Summer just started as of last week, shifting my thoughts towards camping, hiking, swimming as well as taking a well-deserved vacation. However, as a freelancer, I don’t just accrue paid time off like a regular employee. My time off goes unpaid. And even if I didn’t mind taking unpaid time off, the fact remains that I have so many deadlines to meet that I can’t see when (if ever) I’ll be able to get away from it all.
Many freelancers simply end up working through their vacations. These working vacations are easy to do, especially when all you need is your laptop and an Internet connection. This has happened to me on more occasions than I care to admit; for example, I recall sighing with relief last year when I found out that my “rustic” campsite had an electrical outlet that would accommodate my laptop. I even know of one freelancer who worked during his honeymoon!
How do you, as a freelancer, manage to take a vacation when you’re always on call with clients and have endless assignments to finish? Here are some sage pieces of advice I’ve picked up along the way:
Accrue work instead of hours
Employees accrue a certain amount of paid time off while they work their 9-to-5 shifts. Likewise, you need to start accruing what I call “paid work off.” Instead of just completing your assignment for this week and letting future assignments languish, do a little of next week’s work now- say 25%. The following week, finish that 25% complete assignment and put in 50% on the following week’s work. In just four weeks, you’ll have an extra assignment ready to go when you’re ready to take a week off.
Alternately, start generating an extra assignment that will cover you for a week or two should you leave on a vacation. You need not finish this assignment right away; instead, just work on it when you have a little extra time. You’ll soon have a good stockpile of extra work to throw at your clients while you’re sipping a daiquiri in Cozumel.
Scale back during vacation months
If you habitually take a few weeks off during the months of June, July and August, start scaling back now on finding new clients or engaging in new projects. Maintain status quo and get your current deadlines under control. And perhaps most importantly, don’t get involved in rush jobs, no matter how tempting.
What happens if a really lucrative job offer comes up or a really juicy client appears? In my experience, I’ve had the best outcomes by simply stating that I’m due to go on vacation soon but will be happy to help out when I return. Most reasonable clients understand the need for a vacation, and hardly any job is a real rush job when you think about it.
Outsource- if you can
I find it really hard to outsource my tasks and am known to be a bit of a control freak. You may have the same problem with outsourcing (or not). But if you can find it at all possible to have someone else email project updates to your clients or publish your blog posts in your absence, by all means get that person on board. You may even consider tag teaming with another freelancer who can perform your work while you’re MIA and then have you return the favor while he or she is on vacation. Likewise, consider hiring a virtual assistant who can perform essential tasks during your hiatus.
Don’t go AWOL on your clients
It’s OK to take a vacation. Really. And your clients should be able to understand that. Thus, even if you plan to take your laptop and check your email daily, let your clients know that you’ll be at least partially away from your desk and/or out of Internet reach. Its better that they know ahead of time rather than swamp you with email messages such as these:
6/24 Deadline project due tomorrow
6/25 Reminder: Deadline project due today
6/25 Hello? Where are you?
6/26 You better pray I don’t find you…
Don’t forget to turn on your email “out-of-office” auto-responder and generate a similar “out-of-office” voicemail on your phone because your clients may forget about your upcoming vacation. You can also leave your emergency contact phone number with your clients; this way, if something really dire pops up, they’ll know that they can reach you.
Once you’ve planned everything out and notified your clients, it’s time to go away and take an actual vacation. Forget about work and truly enjoy your time off. That work will be back all too soon.
If you absolutely must…
Work, that is, then just do the bare necessities. Don’t fire up your laptop to send a few quick press releases just to find yourself checking and responding to your emails hours later. Stay away from any time-wasters (ahem, Plants vs. Zombies) and keep to work-related matters only. If all else fails, have your spouse, vacation buddy, bartender or even a stop watch on hand and ready to remind you of how long you’ve been at work while on vacation.