Take a strategic approach to time off with a holiday policy.
A few years ago, a number of startups offered their employees unlimited vacation time.
It rapidly caught on as a perk, became the thing to do if you were serious about employee engagement, and some larger non-startup firms tried it out too.
The truth is - it didn’t work.
On average, those employees with unlimited holiday took less time off than normal. The thinking is that scarcity creates value. If you only have 5 days, you’re going to make sure you use them all. If you have unlimited resources, it feels less ‘valuable’.
When you’re self-employed, we, in theory, have unlimited holiday - or rather, there’s no-one putting a limit on the number of days we can take off. Indeed, it’s one of those misperceptions about freelancing, that one can take time off whenever you want - which, anyone who has been self-employed for longer than 12 months knows the reality, taking time off is challenging. What if a client calls? Should I take my laptop with me? How do I book time off, if I don’t know whether I’ll be working then?
Taking time off work is essential - it is when we can rest, reset, reflect, do something other than focus. And if there’s no-one counting the days off, it can be very easy to forget to take the time off.
There are no right or wrong approaches to taking holiday - but starting with a minimum amount of time off, say 25 days, the standard paid holiday for employees in the UK - could be a good start: “I must take 25 days off work between now and the end of the year”.
How you choose to take that time needs a strategy, and something you aim to hold yourself accountable to - a holiday policy if you like - where you ask yourself some key questions: How many days do you want to take off as a minimum each year? What is the longest you'll let yourself work for without a break?
This holiday policy can then form a chapter of your business plan, so you start to see it as a critical aspect of your success, rather than a luxury.
1. Consider a minimum amount of holiday to take each year.
Rather than setting how much time off you want to take, set yourself a lower threshold - the very least you must take off. This forces you to ensure you're taking rest.
2. Set yourself a maximum working sprint
Even if you don't want to plan months in advance, setting yourself a 'maximum working sprint' length, the period of time you'll work for without taking time off. This helps you to design your projects, and factor breaks into scopes of work when you're with a client, as you'll know up-front that if you have a maximum duration of four weeks without a break, you'll have to include this in your project planning.
3. Consider spreading time over the year
Look at how you can try and take regular breaks across the year, rather than in big chunks (i.e. just the summer vacation). You don't need to hold yourself to specific dates, but aiming to give yourself some time each quarter is sensible.
4. Buddy up
Consider planning ahead for your vacation time, and work with a partner to cover your time off. If you know you have time off booked some months in advance, find someone who would be willing to time-swap with you to cover things like emails and essential tasks.
We've published a number of holiday policy worksheets for Leapers members.
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