And we’re not just talking about a Friday here and there. There’s no substitute for disconnecting from work for a solid chunk of time.

It seems like every account of a successful start-up features the same description: working endless hours. Weekends! Late nights! Leaving the entrepreneur’s family, not to mention his or her health, neglected. Never taking any time off.

You could easily come to believe this is the best way to run a start-up. It’s not. Taking vacations is not only essential for your health, but also for the health of your relationships. Your business needs you to do it as well. There’s ample evidence to show that you’ll work better, smarter, more productively, and more creatively if you make sure to take a break on a regular basis, says Dale Carnegie CEO Peter Handal.

“The question shouldn’t be whether you’ll take a vacation, but how and when,” he says. “From a business owner’s point of view, it should be something you consider important, just as it’s important to achieve your top-line goals.”

And, he advises:

1. Take time off at least once a year.

Can’t find a good time to get out of the office? How about the week between Christmas and New Year’s? “For a retail business, the week between Christmas and New Year’s can be really busy, but for many other types of businesses, it’s an ideal time,” Handal says.

2. Take a whole week–at least.

“At Dale Carnegie, we frown on people taking X amount of Fridays off,” he says. “That’s not the same as a full solid period of time when they’re totally relaxing and getting away from work.”

3. Try not to check your email.

“Vacations turn into a horror show when I don’t put an out-of-office message out, and I’m constantly checking things and calling the office,” Handal says. “The best way is to really try to disconnect.”

Admittedly, if you’re the owner and there’s a crisis in the office or a big transaction you need to see completed, it may not be possible to completely turn your work life off. “But that’s not the best way to have a vacation,” he says.

4. Spend the time doing something you love.

OK, so what is the best way to have a vacation? The answer is different for everyone, Handal says. “Each person is different. My wife’s idea of an ideal vacation is reading some great books she has loaded on her iPad. My ideal vacation is hiking or running. Some people like to be by the beach.” Whatever you do, make sure to immerse yourself in something you consider enjoyable, he says.

5. Make sure your employees take time off too.

Just like you, your staff will be more productive if you make sure they all take time off. At Dale Carnegie, Handal says, vacation time can’t be carried from one year to the next for just this reason.

Dale Carnegie research shows clearly that the more engaged employees are, the more productive and creative they are, he says. And that employees who take vacations have greater engagement. “Machines can run 24 hours a day, but people aren’t like that,” he says. “They really need to have time off–and it’s not optional in terms of how efficient they can be.”

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