At the time of publication, there are only 48 days until Christmas. While everyone else is concerned with buying presents, spending time with relatives they don’t like, and how to avoid getting food poisoning from an undercooked turkey, freelancers also have to organise taking time off during the holidays. As an early Christmas present, the SfEP parliament has wrapped up their advice on how to take guilt-free time off over the Christmas period.
My advice? Banish the guilt! Isn’t freedom to work when we choose one of the reasons we go freelance? Why then do we burden ourselves with guilt when we do just that? The only thing we should worry about is making sure we do what we have promised to do by the time we promised to do it. Give yourself permission to reject a job if it will mean working when you don’t want to.
So, unless you actively choose to work over Christmas (and there are plenty of good reasons you might wish to do so), block the time off in your schedule and resolutely say no to taking on a project that would mean working over your holiday period. Close your office door, switch off your phone, and go and enjoy your family and friends, your food and wine, your Christmas walk (just me?), and your rest. Return to your work when you choose to, knowing you’ll be all the better at it for having relaxed and refreshed yourself. And banish that guilt!
Remember that your time is as valuable as anyone else’s, and you have a right to take holidays. You can’t do your best work if you’re over-tired and feeling put-upon, so give yourself a break. Plan definite work-free time in advance – block it out as you would any other project, on your calendar or in your diary. Tell all the people you need to tell that you’re taking this time off, and stick to it as you would any other professional commitment. Christmas is easier than some other holiday periods because most offices either shut down completely or are very nearly empty, with little sense of urgency. If you waver in your resolve, just remember that most clients won’t expect you to be working flat out at this time anyway, and email traffic is likely to reduce. For a total break it can be wonderful to stay offline completely for a few days (no email, no social media) … if you have the self-control!
Try to decide a few months in advance which days you are taking off work. Write HOLIDAY in your calendar in big letters so it takes thought and effort to cross it out. If you can, fit a few more projects, or better paying ones, into the months leading up to your break so you’re not worrying about earning when you should be taking time out. Tell your clients when you’ll be ‘away’ and that you won’t be responding to emails during that time. When your holiday finally comes around, don’t check your email, steer clear of social media, and if you think of something work related that needs doing, make a list, tuck it under your keyboard and walk away.
Taking a whole week or two off a couple of times a year is really important – especially in the dark winter months. You’ll come back refreshed and enthusiastic, keen to get back to your routine, and you’ll be more productive.
Plan the calendar well ahead. If you book up your work time in, say, two-week blocks, then book your Christmas time off three or more weeks ahead. That way, you won’t let work dominate the holidays. A general life lesson is to plan the fun stuff first and then the work to fit around it. That’s why most of us are freelancers, after all – freedom.
I always know I’m going to be doing the cooking, so can be sure that I won’t be working when I’m spending time in the kitchen. But I actually love that. If there are young kids around, plan to get them involved with the prep so that the whole thing doesn’t feel like a chore.
Send clients Christmas cards with a reminder of when you’ll be back at work. Could lead to more business! Always be top of mind.
Turn off phone notifications and even turn off delivery of emails.
Decide on something nice / creative / challenging you want to do during your time off. Get out that sewing project that’s been on hold; sort out your photo albums; plan an overnight long hike. Anything that’s going to make you feel good and less guilty about not working.
Theoretically, taking time off at Christmas is easy if you plan it in advance and tell those contacts who need to know. But, in practice, existing work can end up spilling into our well-earned down-time, or lucrative offers can tempt us back to our desks. To prevent work spilling over, consider taking on slightly less work just prior to your break so you can be sure you’ll get it done in time, even if it takes a bit longer than expected. As to being tempted to take on new work, plan in advance what you’d say if you received an offer and what rates you would charge to justify giving up your planned break. Maybe there’s no fee that would make it worth it – but even coming to that conclusion could help to fortify you against tempting offers.
Never, ever feel guilty about taking planned time off.
There are laws to protect the holiday rights of employees, but no equivalent for freelancers. That means you have to police yourself. Everyone needs a break. Plan yours well in advance; tell your clients you’ll be ‘out of the office from x to y’. (They don’t need to know why unless you want to tell them.)
The number one benefit of being a freelancer is the freedom to decide what is right for you.
Downtime is essential for your health and well-being. No guilt required. To ensure you take time off, you need to commit, and commit early. Mark the time off in your planner. When offered a job with a due date on the far side of your break, double-check that the timescale is feasible. One client’s software regurgitates a due date based on word count, ignoring all bank holidays, so I get the date extended. Reject any job that has a due date during your planned break so you don’t try to squeeze it in and finish it early – if you fail, you end up working, stressed and resentful.
Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP