Freelancing can be an enviable career. After all, you get to choose your hours, your projects, and where you work from every day. Your family probably envisions you sitting in a coffee shop sipping a latte and occasionally glancing at a computer screen. However, freelancers know a lot more goes into a stable freelance career.
While your friends and family might be “off” of work this holiday season, freelancing is pretty much 365. Your clients might be located around the world, and their holidays won’t match up with yours. So how can you make sure to get the most out of your holidays without missing deadlines and disappointing clients?
1. Talk schedule
Your clients know that you are only human, and you need time off. If you give them plenty of warning, then taking some time off shouldn’t be a problem. I like to send a warning to my clients 3 weeks ahead of time that I will be away. Then, about 7-10 days before I take off, I send another alert asking for any work they think might come up while I’m gone. This can be tough to predict, but there are certain regular documents like quarterly reports that can be done pretty early. Showing your clients that you care about their schedule and are dedicated to helping them is the best way to proceed.
2. Be reliable
If you say you’ll get them a deliverable during the holidays make sure it’s on time and done correctly. Clients are accommodating your schedule so giving them the headache of late work isn’t going to cut it. If they never have to message asking, “Hey, did you get to that project yet?” then you’re on the right track. For some clients, this is their holiday season too, and if they have to spend their time chasing you around it’s going to frustrate them. While you should always be reliable, during the holiday season make sure you get everything done without needing to be reminding. Your clients will appreciate your consideration and won’t be left wondering whether the work is really going to get done.
3. Make “on-call” hours
Clients are probably used to you responding within a few hours during a typical work week. Over the holidays, being tethered to your phone won’t cut it with your loved ones. I recommend making two slots every week where you’ll be totally available for your clients. Let them know what times you will be online for follow-up chats, new project details, or just to answer questions. Sending an email with what your on-call hours will be in their local time zone will help them to remember that you’ll be available, just not 24/7.
4. Find an office
If you can set up a mini office or at least have a quiet place to work, it will help you to stay focused. Ask the people you are staying with if there is a place you can use as an office when you need to work. If you’re staying at a hotel, find the business center so you can set up camp there. If neither of these are options, then ask where the closest café with Wi-Fi is, and check it out. It’s best to know where you will be working, so that when the time comes you don’t waste all of the time you were supposed to be productive searching for a decent spot to work.
5. Talk to your family
You need to make it clear that you aren’t just over there on Facebook or watching YouTube videos. While a lot of people assume that since you’re on the couch in your pajamas, you must not be working, you might have to have a chat with them and explain that isn’t the case. This is why having a designated office space is important. After all, the money you’re making is what enables you to spend your holidays with your family and friends, so make sure they know that you need some time alone to get your work finished. If there’s typically an afternoon lull in activity, take the opportunity to get your work done then. Or if you come from a family of late-sleepers try getting up an hour or two early to get everything finished. If you find times when everyone isn’t doing group activities, it will keep you from feeling like you are missing out.
6. Front load your work
Give yourself a shot at relaxing and getting your work done. If there are big projects coming up, do the hard stuff as soon as possible. Getting the bulk of the work out of the way before your holiday begins will reduce the chances you put everything off until the last minute. If you tend to procrastinate on certain aspects of projects because you don’t like doing them, then you absolutely must do these tasks before your holiday begins. Otherwise, you’ll feel those pangs of stress when you are supposed to be enjoying yourself. If there are tasks that you enjoy, then leaving them for your designated work times won’t be a big deal. But don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll get up the motivation to do work you dread while you’re enjoying the holidays.
7. Do some prep work
Everyone goes through a bit of a productivity slump when the new year rolls around. Instead of coming back foggy and trying to get back into the swing of your work, make some cheat sheets. I like to make a notebook page per project that lists the last deliverables I turned in, projects that I know will be coming up, and any questions or discussions that are in progress. That way when you come back you won’t have to sift through old emails and messenger conversations to figure out where you left off on a project. It might also help to make a Trello board (or whichever productivity tool you use) to plan out what action items you will need to get done right when you return. Even though it might seem excessive now, your post-holiday self will thank you.
8. Be present
When you aren’t working, turn off your notifications. If you’ve done steps 1, 2, and 3 then this should not be an issue. Your clients know you won’t be available, so messages they send can wait until your designated work hours. It might be tempting to check, but just remember that you specifically told your clients you were not going to be available. Why go through all the trouble of setting up a special scheduling and working out project deadlines if you’re just going to proceed as usual? And if you’re still not convinced remember that if you start responding here and there, your clients will assume that you are still available to work all the time, and they will keep asking. Stick to your plan, and turn off those alerts!
Enjoying the holiday season and still getting your work done can happen. You just need to plan well and follow-through with everything that you agree to do. If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’re probably pretty familiar with the delicate line between work and everyday life anyway and it won’t take too much work to adapt. Just remember, you deserve a vacation just like anyone else, so take the time to relax and enjoy your time with your friends and family.
What would you recommend for freelancers trying to fit in holiday fun while still getting their work done? Share your tips and ideas in the comments below!