As Christmas and the New Year approach, I find myself facing the perennial question: Do I take time off or do I work through?
This year it was an easy decision. I started decorating the lounge a few weeks ago (and didn’t finish – hey, I have work to do!), so the week between the two public holidays is the perfect time to finish the job.
But this also got me thinking about the whole issue of taking time off when you’re a freelancer or running a micro business.
As ever, it’s all about time management and being rigorous in following your own rules.
Contrary to what most non-freelance, pay-slip-receiving people think, the problem for us freelancers isn’t finding the time and discipline to actually get down to work. It’s knowing when to stop. We can set our own hours, sure, but the risk is that we end up working all hours God sends. Usually far in excess of the 35-hour-week most employed people work.
‘But it’s all about being flexible!’ Of course, but within that flexibility it’s important to be disciplined enough to take enough time off to allow our bodies and minds to recover.
After all, where would your business be if you burned out?
Keep an eye on your daily working hours
As a freelancer, you’re no doubt totally committed to what you do. So you probably find it hard to put a project aside when you’re in the middle of it. Start early? Skip lunch? Work into the evening to finish? Fine, but take a moment to check whether you’re doing this routinely. You might be surprised!
If, like me, you’re an early bird and like to make use of those hours before the rest of the world is up, compensate by finishing early. No, really do it. Don’t just say you will, and work till 7 pm anyway.
If you find yourself working into the night to get a job done, start later the next morning. The world won’t end if you aren’t at your desk before 9 am!
And remember to take regular breaks during the day. It’s tempting to eat lunch at your desk, but a change of scene is healthy and helps clear your mind. Take a brisk walk round the block. You return refreshed and invigorated, and suddenly that tricky issue you were grappling with seems to have resolved itself.
Naturally, you want to be able to help clients by delivering their work when they need it. That’s the USP of working freelance, isn’t it?
But if you find yourself working regularly at weekends, why not shift your weekends routinely to other days in the week. Or reward a weekend shift by taking a day or two off the following week. If you were working for a company, you’d expect to get time off in lieu for weekend work. Why should it be different for us freelancers?
When time is money and you’re working in a highly competitive environment, taking more than a few days off at a time is very scary. What if your customers find someone else while you’re away? And besides, how can you take two whole weeks off when that means you won’t be earning for two weeks?
‘Ooh, I know, I’ll take my work with me!’ Er, please don’t, or at least not every time you go away. You need to give yourself a complete break sometimes! Here are some tips:
# 1: When you’ve built up good, solid relationships with your clients, they will understand that you’ll need to take time off. But what you can do is arrange holiday cover. Someone they can contact if they need your services while you’re away. Naturally, this needs to be a colleague you can trust implicitly and who won’t poach your customers while you’re gone!
Some people simply add a colleague’s contact details to their out-of-office reply. I prefer to notify selected clients individually about my holiday cover arrangements.
Either way, if your stand-in needs to set aside extra time to be available while you’re away, don’t forget to agree to compensate them for that time.
# 2: Budget for holidays as part of your financial planning. Perhaps set aside a small amount of money every month in a holiday fund. Or top up your current account before you go away so your bills will still be paid. Actually, this usually impacts on the month after you’ve been away, if you invoice monthly. So be aware of that.
Remember that when you work out your income for the year, you need to allow for several weeks for holidays when you won’t be earning. So don’t just multiply your average monthly income by 12!
Take holidays when your customers do
If your customers have set closing times, take those opportunities to take some time off yourself.
But: be available when your competitors are on holiday
There will often be more work around when most of your competitors are away (e.g. during the summer), so aim to be available in those times. The summer holiday seaons is one of our busiest times, for example. We tend to take our holidays off-season so we’re around when many other translators aren’t.
Have a truly relaxing festive season!