We all need time off from work. As a freelancer, contractor and/or business owner; taking a proper break can be easier said than done.
I try to spend at least a month away from the office each year. No matter how hard I find it to switch off, I force myself to take this time – whether holidaying or spending extra time with family and friends.
I’m more productive in the remainder of the year and I regularly return to work fired up, and with fresh ideas.
I’ve found that accomplished and successful freelancers take care of themselves as a priority. They’re aware that taking regular breaks will directly help towards the success of their business.
Here are 5 ways you can put this into practice yourself:
1. Don’t Feel Guilty
You deserve a holiday, just like employed people. You shouldn’t feel guilty about downing tools for a period. Take as long as you need, when you need it; reaching a burn-out phase will set you back much further than a few weeks off.
In a world where “constant hustle” is often the norm, a sense of guilt is common for freelancers who have a break on the horizon. “If I go away I’ll lose my client”, “This trip will cost me double” and “I’m neglecting my business” are all thoughts that have run through my mind.
If your client doesn’t retain you for taking time off they probably aren’t worth having, the unpaid time off you’re taking will pay for itself in productivity when you return and your business will benefit from coming back to it with a clear mind.
Book that trip, set your out of office and forget about work. You’ll thank yourself for it.
2. Prepare Your Clients and Colleagues
While schedule flexibility is a plus point for any freelancer, contractor or consultant, it’s common courtesy to inform your clients and colleagues of your planned breaks. Preferably as soon as you know about them.
Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. They rely on you. It’s important to communicate well with the people who you work with.
Something that I like to do is try to align schedules with my clients, if possible. For instance, if they have a break coming up themselves; I work on the project while they’re away, then while I’m away they can review this work, leaving me to come back to their comments.
Make sure that someone else knows how to move things forward while you’re away. Try to minimise any downtime that could potentially destabilise your projects. Assign appropriate and realistic deadlines around your time off.
Offer alternatives. It’s useful for freelancers to have plans in place in the event of absence. If you have another freelancer in your network, link them up with your client if your break could become a problem.
3. Plan Financially
Unlike people with a monthly salary, a freelancer’s earnings are not always fixed or guaranteed. This means that if you’re looking to take an unpaid break, you’ll need to plan for properly for this.
It’s not a nice feeling to be worse off financially than you imagined you would be. Especially with leave or an imminent holiday. We can forecast all we like, but the harsh reality is that freelancers often get let down on payments. I’ve had my fair share of late paying clients over the years!
When planning to take time off, I like to negate any potential financial strain by setting aside some money from each payment I receive.
It’s good for self-employed people to save regularly in general. Set up an ISA or separate bank account where you can put money out of sight. You never know when you might need this buffer.
4. Manage Your Workload
Don’t leave everything to the last minute. Make sure you manage your time wisely.
There have been times when I’ve worked 14 hour days to account for the following week away from my keyboard. Take it from me, this isn’t healthy. It’s far better to taper off at a regular pace.
Some clients will apply pressure for things to be finished when they know you have a break coming up. I try to see this coming and manage expectations at an early stage.
Have a clear idea of what you will be doing when you return. If you’re working on a longer-term project, this could be the next main task you’ll start back up on. If aiming to complete a job beforehand, get something new lined up. This will alleviate the pressure on yourself when going back to work.
5. Completely Switch Off
To the despair of my family and friends, my laptop has made the plane on occasion. Speaking from experience, I would persuade you to completely switch off from your business during downtime. If you can.
No doubt there will be the apologetic emails and phone calls that every freelancer on holiday will have at some stage, usually marked “urgent”. I’ll hazard a guess that only a small percentage of these are genuine emergencies.
Granted, some things won’t be able to wait. Try to minimise the sun-lounger phone calls though.
By disconnecting as much as possible, you can gain perspective from the people you’re spending time with, who are often in different lines of work. You can also gain perspective and ideas from new surroundings. These experiences can all have direct value.
When freelancing and running your own business, the day-to-day can be so involving. Your mind and body will no doubt need rest and you will likely come back stronger and more focused. My work life always benefits from this respite. Your friends and family will appreciate it too.
Have Your Say!
Do you have anything to add to this article that could help a fellow freelancer? How do you manage your business when taking breaks? Leave a comment below!