Dear Freelancer: It’s OK to Take a Day Off (And 6 Ways It Will Improve Your Career)

(And 6 Ways It Will Improve Your Career)

I’m about to utter six precious words that many freelancers rarely get the opportunity to voice.

I took a three-day weekend.

Sure, I take days off, but when you’re self-employed you’re always thinking about the next pitch, project, headline or email that needs to fly off your keyboard. It’s all part of the gig.

But, it’s draining.

As a freelancer, I can attest to how easy it is to work a half-day on Saturday or sneak in a few extra hours at my desk after a full workday. You don’t realize you haven’t had a full day off until you get intentional about fully disconnecting.

Skipping Days Off Work is Bad For Your Health

When was the last time you took a full 24-hours away from your work email, social media accounts and writing software? Yeah. It’s probably been awhile, right?

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation explains the combo of working long days and skipping vacations is what’s fueling our stress levels, and in turn affects our physical and mental health. Specifically, stress can lead to:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • strokes
  • immune system issues
  • sleep problems
  • stomach issues
  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiousness
  • memory problems
  • poor decision-making
  • anxiety disorders

We need to manage our stress better as a self-employed workforce. I’ve struggled with finding balance between days off and deadlines, but have slowly discovered the best way to get uninterrupted time away from work tasks is to…schedule time off just as I would schedule a work task.

My Thoughts About Self-Care and the Self-Employed

I block off days on my work calendar so when I’m scheduling new projects, I can see at a glance which days are open and which ones are not. I can better estimate whether or not I have the time (and mental energy) to take on a new project and when I will be able to work on it. This sounds simple. But if you’re like me and assume you’ll have weekends off (or whatever two days fit your lifestyle), then revisions pop up and last-minute pitch requests catch your eye, those assumed days off suddenly become the catch-all for random work task that pops up.

With that said, I do plan time for revisions, pitching and the other seemingly “unexpected work” that somehow always lands in my inbox, but often I fill those spots with paid work, because…why wouldn’t I? See the struggle? See the cycle? I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone, and as much as I’m working toward taking more time off, the freelancer community (both newbies and seasoned business owners) and sure to experience this unbalance at some point in their flexible careers.

So, one more time for those skim reading… please, schedule time off on your calendar ASAP. Then, keep those appointments with yourself in place. Don’t bump them for a quick revision or client call. You need time for YOU as an individual to refresh and recharge so you can be all-in when it’s time to be creative.

6 Things I’ve Noticed When I Take Time Off Work

I understand how hard it is to take a full day off when you have a new set of client guidelines to study or a Zoom call to prepare. Or, your website. It can always use polishing or updates, right? So let me woo you with a few insights I’ve had since starting to be ruthless with my time away from work.

  1. When I take time off work, I’m more creative. Ideas begin to flow more seamlessly and I can get into a creative writing flow faster after my brain has had time away from the process of writing. You can’t expect your creativity to run at a marathon pace day after day after day. We need to rest. An article in Scientific American explains this rest must be restorative and a “complete break from our normal working lives”. Yes, that means not checking in on your emails and social feeds from your cellphone when you’re off work.
  2. When I take time away from creating, I can think about my business. Sometimes I need to pause the production aspect so I can work on how my business runs. When I take time off work, it’s easier for me to discover ways to be more efficient when I’m back at my desk and what I need to do to be a better boss to… myself. Do you like working for you?
  3. When I take time off, I don’t lose clients. This was a big fear at the start of my freelancing career. I would worry that if I didn’t reply to an email within the hour, or if I declined a project, that I’d be banished from the client’s freelancer roster forever. It’s not true, my friend. Your client realizes you’re human and you also need time off. So, take it.
  4. When I take time off, my writing improves. I’ve noticed the first few days back at my desk after taking time off I’m more focused, making the ideas and words roll off my fingers more easily. You know that old saying work smarter, not harder. It applies here. When you feel rested, you work smarter. Tasks become less hard. My productivity increases and I know I’m putting out a better product for my clients.
  5. When I take time off, I explore other creative pursuits. In addition to writing, I’m a sucker for photography (Have you seen my Instagram?), painting, music and really any kind of artsy expression I can get my hands on or ears tuned to. By engaging my senses in new, but equally creative ways, it revives my passion for writing so I’m more inspired when I’m back at my keyboard.
  6. When I take time off, I enjoy my career more. We weren’t designed to grind away at work day in and day out. Finding a balance of time with our friends, families, pets, hobbies, work tasks and other interests inadvertently makes our careers more enjoyable because they are simply another piece of the puzzle that makes up our lives. When work and life are balanced, mental and physical exhaustion reduces; career satisfaction bubbles up.

Are you a freelancer? Do you struggle to take time off? What’s holding you back from blocking out a day on your calendar for you? Think on this and reflect on the last time you took a three-day weekend or vacation. Nice, right? Why not plan for that again, ASAP!

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