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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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What’s A Vacation?

Comments (23)

Last week, while on vacation, Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Working on Vacation.  It began as follows:

The title of this post sounds like an oxymoron. But it is a fact of life for me and probably many of the people who read this blog. The idea of a ‘get away from it all’ vacation is a romantic notion that I cannot seem to achieve as much as the Gotham Gal and my kids would like me to.

Later in the post he says:

My friend Brad Feld does ‘go off the grid’ for one week a quarter every quarter. I’ve asked him how he does it and I honestly can’t see myself pulling it off. I wish I could.

Fred is referring to my quarterly vacation (which Amy and I refer to as Qx Vacation) that I first wrote about in my post Discovering Work Life Balance.  In this post, I talked about five habits, including Spend Time Away.

Spend Time Away: Amy and I take a week long vacation each quarter (which we fondly refer to as “Qx Vacation” depending on which quarter of the year it is) where we completely disappear.  No cell phone, no email, no computer, no conference calls – my assistant knows how to find me in case of an emergency; otherwise I’m completely unavailable for the week.

Fred’s post acknowledges his struggle with the concept of a complete disconnect for a week.  Coincidentally, his post appeared on the first day of a 10 day "downshift" for me.  We subsequently had a twitter exchange about it and – after pondering Fred’s post for a few days (since I’m in downshift mode, I didn’t feel any urgency to react to it), I formed some thoughts about the definition of a vacation.  I came up with five different categories.

  1. Spend Time Away: This is a complete disconnect for at least a week.  I have been doing this four times a year since 2000 and view this as a key part of my existence on this planet.  It gives me a week to catch my breath, rest, spend time with Amy, explore new things, and clear my brain.  I’ve felt completely invigorated every time I’ve returned from spending time away.
  2. Go Dark Weekend: When I find myself feeling burned out, I do a go dark weekend.  I turn off my computer and cell phone at 6pm on Friday night and don’t turn it back on until 5am Monday morning.  I cancel anything that is scheduled for the weekend and just do whatever I feel like doing.  This is usually a once a quarter event; occasionally more frequently depending on how busy I am.  I’m considering doing this around each of my marathon weekends also.
  3. Excursion: This is what Fred was just on.  It’s a vacation to a neat new place with your immediate family and possibly some friends, but there is still structured work time.  In Fred’s case, he scheduled 90 minutes early in the morning for calls and tried to be disciplined about only checking his blackberry during "down time."  I was in Scottsdale at the Phoenician from last Friday until Tuesday for my dad’s 70th birthday – I’d put this in the same category.  I spent lots of time hanging out with my family, running, playing tennis, eating, and sleeping late, but I kept on top of my email, had a few scheduled calls, and was available for important things that came up.
  4. Downshift: This is what I’m currently on.  Amy and I are at our place in Keystone for a 10 day stretch.  We’ve got plenty of friends coming and going so there’s lots of social time.  I’ve got a chunk of phone calls scheduled each day (10am to noon) but no board meetings, no in person meetings, and lots of random thinking / reading / chilling out time.  I’m completely available for important things, but I’m not initiating anything substantive this week.
  5. Visit: We all know this one – it’s the infamous family trip where you go visit your parents / relatives or they come visit you.  It’s a key part of life, but you often return more tired then when you departed.

I find myself regularly taking vacations in each of these categories and realize that when the expectation of the type of vacation is set in advance (mostly with Amy, but often with other people we are with) the experience is much more satisfying and relaxing for everyone.

I’m sure there are plenty of nuances to each of these categories (or possibly different categories) – please weigh in if you disagree with my categorization or have any to add.

  • Bill P.

    I think a lot of people aren't lucky enough to be able to sort their vacation time into multiple categories. They work a steady job and get 2-3 weeks of paid vacation annually, which they have to schedule well in advance, and may have to use some of that for family obligations (a sick child, time to take care of Mom/Dad, etc.). Based on your five categories, it looks like you take probably more than 5 or 6 weeks “off” annually and have a lot more flexibility than most in terms of when you can get away (and the financial means to do it). I think a lot of folks would gladly strap on a blackberry and do 2 hours of calls each day if they could get more vacation days. This isn't sour grapes; I probably take as much time off annually as you do, but I just think that your missives on this topic don't serve a large portion of the population. There are probably a lot of people out there reading this who wish they were VCs so they could have multiple houses and lots of time and money to enjoy them and other five-star accommodations!

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      I'm not suggesting that my approach is the right approach – I acknowledge that I've got more flexibility since I've created my own company. However, I think anyone can take advantage of the different categories.

      For example, while my quarterly vacations may not be possible for someone who only gets two to three weeks of vacation a year, I'd strongly recommend that they take advantage of “spend time away” at least once a year. In addition, many people I know that work 9 to 5 get to “go dark” every weekend if they want.

      I don't think it's the quantity of time off that matters – it's the quality. I regularly work 60+ hours per week and travel a ton, so I don't live a life of leisure. But I've learned how important it is to have intense periods of time off.

  • http://www.emaildashboard.com Deva Hazarika

    Brad,

    I think in a lot of ways not taking vacation (or claiming to not be able to) is sort of an ego thing. Especially in people with lives full of blog reading/writing, twittering, facebook-checking, emailing, and overall hyper-connectedness, when you really filter down to the absolutely essential stuff that must be covered, almost everyone who has a good team/partner/etc can take a real vacation as long as they do a good job of planning and delegating. In December I took my first long vacation in a few years and not only was it great, I came back incredibly re-energized and productive. Here are some thoughts on being disconnected for three weeks: http://www.emaildashboard.com/2008/01/three-weeks

  • http://www.eesley.blogspot.com Chuck

    Yes, I think work-life balance is important, but I feel like when you're young and starting out in your career it's much harder to take this much time away. Especially when you're still trying to prove yourself. I can't remember the last time I had an entire day off. I guess it gets easier once you've “made it” and become successful.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Chuck – per my comment above, I don't think it's the magnitude of time away that matters. I think that one “spend time away” week a year would do magical things for someone early in their career.

  • http://fredwilson.vc/ fred wilson

    i think part of my problem is i take a lot of time away/off. two weeks in march (right now) for my kids spring break. two weeks at year end (my kids christmas break) and two weeks at the end of the summer at the beach. and then the occasional trip here and there. when i add it all up, it's probably eight weeks away or more. so to feel less bad about it, i work when i am away.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      So – turn some of those into a week of “spend time off” and a week of “downshift.” And – as our friend Jerry would say, “let go of the guilt.”

  • HW

    Brad, I wish my manager subscribed to your sense of balance. When you work for people that do not take a time out (which I tend to believe translates to more happiness at work than home) everyone SUFFERS.

  • Dave G

    This is an area where people in the US could really benefit by, paradoxically, experiencing some foreign cultures. Whenever I'm abroad experiencing another culture I always ask myself if the people have a better lifestyle than us in the US. If so, what makes them happier and more relaxed? “Losing the guilt”, prioritizing over work spending time with and focusing on family and friends are some things that have become ingrained in me while spending time in other cultures. You don't lose credibility at work for making yourself happy and prioritizing family (if so, change jobs!)… we work hard and establish credibility when we're on the job. Of course, you'll probably have to get out of the resorts and tour buses to get a good sense of the culture… this is your chance to take in another culture and gain perspective on ours. I've also had to make some difficult life decisions in order to make my life happier. A home stay in Mexico helped me decide to move back east to be closer to family… seeing a lot of happy relaxed people who make a lot less money has influenced me as well. Anyhow, in summary, my advice is to get out and experience another culture to give you perspective.

  • http://stanleybronstein.com MrPositioning.com (S

    It's funny when you ask, what is a vacation? I almost always take my Blackberry with me, even on vacation, and I usually either have my laptop or access to a computer so I can log into the office.

    Some people would say I need to get away. INSTEAD, i prefer to look at it as being able to get everything done that I need AND STILL GET AWAY !!!

    Think about it. Is it better to be outside, on vacation, having fun and spend 10 minutes to fix a problem with your work, or is it better to let it sit for a week and then have to deal with it when you get back.

    As an attorney, I'm fortunate that most of my work can be done without having to meet directly with my clients. Some of my greatest joys have been doing a little bit of billable work while on vacation.

    For example, the last time I was in Hawaii with my wife, I spent 3 hours in the hotel room while she went out on her own. When she came back I told her I just paid for 25% of our vacation. To me that's pleasurable . . .

    Mr. Positioning
    Stanley F. Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author and Professional Motivational Speaker

    • http://www.cisco.com/jsnow_show_goes_on Jacky Snow

      Sad bastard Lawyer.

      • Jasmine Lam

        weird….. Bastard? Seriously?

  • http://www.darrenherman.com Darren Herman

    Bad, as both an entrepreneur and ad exec, I second your notion. I wrote about it recently: http://tinyurl.com/2d444k

  • Don R.

    WOW you people are amazing!!!!! Anyone can MAKE excuses why you can do something and determined people find ways to make it happen. I've been both and NEVER again will I blame anything other than my inability to think creatively. Pets, Kids, college, and work use to be my crutches to blame and now no more. Blame your Jobs, blame your kids, blame economics, hell blame your wife, “never never” blame you lack of ability to think creatively.

  • Ash

    I tried your Go Dark weekend this weekend. I didn't work at all, I took out a trip to anytown, USA with my wife, dropped the kids off at their grandparents, and relaxed. It's monday morning, 10:30 and I still can't get into the groove. I don't feel like working…wasn't it supposed to refresh me to attack work at 6 AM this morning? Am I missing something?

  • http://mindzat.blogspot.com Mindzat

    I have a go dark week coming up! I so need it!.
    http://mindzat.blogspot.com/2008/03/going-dark-wi

  • Bill P.

    I think a lot of people aren't lucky enough to be able to sort their vacation time into multiple categories. They work a steady job and get 2-3 weeks of paid vacation annually, which they have to schedule well in advance, and may have to use some of that for family obligations (a sick child, time to take care of Mom/Dad, etc.). Based on your five categories, it looks like you take probably more than 5 or 6 weeks "off" annually and have a lot more flexibility than most in terms of when you can get away (and the financial means to do it). I think a lot of folks would gladly strap on a blackberry and do 2 hours of calls each day if they could get more vacation days. This isn't sour grapes; I probably take as much time off annually as you do, but I just think that your missives on this topic don't serve a large portion of the population. There are probably a lot of people out there reading this who wish they were VCs so they could have multiple houses and lots of time and money to enjoy them and other five-star accommodations!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I'm not suggesting that my approach is the right approach – I acknowledge that I've got more flexibility since I've created my own company. However, I think anyone can take advantage of the different categories.

    For example, while my quarterly vacations may not be possible for someone who only gets two to three weeks of vacation a year, I'd strongly recommend that they take advantage of "spend time away" at least once a year. In addition, many people I know that work 9 to 5 get to "go dark" every weekend if they want.

    I don't think it's the quantity of time off that matters – it's the quality. I regularly work 60+ hours per week and travel a ton, so I don't live a life of leisure. But I've learned how important it is to have intense periods of time off.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Chuck – per my comment above, I don't think it's the magnitude of time away that matters. I think that one "spend time away" week a year would do magical things for someone early in their career.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/deva_hazari2084 deva_hazari2084

    Brad,

    I think in a lot of ways not taking vacation (or claiming to not be able to) is sort of an ego thing. Especially in people with lives full of blog reading/writing, twittering, facebook-checking, emailing, and overall hyper-connectedness, when you really filter down to the absolutely essential stuff that must be covered, almost everyone who has a good team/partner/etc can take a real vacation as long as they do a good job of planning and delegating. In December I took my first long vacation in a few years and not only was it great, I came back incredibly re-energized and productive. Here are some thoughts on being disconnected for three weeks: http://www.emaildashboard.com/2008/01/three-weeks

  • HW

    Brad, I wish my manager subscribed to your sense of balance. When you work for people that do not take a time out (which I tend to believe translates to more happiness at work than home) everyone SUFFERS.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fred_wilson917 fred_wilson917

    i think part of my problem is i take a lot of time away/off. two weeks in march (right now) for my kids spring break. two weeks at year end (my kids christmas break) and two weeks at the end of the summer at the beach. and then the occasional trip here and there. when i add it all up, it's probably eight weeks away or more. so to feel less bad about it, i work when i am away.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    So – turn some of those into a week of "spend time off" and a week of "downshift." And – as our friend Jerry would say, "let go of the guilt."

  • Dave G

    This is an area where people in the US could really benefit by, paradoxically, experiencing some foreign cultures. Whenever I'm abroad experiencing another culture I always ask myself if the people have a better lifestyle than us in the US. If so, what makes them happier and more relaxed? "Losing the guilt", prioritizing over work spending time with and focusing on family and friends are some things that have become ingrained in me while spending time in other cultures. You don't lose credibility at work for making yourself happy and prioritizing family (if so, change jobs!)… we work hard and establish credibility when we're on the job. Of course, you'll probably have to get out of the resorts and tour buses to get a good sense of the culture… this is your chance to take in another culture and gain perspective on ours. I've also had to make some difficult life decisions in order to make my life happier. A home stay in Mexico helped me decide to move back east to be closer to family… seeing a lot of happy relaxed people who make a lot less money has influenced me as well. Anyhow, in summary, my advice is to get out and experience another culture to give you perspective.

  • Chuck

    Yes, I think work-life balance is important, but I feel like when you're young and starting out in your career it's much harder to take this much time away. Especially when you're still trying to prove yourself. I can't remember the last time I had an entire day off. I guess it gets easier once you've "made it" and become successful.

  • MrPositioning.com (S

    It's funny when you ask, what is a vacation? I almost always take my Blackberry with me, even on vacation, and I usually either have my laptop or access to a computer so I can log into the office.

    Some people would say I need to get away. INSTEAD, i prefer to look at it as being able to get everything done that I need AND STILL GET AWAY !!!

    Think about it. Is it better to be outside, on vacation, having fun and spend 10 minutes to fix a problem with your work, or is it better to let it sit for a week and then have to deal with it when you get back.

    As an attorney, I'm fortunate that most of my work can be done without having to meet directly with my clients. Some of my greatest joys have been doing a little bit of billable work while on vacation.

    For example, the last time I was in Hawaii with my wife, I spent 3 hours in the hotel room while she went out on her own. When she came back I told her I just paid for 25% of our vacation. To me that's pleasurable . . .

    Mr. Positioning
    Stanley F. Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author and Professional Motivational Speaker

  • Darren Herman

    Bad, as both an entrepreneur and ad exec, I second your notion. I wrote about it recently: http://tinyurl.com/2d444k

  • Jacky Snow

    Sad bastard Lawyer.

    • Jasmine Lam

      weird….. Bastard? Seriously?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ash9651 ash9651

    I tried your Go Dark weekend this weekend. I didn't work at all, I took out a trip to anytown, USA with my wife, dropped the kids off at their grandparents, and relaxed. It's monday morning, 10:30 and I still can't get into the groove. I don't feel like working…wasn't it supposed to refresh me to attack work at 6 AM this morning? Am I missing something?

  • Mindzat

    I have a go dark week coming up! I so need it!.
    http://mindzat.blogspot.com/2008/03/going-dark-wi

  • Don R.

    WOW you people are amazing!!!!! Anyone can MAKE excuses why you can do something and determined people find ways to make it happen. I've been both and NEVER again will I blame anything other than my inability to think creatively. Pets, Kids, college, and work use to be my crutches to blame and now no more. Blame your Jobs, blame your kids, blame economics, hell blame your wife, "never never" blame you lack of ability to think creatively.

  • http://www.yachtcharter-griechenland.de yachtcharter

    Wow, I never knew that Last week, while on vacation, Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Working on Vacation. . That's pretty interesting…

  • http://www.cosmos-yachting.com yacht charter greece

    Wow, I never knew thatThe title of this post sounds like an oxymoron. . That's pretty interesting…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    In a busy schedule one has to go for vacation. Other wise he/she will feel boredom in work. Vacation means different to different people. For me is sleeping and relaxing…for others it may be learning cook..or as u say social time with frnds..excursion with family

  • http://toostep.com/ RohitK

    In a busy schedule one has to go for vacation. Other wise he/she will feel boredom in work. Vacation means different to different people. For me is sleeping and relaxing…for others it may be learning cook..or as u say social time with frnds..excursion with family

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    In a busy schedule one has to go for vacation. Other wise he/she will feel boredom in work. vacation means different to different people. For me is sleeping and relaxing…for others it may be learning cook..or as u say social time with frnds..excursion with family

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    In a busy schedule one has to go for vacation. Other wise he/she will feel boredom in work. vacation means different to different people. For me is sleeping and relaxing…for others it may be learning cook..or as u say social time with frnds..excursion with family

  • sophies

    I am not so sure about this. Might be possible that we need to shuffle and re-arrange our thoughts.
    ===========================
    caravans

  • Jasmine Lam

    Great! I loved reading this, I never peeled myself away from the computer. Your adventures are amazing, absolutly amazing!

  • Jasmine Lam

    Great! I loved reading this, I never peeled myself away from the computer. Your adventures are amazing, absolutly amazing!

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