It's clear for most freelancers that 2023 has been a very slow year, and as we approach summer - a time which is traditionally quieter anyway, for many of us, we might be feeling conflicted between taking some solid rest during the summer, and pushing ahead to keep our business turning over.
When running a small business, looking after your own mental health can so easily get deprioritised - and even if you are trying to take time off, our research shows that 67% of us find that taking time off creates more stress, and that saying no to client work is possible one of the hardest things to do.
Rest is an essential part of being productive and maintaining positive mental health - but if taking time off is causing more stress, it can be counterproductive too! Here are our key tips on being able to rest well when you're self-employed over the summer break.
1/ Don't feel you need to follow the traditional path of a summer break.
As freelancers - we define our own patterns of work to a certain extent.
It's entirely possible that, if you've been relatively quiet over the past few months, you might have already been less busy, so the the need for a large or longer summer break isn't as essential.
Taking time off when you're not busy allows you to work in the periods when you do have client work.
2/ Clients are quieter, so you can rest a little easier.
Summer in many ways is easier period of the year to take time off, as so many clients will be doing the same.
Communicate early and find out when your clients might be away too, find gaps and spaces in the collective calendars where the impact of you being away might be lessened.
3/ Buddy up and Offload
If work still needs to be done, discuss it with your client and agree any sort of cover required, or plan your time to work ahead of the break to reduce any requirements whilst you're away.
It can help to group tasks or work into buckets: things which are critical, things which are valuable, things which can wait. Focus on the things which are critical so they don’t weigh on your mind.
Choose one or two valuable tasks so you can go into holidays on a good note, and put the things which can wait to one side, so you have a list you can get stuck into when renewed after your time off.
Start to build up a support network with fellow small businesses who can step in to support you, and likewise you can return the favour for moments like holidays, illness and scaling up operations.
4/ Ration yourself.
If you absolutely need to work during the holidays, try and give yourself a block of time which you stick to, prioritise the necessary work and then ‘put work away’ for the rest of the day.
This can help reduce any anxiety around missing emails or important messages, but also gives you solid time to rest.
It can help to keep a notebook or file on your phone where you capture the things you want to do in your rationed time tomorrow, rather than dipping into work throughout the day.
5/ Plan ahead.
If you are taking a long break where you aren't going to be working - it's important to clear out your diary as early as possible.
Block out periods where you've committed to not working, and communicate with your customers and clients you won't be around.
It can help to establish yourself a holiday policy - where you agree the minimum time you'll be taking off each year.
6/ Manage your notifications.
Consider hiding the phone or laptop, and giving yourself permission to not check-in with things.
Deleting work related apps from your phone can help remove the notifications entirely, and make full use of your "out of office” message.
Be clear in your out of office message that you aren’t available over the holidays, but be clear when you’ll respond.
Be proactive with clients and provide emergency contact details, but only for those who you know will respect it.
7/ Look towards passive income streams.
Investing in multiple revenue streams can also lighten the load on any requirements of your face time with clients.
Many freelancers explore more 'passive' revenue streams, such as selling downloadables, courses, templates, products.
These don't require you to be spending face to face time with people, but generate some income whilst you're not sat at a laptop.
This can also help you to take time off, knowing that there's still a trickle of money coming in.
8/ Shift things around.
If you're in a position where you simply cannot afford to take time off over summer - perhaps client work is preventing you, or you just have to be working hard to find new business - that's okay too.
Try to recognise that the uncertainty of self-employment isn't a failure, but rather a reality of this way of working - and that sometimes you have to be more fluid with how you work.
Set yourself some really clear objectives or goals for the next six weeks and work towards them - but also plan for taking rest slightly later in the year, or work shorter weeks, so you're still investing in your own care.
9/ Popup holidays.
Consider shorter and more frequent breaks, rather than longer blocks, if you're struggling to take solid time off.
Extended weekends, or two or three days here and there, can go a long way to help you feel rested, without placing undue stress on your ability to deliver work. Even try working from another city, if you're able.
Book a trip to a place which has all of the infrastructure you need to work from during the day - such as coworking spaces or deskshares, and then make the most of the early mornings and evenings. A change of context and scenery can do wonders too!
10/ Enjoy it
Remember the reasons you started your own business, and remind yourself that having more control over how, when and where you work is generally a benefit, and taking time off is part of this.
Reflect on the year you’ve had so far, and celebrate all of the small positive things which have happened, as well as learning from the challenges.
Most of all, give yourself a break - you deserve it.