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How to Spend a Summer in Provence

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September 10, 2013 by smallarmyjeff

When I told people that I would be living in France with my family this summer, the most common response was, “How in the world can you pull that off?” (Especially among those familiar with my workaholic tendencies).  But now, as the summer  draws to an end in Boston, and I get lost in dreams of wine, cheese and lavender; I thought I’d take a moment answer that burning question.

First, I should explain why I did it.  Anyone who has ever started a business knows that it requires at least 200% of your time.  Even when you are not physically at work, you are working – especially in the initial years.  As a result, family time is impacted – even when you are with family, you are often not fully present.  As a business owner, I’ve always accepted this.  However, after losing my business partner to cancer in 2007, and having a Small Army employee seriously injured in the recent Boston Marathon bombings, I realized that time with my family can no longer be put on hold.  At the same time, my wife (a lawyer and fellow workaholic) was laid off when her company moved from Boston to Minnesota (we opted not to move).   It seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Now, more importantly, how I did it.  I hope that these “traveling tips” (each conveniently beginning with the letter “T”) will help you enjoy more time with your family and loved ones, as I did this summer, without impacting your business:

1.    Trust
It’s not just about having a great team (which I’m fortunate to have).  More importantly, it’s about having trust in their capabilities, expertise and decisions – and knowing that if they need your support, they will ask for it.  If you are worried about what they will do in your absence, you may not have the level of trust that you need to leave your office for an extended period of time.

2.    Transparency
It is important to set expectations with your team, your clients, your partners and others.  They need to know what you expect of then and, just as importantly, what they should expect of you.  Otherwise, you are bound to upset people and cause frustration.

3.    Time Management
Just like at home, there are 7 days per week and 24 hours in each day in France.  Use your time wisely. I often got up at 6:30 AM and worked for several hours before the family awoke, and then worked again from 8:00 PM until late, when the family was winding down or sleeping (and, during the week, when people were at the office).  Daytime was most often reserved for the family; however, regular checking of emails, phone calls and work was done as needed.

4.     Technology
Just because you are more than 3,000 miles away from the office, you do not need to be out of touch.  Skype, Viber, email, Basecamp and other technology close that gap quite well.   Although, I’d recommend changing out of your bathing suit before jumping on a video conference call.   And definitely do not jump into the pool with your phone in your pocket!

5.     Talking 
Written communication is great, but talking can be quicker – especially for matters that are urgent or require back and forth discussion.  Don’t forget to pick up the phone (using Viber/Skype if necessary) and call when you really need to get things done fast.

6.    Trade-offs
At the end of the day, it was definitely a privilege to spend the summer in Provence, and I needed to be flexible to make it work for me and my team.  It is not fair to inconvenience others because you are in a time zone 6 hours ahead.  If a colleague needs your support on a project, it could require putting off a day trip with the family. Finding the balance can require some trade-offs, but they are well worth it.

Thanks for listening.  As always, please feel free to share this, respond or comment on my blog with any additional thought or comments.

Au revoir!

Jeff

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