Despite being one of the supposed perks of being self-employed, taking time off can sometimes feel like a luxury, or even not possible at times - but it's important to remember that you are your company's most valuable asset - and without rest, you risk running out of energy and reaching a point where you are unable to work. Choosing to take time off is better than being forced into it - so planning time off is critical.
It's important to recognise that it is never as simple as "just switch off" - if you're an employee, it can be much easier to just walk away from the job, but when you're running your own business, the reality is things can't just be put to one side, so some clever juggling and design is required.
Here are our suggestions to making taking time off a little easier.
1/ Give yourself a holiday allowance - In employment, you'll get 25 days or so of time to take off, which pretty quickly runs out. In self-employment, still give yourself a number of days of annual leave, but treat it as a target to ensure you're taking adequate time off. Aim to book time off in advance, rather than reactively waiting for a 'gap' or where work is quiet, as you run the risk of never finding a time to take that break if your business is doing well - your success in business becomes a problem in wellbeing. Protect the time in your diary in the same way you would if another client was asking you to work.
2/ Clear the road - Communicate with your customers far ahead of your planned time off to agree any sort of cover required, or if there’s work you can do ahead to lighten the load over the break. 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 finish up on a good note, and put the things which can wait to one side, so you’ve a set of tasks for after your break.
3/ Ration yourself - If you absolutely need to work during your holiday, 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.
4/ 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.
5/ Buddy up - S
tart 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. There are lots of communities which aim to create connections between small business owners, join an online tribe and build your network - have a look at freelancefriendly.network
6/ 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.
Most of all, give yourself a break - you deserve it.