form an emotional attachment to our businesses aswell so we care about it, it’s reputation but mostly it’s client base so when we try and take a break we never truly can because we are worried about peoples’ reactions and of course don’t want to let people down, even when everything is as politely in place to say ‘be back soon’- we are literally apologising for taking time off!
    Having your own business is like having a baby, you can be away from it but it never leaves your mind! But much like having a baby it is vital to take time away to appreciate who you are and what you have outside of your business! (Must make sure I re read this when my boys are telling me about something menial and I’m mid E-mail just nodding!) I suppose success always comes at a slight cost 🙂 I will never be able to switch off completely but then again this shows how much I must care as do you you have this wonderful business and team and you didn’t get here without a big heart!


    1. Hello Sarah! Good luck with getting your new business up and running – becoming self employed has been on of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, so many opportunities and life experiences have fallen in my path because of it, I am hugely grateful to Love My Dress because of that- another reason I feel so obsessively committed to it 24/7!

      You are right, having a business is like having a baby – and yes, success does come at a cost (illustrated really well in this article a friend shared with me this morning

      I wonder if I truly will be able to fully switch off – I will be putting my courage to the test next Summer, that is for certain.

      Have a lovely day Sarah xXx

  3. I knew your post would be spot on. I find it very difficult to switch off and my work consumes me. It’s a good job I enjoy it! As you know my plan was to set up Vintage Style Living quite some time ago. The website is virtually ready, but I’ve been putting off the launch just incase people want to actually buy something and I don’t have the time to do it properly! Why am I starting another venture when the one I’m doing is taking up all of my time? Why not is the answer but it’s definitely time to get help. The key is to find people as passionate as you are to join you and trust them. I am a little OCD about a lot of things, but you have to let go. With a busy working summer ahead, I saw a gap in the diary and booked a very last minute holiday, even my husband was a little uncertain we should go. I checked in on emails occasionally, but knew that my ‘out of office’ was on and enjoyed that holiday more than any other. I actually shed a tear when we were leaving in the taxi, partly as I would miss our gorgeous villa, the restaurants, the wine, the lay-ins, but mainly that I knew I would be straight back to work with little time for my husband and boys. The good thing now is they are old enough to help out, so it’s now a family affair! It makes me happy that I can pay my sons and they are learning about working hard to pay for things. Next year, I am hoping to have a lovely team back in the UK, so I can take two weeks at that gorgeous villa with them and I’ll be turning my emails off! We will see!

    1. Hello lovely Kate, it’s always so nice to hear from you. I love observing your business do so well from a distance.

      I definitely hit on something this year when I finally got my team together – a team of individuals I felt really truly shared my vision and passion – who didn’t question or doubt it – this has made one incredible difference to how I run Love My Dress – I cannot emphasise this enough, it really has marked a defining shift in the mechanics of running my business and I’m immensely grateful I’ve been given this opportunity.

      We are reserving next years holiday already and I can’t wait. My husband and I also have 6 days in NYC in October to celebrate my 40th birthday – I will be fully switching off then, though may be tempted to Instagram a few pics 🙂

      Have a lovely Sunday my friend,

      Annabel xXx

  4. Such a great post Annabel. It’s so hard to switch off from work when you are self employed. I’m in the car on the way to France as I type, but I did take the difficult decision to leave the MacBook at home this year! However it’s all too easy to check email on the phone and have already had an email from a client which is stressing me! Will try and find a way to turn the email off. Holidays and family time are so so precious. I don’t think we will look back on life and ever regret not working on a family holiday… X

    1. Thank you Katy, and for taking time to respond too, I really appreciate it.

      Try as hard as you can to disengage from work. It will still be here when you get back, and the opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate yourself will be the best thing you did,

      Have a super lovely time xXx

  5. This is one of my hot topics and not because I’m especially good at handling it either! I’ve been self-employed for ten years now and am the victim of at least one holiday utterly destroyed by a work situation (I was so strung out I couldn’t eat and anyone who knows me knows that this indicates something pretty serious) and several failed or at least slightly jaded family days out. I learned a couple of things along the way:

    1) Usually situations blow over and good customers/clients/fans/readers (delete as appropriate) don’t care about the bad or problematic ones.

    2) People are mostly good and understanding if you take the time to explain why you weren’t available to drop everything and make them your life’s priority at that exact moment.

    3) If you can, ditch Facebook. If you 1) can’t as you need it for business or 2) like to stay in touch with (real) friends and family then at least delete it from your mobile devices. There’s really no reason to be checking it when you should be fully engaged in a family moment or relaxation time.

    1. Hi Rob, Thanks so much for taking time to respond, I really value your thoughts.

      You are right in each of your points and I couldn’t agree more. I think much of it is about managing expectations. If your clients have good advance notice that you will be away and not contactable for a period of time, there is no reason why a complete switch off from work shouldn’t work.

      I am so very, very tempted to try the Daimler thing. We’ll see!

      Much love to you and your lovely family xXx

    2. Its a tricky one to get right isn’t it Rob?

      I spent many years working with clients from the tech start-up industry… The sort of companies with multi-national offices where staff get issued with Blackberries to ensure they’re available at all times, whatever the time and whatever the time-zone. This set an expectation with clients that my agency also would be on hand to field requests whenever sent. A common question when pitching for contracts was “what is your out-of-hours support?”, meaning (as senior developer and lead designer) the answer was inevitably “Ian”.

      I’d thought going self-employed might get rid of some of that, but – while its in no way as bad on the stress-front – there are still times when I find it extremely difficult to not work “out of hours”. Part of this is due to many of my clients now being self-employed themselves or running a second business, and in many cases fitting their work in around day-to-day life. For many this means catching up on emails and so on in the evening or at weekends, which I totally relate to. But much of what I do requires feedback and response to move things forwards, so if I then try to only work “office hours” when my clients aren’t, it ends up with long delays between “email sent – reply received – email acted upon – follow-up email sent…” (etc.) which means work ends up taking far longer than either I or my client anticipated. All of which means I end up replying to and acting on emails at whatever hour they’re sent… If I don’t, the work bottlenecks and I end up firefighting the consequence of that.

      Since I also shoot weddings (which takes up a fair old chunk of Saturdays), I’m finding switching off really difficult at the moment. Recently I’ve taken to not replying to emails between 6.30pm – 8am, although I do still check them in case there is anything urgent that needs a response. And I do still work on things between that time, but at my own pace (oddly, its far easier to code when you should be in bed. There’s a whole book written about the phenomena).

      But I don’t work on a Sunday, and I’m trying to take a day off in the week (note the “trying”). However for our holiday in Ubud in November I’m determined to not check email or take my laptop (maybe the odd Instagram on my phone!), and I’ve got a “dry run” coming up at the end of September for my 40th B’day, so we’ll see how that goes.

      I know I need to try harder though (isn’t that a shame – that I should even need to “try”?), and its good to know that I’m not alone in this. And there are positives to be taken from that fact that its symptomatic of “giving a sh*t” about what you do, and working with people who do also – and on balance I’d far rather be in that situation than the alternative.

      Note – no specific references to anyone is intended when referring to clients above – really! I’m speaking purely in general terms.

  6. I’ve been working a lot with French people recently, and their seemingly laissez faire approach to work is frustrating to the Brits and Germans in the team, but perhaps they have the right idea. Summer long holidays with their families, and taking time out of the working day for long, sociable lunches and coffee breaks. This is their culture and so noone expects differently. Its a shame we have developed such a demanding culture that looks down on that.

    1. So true, but really, only we have the power to change those attitudes and I think we need to start now and not be afraid to challenge the custom and norms. If we don’t, we’ll drive ourselves in to the ground and miss out on the opportunity to truly enhance our lives and the lives of those we love.

      Have a lovely Sunday Amy xXx

  7. Oh the pressure of summer holidays when you’re self-employed – you want a break but you have to work so hard beforehand to free the space and that’s so hard when the kids are home and you’re already juggling. You want to spend time with your kids but don’t want work to pile up or appear unprofessional to others when you say ‘I can’t today, I’ve got the kids at home’. Also, unless you earn the money, there’s no guaranteed pay-day at the end of the month, no paid holidays and no sick pay either. It’s tough tough tough. I find the holidays such hard work and by the end of them, I’m tired but also chuffed to bits because I’ve survived them! This year I seem to have hit on a compromise that’s working, maybe because my son is older now and that’s been brilliant. However, the setting of the out of office, whilst liberating, is terrifying because you just don’t know what’s going to happen whilst you’re off ‘enjoying yourself’.
    I can’t imagine working in a corporate world again – I love writing for you Annabel, I love all the wedding professionals I work with and I’m proud of what I do. Learning to balance everything is a never-ending process because the goalposts change, the demands shift and your seemingly settled patterns get thrown out by so many things!
    I love the Daimler approach. I love that we’re starting to value people who know when to turn the laptop off more than people who spend hours at their desks. It’s a slow shift, it’s hard to make those changes but you know what? We’ll all get there together xxx

    1. Dear Tamryn – I absolutley ADORE working with you! You are such a breath of fresh air – so reliable, honest and supportive. I have to pinch myself every day about it honestly! I love that you share my vision and passion and just ‘get me’. It makes me feel more confident in what I’m doing, so thank you!

      And thank you for taking time to comment to. I sometimes try to imagine what it might be like to still work in the corporate world and I simply can’t envisage it – I would not trade my job now for that in a million years. I adore what I do, but working for yourself brings a completely different set of challenges to those you face working for someone else and it takes years to fine-tune it all and learn how to respond well, doesn’t it?

      I really do want to be brave next year and adopt the Daimler approach. I will also be keeping my out of office on for another week to allow myself to catch up in my own speed and I’ll be blogging less whilst I’m away. It’s summer – we should do what the French do and take a proper break and all be a little easier on ourselves 🙂

      Hope you’re having a lovely day my friend xXx

  8. Thanks for this post Annabel – I am unable to switch off too. I feel completely lost without by phone and I hate not being able to check my e-mails on the go. Even when I relax and my workload eases off I can be lying in bed at night with a million thoughts running around in my brain. I don’t know about everyone else…but I seem to manage to cope with big stresses well without having breakdowns or feeling too unwell and then as soon as I start to relax I am under the weather will colds, headaches and everything else! I haven’t got children yet and I must admit I do worry that I will struggle with a good work-life balance. Hopefully I will learn to step back a little in time!

  9. I’m so glad that I read this. I so struggle to manage my free (haha) time or holiday.. To the point that if I have gone on holiday I am then worrying about all the work I will have to do on my return and my stomach turns over at the thought of opening a heaving inbox.
    I really also believe that in this country we need to get a bit better at respecting people’s time off. I have had a situation on more than one occasion where I have had people email me again after receiving an out of office reply to say…”when you get my last email I just sent can’t you let me know ASAP” or on occasion I have had people ring me ” hi there, I.m ringing because I received an out of office reply to my email” I really don’t think this is acceptable. Everyone has a right to time off.
    But I agree, it is all about making sure that you are presenting a reliable and high quality service. This will only happen if you’re not run into the ground.

  10. Perfect timing for this post as in a week’s time I’m off on a family holiday and will be sure to use some of the tips you Annabel, and everyone in the comments suggested. This time for the first time I’ll have my super-efficient PA helping me with inquiries, diary management, invoicing and everything else that is necessary on a day-to-day basis. I won’t have my computer with me for the first time but will be available on Viber to discuss the most urgent matters with my PA once a day which I’m sure won’t take more than 10 mins. In fact the best decision that I’ve made this year was to get a PA as my working life has become more efficient and as a result I’m able to spend more time with my family and of course sleep a bit more. This helps hugely with my mental alertness and creativity. Our businesses will naturally grow faster and smarter if we’re working at our most optimum and delegation plays a big part in that. As soon as our business and finances are telling us that it’s the right time getting help is an invaluable step. It becomes a great benefit when we have someone to delegate tasks to when away on holiday.
    Previously I would have one or two work sessions at my laptop and/or phone whilst on hols, which meant that we had to be dependent on a reliable wifi connection, which could mean special trips to coffee shops or internet cafes so that I could complete the most urgent tasks. This would result in interruptions to our quality time which was meant for rest and to recharge the batteries. But no more!

    1. Hello lovely Kristina, Thanks for taking time to reply – I hope you have the most wonderful holiday!

      And WOW! It is amazing to finally get some admin support isn’t it? A PA is just exactly what you need!

      Sleep is so vital for our mental alertness isn’t it? I know this, I’ve known it for years and yet I still struggle at night time to get to bed on time! I think it’s because night time feels like ‘my time’, you know, the kids are in bed and I finally have time for me, but, I’m beyond worn out most of the time – far better to get to sleep now and rise earlier feeling alert and well slept, right? I’m still working on it.

      It sounds like you have learned a lot in recent times about how to manage your business and your health and clearly taking on a PA was the right thing – I’m really pleased for you Kristina and do hope I get to see you again soon 🙂

      Love Annabel xXx

  11. Sundays must be a time for reflection, as I was literally half way through my post on juggling work and family life, when your post came up on Twitter. There is no right or wrong way. No tried and tested method for what we, as busy, working women go through in order to make everyone happy, including ourselves. I think it is just a case of finding what works for us, within our own framework. Both my husband and I are self employed and find it almost impossible to switch off, especially during the summer which is our busy period. In fact, we don’t! Switching off for us, could mean losing business and losing business is not an option when you work not only for the thing you love but to support the people you love. Our emails never go unanswered and we’ve never put a ‘holiday responder’ on our accounts. We both take our macs on holiday, sorry what holiday!! I mean, when we schedule away a two or three day break for ourselves. That’s what is a holiday in our household! We aren’t at the stage yet where we can do holidays in big chunks (yes, even a week feels like a big chunk of time), so we just snatch odd days here and there when we can and luckily our little boy is young enough that we can do this still. It’s crazy, it’s exhilarating, it’s scary, it’s overwhelming, it’s frustrating BUT we love what we do, we love who we are and we love our family unit and we just have to somehow make the three elements work for us. That’s it! Thank you for sharing your experience, there is so much to take from it, especially the book recommendation. Just need to find the time to read it, ha ha!!

    1. ……re, the book – you can download the audio version too! Might be a bit easier to listen too if you can’t set time aside to read the book itself.

      I really appreciate your reply Natasha, thank you. Hopefully one day soon, you’ll be able to take a longer more fulfilling break, but in the meantime, I hope you are finding time in your schedule to re-boot and rest well.

      Much love xx

  12. Dear Annabel, I don’t come by your blog as much as I used to but I still find the beautiful photos a wonderful distraction from my time spent staring at words on the computer screen. I don’t have a great view out of my window these days so I take this option. Anyway, your post provoked some thoughts from my experience.

    I am now working full time for a charity (NGO) but was a consultant these last 3 years with my own small business. Both for my current job and my consultancy job I am now much more strict about time off. In my experience few things are a real emergency. I appreciate both as a consultant and in your case a blog based business, reputation means a lot. Truthfully, most things are quite temporary (i.e: a negative comment on line, or a delayed email response). Also, if you have a good product or service, then your main customers will stay with you, they are in it for the long term quality, not the temporary blip. My attitude changed a lot because of working in emergency responses (i.e: earthquake response in Pakistan or Haiti)- which is perhaps a bit extreme, but truthfully, if no-one is going to starve, die, go thirsty, or be put at risk because of a delayed email, then it isn’t actually THAT important. This perspective makes you a bit annoying to be around because other people’s broken photocopier doesn’t tend to make it high on your panic list. On the other hand, it puts everything in perspective of life in general. What I just wanted to say was, keeping a balanced perspective (especially when you are a perfectionist) is a challenge, so genuinely taking a step back and asking yourself if according to your life objectives/values x is really important or just ‘quite important’ is a useful exercise. I also found as a consultant who was on her own most of the day that taking time out for reflection was essential. I tried to ‘push through’ some times and it was pointless, my output was rubbish. I realize now I am back in an office environment that lots of work time is wasted in pointless activities/communication traffic and we are often not good at prioritizing when we are at work, let alone when we are on holiday.

    Anyway enough of my moralizing, good post, good point and good luck preserving your family time. You’ve earned it!

    1. Dear Amelia, Thank you so much for your comment and very kind words, I’m so grateful.

      You know, you’re so very right – few things actually are an emergency and way play things up and blow things out of proportion and worry about this irrationally (or at least, I do!) because we feel so responsible if it’s related to our business and potentially our reputation, but yes, you are right!

      I have read and re-read your comment many times and I am so glad you took time to leave it. It’s so honest and wise and really puts things in to perspective for me.

      Thank you so much Amelia – I hope you have a most lovely bank holiday weekend.

      Annabel xXx

  13. Hi,

    I think this is really going to help me thank you. Although I’ve had a small business for a couple of years on the side of my full time job. I quit my job as a product Photographer to become totally freelance to my own photography company. There is just me, I love it and can’t imagine ever working for anyone else again. Although it’s hard work for little return at the moment I’m nearly fully booked for next year….I’ve worked my arse off to achieve this. It’s hard being a photographer, editor, marketing person, accountant, designer, sales person, social media expert …..not because you are qualified to do all that but because as you know in the beginning you have to be through lack of funds and here is no one else to delegate to. I don’t even have children yet and petrified if i do it may slow my work down or restrict my work in some ways which is silly because well ‘life Happens’ my husband is lovely and supportive. He’s a police officer so I try and use his shift pattern to sometimes work through the night while he is working so I can spend time with him in the day however I’ve realised I need to take more breaks because after never suffering with headaches I find if I work past midnight after being on the computer over 12 hours I get painful headaches that last day’s and I have no doubt this is from stiring at a computer screen with no breaks. Anyway i could go on but just wanted to say thank you for writing your article it has helped me realise a few things. No need to spend the time replying to this 🙂 best wishes. Hollie.

    1. Hi Hollie,

      You are welcome! I think those people who are really determined to work for themselves don’t do it for the primary goal of earning money, but for achieving that wonderful sense of being in control of your own destiny – it is such a liberating feeling, especially if you have been shackled to the corporate world of stuck in a job you don’t enjoy.

      Having children may slow your progress but it will enhance your life and the way you approach life and work and everything in the most amazing way. You are just like me, I never ever suffered from headaches, yet between April 2013 and April 2014 I suffered horrendously from migraines that made me physically sick for 3 days, at least twice a month. Since I stopped working stupid hours and focussed on getting decent sleep, they have stopped.

      I’m so happy my feature has helped a little and thanks so much for visiting my blog Hollie – I’m most grateful.

      Have a lovely bank holiday weekend,

      Love Annabel xXx

  14. What an amazing post, I love your honesty and concur with everything that you have said. It has been 6 years since my hubby and I had a holiday where went away and sat about. He was finishing his PhD, we relocated, we built my business and saved to buy our first house. It has been non-stop, moments of highs and lows and we’ve got through and have a holiday to look forward to. This last week has underscored a lot about the balance between work and play when my father-in-law was in a serious car accident, I was shooting a wedding and not there for my hubby and a few days later we were woken with the news that his maternal grandfather had passed away. They all live in Scotland and the funeral was scheduled for Thurs last week and again, I was unable to go as I was shooting a lovely wedding. I don’t begrudge this, I just carry the guilt that I haven’t been there for him as much as I want to be. This weekend, I shot my sister’s wedding and there was no signal at our holiday barn (my iPhone wouldn’t connect to Wifi) and none at her village hall so all bar the shooting, I was in the moment, no instagramming, no Facebook checking, I was present and I was so refreshing. I did take my macbook so I could sneak peek but that is all I did and then I was back with the family. Its been a roller coaster week and last night as I was reading and catching up on things, I read your post. It has charged me up to be even more dedicated to planning and carving out my week in Tuscany as a device free-ish week. I am going with my best friend, hubby and their gorgeous 1 year old who I have not seen enough of this year. I plan on pressing pause and stepping off and catching up with myself and being their for my hubby and friends in that week. It is so hard when you run your own business but it is important to recharge and come back fresh, to give your best and keep the sparkle in your eye and fire in the heart for everything that you do.

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your kind word about my post – I’ve always been honest in my personal posts-some might say ‘too honest’ but, I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, as they say!
      I’m so very sorry to hear about your father in law – and your grandfather too. Goodness me, you must have had to be really strong shooting and working through this time – my heart goes out to you.

      I LOVE that you saw the opportunity to be in the moment and disengage from all the socialmedia-babble that distracts so many of us – I find it can be so overwhelming at times and encroaches on so many wonderful precious, loving family opportunities. Strange you might think coming from someone who has built their business and livelihood on having successful social media accounts, but it’s true – and you’ll find that I rarely post any family images because I just want part of my life to feel sacred and protected and honest and for me that means not incessantly feeling the need to Instagram or Facebook everything. I have no issue with anyone who does by the way – it’s each to their own.

      I hope that you have the most amazing time in Tuscany, though I think you might be back already? If so, I hope you are feeling wonderfully refreshed and that it really was an opportunity to switch off from work and reengage with life and family and friends – you more than deserve it by the sound of things!

      Thanks so much for taking time to comment Rebeca,

      Love Annabel xXx

  15. “I couldn’t help but feel I’d cheated myself out of a wonderful opportunity to truly, 100% switch off and re-engage with my family and with myself”

    This is so true and i am envious of anyone that manages to get away from work without being concerned about what is going on back at home.

    We started our company 10 years ago and now do up to 40 events per week, I’m lucky in some ways that my wife wont allow me to take any of my work paraphernalia away with us, but in someways it makes me jittery knowing what should be going on back at work and whether the team is successfully doing it. Over the last 3 years we have successfully trusted our technicians to take the responsibility of the events on to themselves, this has done wonders in terms of time away as this role is something that can be trusted on to our team.

    I see the running of our company like changing gears whilst driving; you need to put pressure on the engine before you can change up a gear.

    Thankfully we are just changing up a gear in the office now and my workload is decreasing because of it, but no doubt all i will do is find more work to fill the void and get everyone busier!

    Its a viscous cycle, and now my children are starting school i feel like i have worked far too hard being an amazing supplier for my clients rather than being at home being an amazing dad for my little ones 🙁

    1. Hi James,
      I am envious too! But you really hit on something for me – that is, that learning to delegate and trust others is SUCH an important phase of business that you really, absolutely, must get our head around if you’re even slightly interested in being able to manage your time and progress your business on to a new level. It’s taken me a while to get my own head around this but I am finally learning to trust others with things I’ve found very difficult to let go. So good for you, it’s great to hear you have been able to do the same!

      The missing out on your children growing up thing is a big one for me too – I am constantly feeling the guilt of not being around enough of fobbing them off ALWAYS to do a bit more work, but the good thing is, I’m aware this is an issue and am making efforts to spend more quality time with them. I am finding that simply forcing myself not to work at certain times, on certain days, and throwing myself in to just being with them, is immensely rewarding. There was a time I’d not have been able to do that though, through fear I was taking time away from work when I had ‘so’ much to do. But downtime/quality time with your loved ones can make you feel more productive once you return to work.

      It sounds like you’re doing OK to me and shouldn’t be beating yourself up too much about not being able to spend more time with your children – though I really, genuinely do fully understand where you’re coming from.


  16. I think often we set harsh expectations for ourselves that no one else would ever expect of us. I’m sure you wouldn’t think anything of getting an out of office reply from a wedding supplier or begrudge them a holiday with their family.

    No one would expect you not to take time off or have a break. It is hard when you run your own business but I bet you came up with loads of creative ideas while you were relaxing. I am just learning to say no to things and leave myself some free weekends and time off as the temptation is to take on as much work as possible but that’s not always manageable, especially with small children too.

    1. Hi Steph,
      Thanks so much for taking time to reply. I completely agree with you about the fact we set very harsh expectations for ourselves – it’s often only once you’ve pushed yourself through it and are able to reflect that your realise this though – ie, once it’s too late!
      And yes, taking time off creates the best opportunity for your creative juices to flow freely again, so it’s SO important.
      Good luck with your own balancing act an taking your business on to the next level.
      Love Annabel xXx

  17. What a lovely article Annabel, after only being in my 2nd year of being fully self employed have I realised how important it is to take time away from the business and ‘live’ with my 2 young daughters and wife, rather than be a zombie waiting to work on my all consuming passion. Rather than my family being a hindrance, they should be the focus of why I work so hard. The prize should be that I get to spend fully focused time with them. It’s funny that I realise this as I write this comment… time to book a holiday to Disneyland!! 🙂 x

    1. Hi Ti! I’m so sorry that I haven’t had a chance to reply to your comment until now.

      It takes a little while to realise what’s most important doesn’t it? I think I started to understand this by year 2 but it wasn’t until year 3 or 4 even that I realised I had to make serious changes in order to achieve the ability to spend time with my family. I’m only just able to do it now – almost 5 years in to my business adventures, given I have a team. It’s such a challenge! But so much better than being that walking zombie you refer to.

      Get that holiday booked 🙂

      A xx

  18. Hello lovely Amy – I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to reply to your comment! I’ve been taking my own best advice this week and focussing on my family and children rather than stressing about the business, as we had my parents round.

    Your comment so touched me – let me just say, I can relate *entirely*. I really mean that. I’ve made many mistakes putting my business first *every* time and learned the hard way. It will be a continual challenge, I’ve no doubt, but I try to be a bit smarter these days and realise that I’d have no reason to work at all if I lost everything I’m working for, if that makes sense. I’ve learned and am still learning that my business won’t suffer and I can catch up with emails and tasks in a more productive way if I take time to routinely step away from it all. It is HARD but it is necessary. Really, totally necessary.

    A revolution? I am SO with you. We can do this Amy!


  19. I can really identify with this Annabel and I think it’s something so many of us self-employed struggle with. There certainly is a more all-encompassing pressure that comes with being solely responsible for your income and livelihood, especially when the business is largely based online and needs constant content to fuel engagement etc. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to truly have a full break – and to reap the rewards that come with it – is to go the full hog . Yes it’s tempting to take the mac book along and just quickly check twitter on that coffee break but when this happens, you’re switching back into that ‘work-mode’ (even if subconsciously) and not really giving yourself the time and space to fully unwind.
    Another way of looking at it is this – We ARE our business, so we therefore need to treat ourselves with extra care and compassion. If we get burned out due to not having that full proper break- then our businesses will really suffer. It helps to remember that by taking that proper quality time off, we’ll be so much more vibrant, creative and productive in our businesses. I like to look at it like breathing- in order to take a full, nurturing breathe IN we need to take a long exhale first. xx

  20. Annabel, what a fantastic article, so true and something I can really relate to at the moment. I’m in the process of opening a new bridal boutique in Pickering, North Yorkshire. It has been my dream for so long and I can’t believe it’s actually happening! I had my second little boy 7 months ago and despite always wanting to have my own business all the thoughts of how much will I be away from the kids, what will I miss, how will I make family and the business work together, have all been running through my head! Starting a business is so stressful and demanding as much as I love it, im definitely going to read the book you have suggested. I’m so glad I’ve read your article and its certainly comforting to know there are other successful business women who manage to have families too!! Although I must be falling into the trap already, as it’s nearly midnight and I’m still checking my phone and on the Internet!! Thank you again Annabel for a great article xx

  21. My shop is a family run thing. I own it and my daughters work with me. We all holiday together. This year it was a weeks camping on Anglesey. It was stunning. We have no team to take over when we are away. As well as the cost of the holiday there is also a weeks worth of sales to consider too but we need the break. We only close twice for holidays, a week in the summer and a week at Christmas. This summer I didn’t take my laptop, go job there wasn’t anywhere to plug it in and no wifi. My phone does get e-mail but it was uncharged for some of the time and had no signal at others. I needed to take a complete break. I hadn’t and I needed to give my young son (6 years old) my time. I needed his time too. Time to go for walks and see what we could find. Time to sit with my daughters and not be distracted by work. I cried when it was time to pack up. I had enjoyed the time so much and no I wasn’t ready to go back to everyone’s beck and call.
    It gave me head space to consider what it was I wanted from my small business to start with and whilst I couldn’t come back and change things straight away, I could make sure that small things happened to make life easier. With the things I put in place then I can now make some of the big changes I want so I can have some benefits for being self employed.
    I’m so glad you have decided that when you holiday again your lap top is staying home. I did use to think that if I didn’t answer someone with ten minutes I would get a bad reputation but being exhausted is worse for my reputation.
    Thanks for your blog and facebook. We love looking at weddings and stuff.
    Liz. The Buttonhole

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