Articles - 25th March 2019

Taking time off when you’re self-employed

Words by Ellie Pilcher

Sometimes being a freelancer can really hinder your sense of time-off and self-care, and in some cases make it stop altogether. Unless you get a good rate for taking a holiday it feels like you can’t take time off because you might lose out on money or clients.

But not taking time for yourself, away from work, can lead to burn out and a sense of dissatisfaction in your career which might make you stop freelancing altogether.

Check in with yourself and think when was the last time you took a holiday? And I mean a proper holiday, one where you didn’t check your work emails, your social media or think about work at all for at least one day.

A holiday doesn’t have to be two weeks in Majorca or a weekend in Cornwall, a holiday can be a day where you do an activity that you’ve always wanted to do but for some reason never did. From skydiving out of a plane to running a marathon; if you’re away from work for more than a day you’re on holiday.

Being a freelancer means working for yourself, so when you take time off you’re allocating your own vacation time. Not only do you have to be able to afford to take a holiday but you also have to make the most of it. You know exactly how valuable your time is, but you need to remember how valuable your mental health is as well.

We don’t like to think that our lack of a break is affecting our work but it is often a major factor in anxiety and depression. Work stress is a leading cause for sick leave in the UK and just because you’re freelance and you choose your work hours doesn’t mean this statistic doesn’t apply to you.

As summer approaches and people in nine to five jobs start booking holidays with their family and friends, we freelancers may be looking at those weeks away on a beach or at some culture haven with desperate longing. But we can have a holiday too, and it doesn’t have to be a working holiday either.

Sometimes a holiday can be going and staying at your parent’s house for a few days and being fed and having your laundry done by someone else for a change. Other times it can be hanging out with your other half, catching up on a few date nights and reconnecting with each other.

But occasionally a bigger holiday is called for and you want to be away from your work for a week or more. In this case, not only do you have to plan a holiday and how you’re going to finance it, but you also need to plan out how not to be broke after you return. After all, if you’re not working for a week or more that’s one week where you’re not going to be paid at all and that can cause a long-lasting ripple effect in your finances.

It’s not something to be afraid of but it’s something to be prepared for. With that in mind, if you’re preparing for a holiday in June now is the time to start deciding which portion of that month you’re going to be away and then letting people know. It may seem stupidly early but just alerting regular customers or clients that you won’t be available at that time in a simple email, or as part of your email signature, may lead to getting work in advance which can allow you to make up the funds that you won’t be getting while you’re away.

At the same time, maybe consider your rates and start auditing your work from the beginning of your freelance career to now and see if your time and talent is worth more. A small boost in funds can make all the difference and give you that peace of mind that will truly allow you to enjoy yourself while you are away.

Just because you’re away don’t feel like you have to let your standards slip. You can schedule anything you need to post on social media way in advance. You can put on an out-of-office automated reply explaining that you’re away but you’re open to new commissions or clients and will respond promptly when you return. But nothing is ever going to be urgent enough for you to put your holiday contact information on your out-of-office though. Don’t be tempted to do this for the sake of your clients, they need you to be at the top of your game to do your job well, and to do that you need to have a break now and then.

My cardinal rule for a holiday, which people often forsake, is that when you return from a break take an extra day to properly unwind from your holiday before returning to work. It’s all too easy to slip back into answering emails, scheduling meetings or social media and not truly absorbing the positive effects of your time off.

After all, if you’re going to spend hard-earned money on a holiday whilst freelancing you deserve to milk it to its very last drop. Long holidays and freelancing don’t come often, so appreciate them when you get the chance.

But don’t despair if you can’t jet off somewhere. A holiday, or a mini-break, can start at home with you shutting your computer an hour earlier, putting on a face mask or having a long shower. It may sound pitiful in comparison to a shopping break in New York City, but you’ll probably be ten times more relaxed than someone carrying heavy shopping bags down Fifth Avenue in the summer.

As we all know, being a freelancer sometimes means sacrificing things in order to maintain your new career, but your mental health and your time off should not be one of them.

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