Four Ways to Take Time Off as a Freelancer
Writing this post, I’ve been working non-stop for about three weeks, so it’s sort of funny timing. But it’s a post that I often talk about and people are shocked when they hear my hours I work and the balance I strive for in my business and life.
I have a habit of doing 100 things at once. In college I was part of leadership councils and heads of groups on campus, one year I was president of the program council - basically in charge of all student activities on campus, including hiring others to then run the large events. That same year I interned with a local magazine, and was often out on events with their marketing team beyond the 12 hrs I spent in their office weekly. Oh that same year? I took graduate level course which me and a few friends were approved to take as undergrad, plus did research for my professor, worked as a barista and managed to not go insane and have a life. I tell the students I interview for this college that they need to like the work-hard /// play-hard lifestyle to succeed at that school, and it is every bit true.
After college I went right into my MFA while working in a coffee shop from home, then took off some time to travel around Australia and backpack, followed by starting in on my second year of my MFA while working full time as a graphic designer for a local photographer (let’s just say I did so many custom christmas cards, that I didn’t want to see a snowman decoration for months). I continued this craziness even after finishing my MFA - and went into working at a local handbag company - small company, but doing large scale national print campaigns out of an office the size of my laundry room (currently I have a large laundry room since I live in a loft lol).
I was constantly doing multiple things. Always busy. It’s just how I am. I was on my way to burn out- and I realized I had to change things, and yet find a path that would allow me to be “project meg” aka: always doing projects. I knew working for myself was the end goal, I also knew this sense of “balance” wasn’t going to happen for a few years. Setting into year 5 of my freelance career now, I have figured out a few patterns of the industry and a few tips and tricks to help shape time off, when you feel like if you don’t check your email you might not pay your next rent bill.
One: Define Hours
This one seems obvious, but there’s a twist. Define these hours as your best working hours, just because the world goes to work at 830/9am and stops at 5pm, doesn’t mean that great work is done in those hours. While working in the industry I asked to change my hours at my first job - we were a team of 5 so it was totally kosher I promise ;) I decided to go in early for 8am and leave at 4pm. Half the reason was traffic, but half the reason was I was wasting my best working hours in traffic going across the other side of a city at prime hour. That was my first clue that owning your own business means you make the rules.
I next worked “factory hours” at that fashion/handbag gig. It was just one year, but it was great hours if I wasn’t commuting an hour each way. We were on a 7-330pm schedule. I was like huh. This works for most people here. The only caveat was that from noon - 2pm we got next to nothing done (we tried I promise), and then
Freelance - I tried everything. I’ve tried all teh combos to see what’s great for me. Personally here’s what works.
Those are my BEST working hours. I go longer about 30% of the time but not at 1pm. I wait until after dinner. My next best hours of actual work getting accomplished is about 6pm-830pm. So I eat early, and get back to work for a bit if I have a deadline that I need to prep. I work after dinner approx 1-2 days a week.
In the summer, I am extremely purposeful about my working hours because as an avid gardener I want to spend as much time as possible outside with my plants. I’m crazy y’all. Take that sentence and add in whatever your hobby is - it makes sense. You could be a painter, you could go to live music, or hiking. Whatever, when it’s nice out you want to go out and do those things, so make time for them.
Mon-Thurs: 8-3pm Friday 8-1pm
In the winter, it’s pretty shitty here. I live in Southern New England, so while we don’t get hundreds of inches of snow, or are as cold as the great lakes, it’s still pretty shitty weather. If you haven’t learned what sleet and freezing rain on top of ice-snow is then well you haven’t lived in one of these “in between” areas. I honestly prefer straight up snow.
I also work more in winter hours - the August and January Inquiry season tends to make life pretty busy, mix that with projects you have for winter each year and taxes (I do my own) and bookeeping ( did work in finance while setting up my studio so it comes easy to me).
So setting yourself up for DAILY and WEEKLY balance is half the hardship honestly. If you can create DAILY balance and get shit done when you are productive and give yourself a g-d break when you are a fart-brain in the afternoon (sorry, 12 year old meg came back for a second). Then you won’t have to deal with burn-out as much. But I can tell you I worked non-stop for a solid 2 years to bring my business to a point that it could sustain those hours. I probably could have switched earlier to more of a 25-30 hr work week, but honestly I was just scared.
That’s me - on a weekday in the summer enjoying my favorite beach. Yes … weekday, while I had a full schedule and teaching a seminar.
Two: Schedule out Vacation Weeks and Days
This might seem obvious, but honestly you need to think WAY ahead. We have long-term projects so you need to plan plan plan. If you are on an 8 week schedule with clients, if you are at capacity you are potentially looking out at 2-4 months away in terms of scheduling projects. So taking off Monday for Columbus day to drive to Vermont isn’t going to happen unless you block that shit off. BLOCK IT OFF. NOW. Go to your calendar for clients and start writing in holidays that your family/spouse/friends get off. Do they always get off MLK and go skiing? BLOCK IT OFF.
When it comes to vacation, I also need to plan way ahead, I have schedules for classes like mastermind to think of (sometimes 3-4 months out) and also family. I schedule minimum 3 weeks off per year in full. The week of Christmas to New Years, the week of Fourth of July and the week of Thanksgiving. Not only do I not want to be working, my clients don’t want to be working either, so those being “pause” weeks in our schedule is not just helpful to me, but to the progress of our projects.
Three: Know Your Inquiry Seasons
For me I have a few inquiry seasons that are surprisingly routine. I was honestly shocked just HOW routine they actually were.
1) January - February. 2) Mid-June 3) August/September.
I almost exclusively book clients during these time periods. Here and there I get an odd May or March, but it’s so rare y’all! A lot of the time, those clients are truly booking in March, but inquired in January and weren’t quite ready yet.
If you know your seasons, you will know when you will have a lighter/easier schedule so you can plan what I call “light-work weeks” aka: I do exclusively work for myself that time of year. It almost never ends up as light work because I am an over-zealous creative, but it’s non-client work and it’s refreshing for my brain.
Here’s an example for you.
BOY is April-June a dry spell in inquiries. I always get a bit nervous. After tax season, you see people do other things before hiring a designer. For the past 4 years inquiries have flooded in during mid June however. It’s that “oh shit it’s already June, and I haven’t contacted that designer yet”- email. The “oh that would be a good summer project” - email. So you can do a few things: book them right away and start the next week - sometimes worth it for certain projects, but you can also book them to start after fourth of July, giving approx two weeks to onboard and prep your client and what they need to have set (then a break week) then start. This is about the right timing! SO, now your mid-june through after fourth of july is empty or finishing up other projects. SO, you can take time off, or schedule your own projects.
This is always when I prep my courses, do large site overhauls for my own stuff, and take some time to be creative. It’s “planned” time based on me knowing my schedule, the inquiry seasons and how they work with holidays.
Four: Play Hookey/Allow Yourself Some Leeway
Ok, so this one isn’t really about vacation time, but it’s about vaule-ing yourself as an employee of your own company. I like to do this ridiculous ACT when I’m not sure if something is right for my company or not.
I am my own boss. I am a great boss.
I am an employee. I am a great employee.
What would a GREAT boss do at this time, but also what would that GREAT employee do to be respectful, and hard-working and not take advantage of the great boss.
You can apply this so just about any situation.
Hey boss, do you think I could leave early for lunch today, I was just invited to go do something and it’s 11am. I have my deadlines in for the day.
Yeah, that sounds fun - why don’t you prep xyz for the day and leave in 15 mins - does that work with the schedule?
Yes, I understand that I just admitted to talking to myself. But it works. That’s like a dream boat situation right? The respect for their time off, but just checking all will be good for the next day of work or that the next deadline gets done on time. You are just asking yourself to be courteous to your business and yourself. If you are EVER unsure about taking time off, put on your great boss and great employee hats and have a a nice little conversation with your multiple personalities.