Have you developed a toxic working relationship with yourself? In this episode, I discuss the power of rest and share the importance of time off, both scheduled and unscheduled, where you're able to just decompress from your business.
You’ll learn how taking time off allows you to feel rejuvenated and recharged and show up as strong as possible for your business and your clients.
After listening to this episode, share your action steps and take-aways with our group:
Read the Transcript:
Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. I'm recording this episode in August, which historically has been a month that I have usually taken off from freelancing or scaled things down to a very part-time status. And there's a reason for that, right after freelancing for eight years, there are certain months of the year that are just slower than others. And I usually record episodes around this time of year about how to recalibrate, how to look at your work samples, how to take a step back. Um, you prepare yourself for the busy fall season, but this year, I also think it's more important than ever to think about taking time off from your business, particularly because the pandemic has really shifted what that looks like for so many families. And it's very possible that you've been working remotely for years, but now your spouse is suddenly at home or your kids are at home and the school schedule is all different and it becomes very easy when everyone's in the house doing work for it to feel like all you ever do is work and that you're working constantly all the time.
And that's a really vicious cycle that can set you up for burnout. So in this podcast episode, I want to talk a little bit about how to take time off both longer stretches and also on a more ongoing basis to step away from your business. I've dealt with burnout multiple times as a freelancer, as an employee. I've seen it from so many different perspectives, but I've also coached many of the freelancers that I work with. One-on-one about what burnout looks like for them and how to guard against it, or to take that step back when you realize that you are entering into burnout so that you can put in place some proactive measures to avoid going into that again in the future, but also to make it a little bit easier on yourself in the moment. Now, one of the most important things you can do to guard against burnout is to take regular time off in your business.
And not just time when you're at stepping out and going on a vacation, right? I mean the whole idea of travel and vacation has pretty much been obliterated as a result of the pandemic. And so if you have a spouse that works in a traditional situation, they've probably accumulated a lot of vacation days, but you and your family don't feel comfortable traveling just yet. And so you've probably gotten into the habit since, you know, the end of February 2020, when all this started of working as much as possible. Even if it's not just in your business, you might also be balancing that with family responsibilities and taking care of your kids or even homeschooling and doing some of these other things. And plenty of us freelancers feel so grateful just to have clients at this moment in time because we know that the pandemic has not affected all freelancers equally.
And so there's a hesitancy against getting rid of some clients. And so most people are keeping these projects going. They're looking for new projects, they're trying to build in some of that financial stability, especially if another income earner in their house has lost their position or is working on decreased hours or anything like that. But you can see how all of these things line up for a perfect storm for you to become overworked and burned out. Even if you've had pretty good habits in the past. There's a lot of different things here that could set you up to not take time off from your business, right? And you might feel that increasing pressure like Laura, how can you say that? How can I take time off now when it's more important than ever that I keep my business afloat, that I work really hard to keep these contracts open, and to make my clients feel like it's a value add for them to
Stick with me, lots of smaller businesses have been negatively affected by the pandemic, and no doubt that's been reflected in marketing budgets. And so when we go into that restrictive mode with our finances, it feels as though you shouldn't take time off or that you can't take time off because there are so many other things on your plate and you feel that pressure to essentially continue performing and trying to keep things at that higher level so that you have some protection and some padding, if any, one of your clients were to cancel that you still have some other projects and retainers that are going on, but taking time off is essential for you to be able to grow your business. And also to show up with the mental and physical capacity where you're excited to work on your clients' projects. So, several years ago, I was working with a business coach who saw that I was putting in way too many hours.
I mean, I had kind of fudged down the number of hours I was actually working per week and she challenged me to keep track of it for one week to see what I was really doing. And so I used a manual timer, toggle.com, which is a tool I often recommend to other people, whether you're using it to time things for clients or for your own purposes. And I saw that I was really putting in between 50 and 60 hours a week. And the weird thing about it was I didn't really need to be doing that. I just felt more purposeful when I was working. I tend a little bit towards the workaholic spectrum already. So I know it's something that I have the propensity to do, but I could not remember the last time I had taken a sick day or that I had really just taken a day off to not do anything, right.
Like I would take a day off of client projects to go do a speaking event or to do something related to, you know, book, promotion or something like that. But I had never really taken a full day off unless were specifically taking vacation and I was fully disconnected like on a cruise ship or something like that. And one of the things this business coach said to me that really struck me in that moment was that I was as a boss, treating myself very abusively, like a worker. And that I had actually developed this really toxic working relationship with myself as far as like Laura, the boss, and Laura, the business owner who was trying to, you know, structure what it would look like to run a freelance business. And then also Laura, who was working inside the business, and this is a really dangerous and potentially toxic cycle.
And, um, when she suggested that I cut my hours, you know, my reaction was about what you'd expect. It was a lot of resistance. And so I get it if you're in that position and you're feeling like world events are telling you to do anything but step back, but it is absolutely critical that you start thinking about how you take time off from your business and not just that one or two weeks of vacation a year. We don't know what vacation is going to look like in the coming months. It's definitely not going to look like how travel did before we, we don't know when things, or if things will calm down in the near future. Um, you know, there may be members of your family who do feel comfortable traveling and others who don't. And so you have to be able to come up with creative ways to step back from your business.
And so from that example of talking with my business coach a couple of years ago, I could not foresee taking off entire days. It just felt really, really impossible for me. And so she issued me a challenge that for two weeks, I had to finish all of my work by 2:00 PM. And then I had to have some form of an appointment outside the house to go, you know, really literally forced myself to stop at 2:00 PM. And it felt very uncomfortable to do this at first. And then I realized that I was really procrastinating on a lot of projects or taking a lot of time on things that didn't need to take that long. And so, only one or two of those days across a two week period, did I really feel that time crunch? You know, it would be like 1:23 in the afternoon and I'd be kind of sprinting towards the finish line to hurry up and do what I needed to do before the next day.
But it was a really helpful exercise for me to see that I could take time off from my business and that it really was possible. And it also opened my eyes a lot to the projects that I was working on, that wouldn't fit into a new schedule of me taking some more time off. So even though it's hard right now to imagine getting out of your house, it is one of the easiest tips to help you really begin to take time away from your business, particularly if you can be away from your laptop and your phone. So this can be going to a state park and being socially distant, lots of things where you can go outside and you can get some fresh air and there's no need, or it's really difficult to bring along technology. I think that really helps to break the habit a little bit and you might not be able to do entire days at first, right?
You might need to say I'm taking Friday afternoons off every week for the next month and see how that goes for you. And then once you feel like that's possible, you might take that step back and think about more regularly taking time off in your business in a different way. Now I've usually taken more time off in August and in December because they do tend to be slow freelance periods. And you'll hear some coaches say, well, you can do business anytime. And that's definitely true, but I'm not going to try to work really hard during months when I just have eight years of data showing me that it's the hardest to get clients anyways. And so I'm not going to like push myself through something like that, just to say, Oh yeah, I can get clients on Christmas day or whatever. Right? So that's been one way that I've really helped to break myself away from the workaholic tendencies is by saying, I'm going to try to schedule the most of my downtime around when it tends to be quiet with freelancing clients anyways, so that not only will, I feel like my schedule is open enough with my current client load, but I won't feel like I'm losing opportunities by stepping away during the months when I'd be unlikely to get a new client anyways.
And that's made it a lot easier for me. And it's given me some touchpoints throughout the year to look forward to the fall is such a busy season. And then it kind of tapers off around Christmas. Right? But knowing that maybe August isn't going to be so difficult of a month and December is going to be kind of light and just, you know, reviewing the last year and thinking about what you want the following year to look like gives you some breathing room mentally and put some immediate stop gaps in your schedule to be able to do this. Now, one of the ways that I coached one of my coaching clients to do this was, she said, you know, for years, I've just wanted to take off two weeks around the holidays. I've just wanted to like to close my office, like the week before Christmas, all the way through new years.
And so I said, just do it like this is like August or September. Go ahead and block it in your calendar now that you are on vacation and start thinking now about what do you need to do a couple of months out to be prepared to really take those two weeks and enjoy them, even if it is a staycation. So you do want to notify your clients of things like this. You want to make sure you've turned in all things early with those kinds of deadlines. And, um, you want to really feel like when you get to that point, you're not racing against the clock and you're ready to just disconnect from your office. Odds are fires and emergencies, and really big problems are not going to pop up while you step out of your business for a certain period of time, whether for you that's a day.
And that barely feels manageable right now, or whether it is something like two weeks where you're hoping to disconnect when it comes to taking time off from your business, you need to just write it down, make it a reality, put it in your calendar. You know, if you're still working full time and you're looking to have some time off from both your side hustle and your day job, you need to request that time off, have it on the calendar, you know, have plans of, you know, what you're going to do. Maybe you picked a really busy park to go to and you want to avoid the crowds. And so you're, pre-purchasing your parking pass. And, um, anything else you need to get there? And you're packing a picnic lunch the night before to really solidify like, yes, I'm doing this. I'm not going to wake up and feel like, well, it would be easier if I just stayed home today and I could get some extra work done.
So it's really important when taking time off to get out of your office, as much as possible new environments can trigger all kinds of great creativity and new thinking processes that will allow you to feel rejuvenated. And if you're on the edge of burnout, spending more time in your home office is not going to make that any better, right? In most cases, just going to make it much, much worse. And so take some time to step away. Even if that's, you know, visiting a family member that, you know, has also been social distancing and you can drive there or going away to a cabin or taking an RV or something like that, where you can disconnect from your business and really break away. And for me, like I said, it's been easiest to do this in situations where technology is just not accessible or is such a pain that it's a problem to do, right?
So if like I'm camping in a cabin, that's pretty isolated and rural, they might have wifi, but the fact that it's probably terrible wifi makes it easier for me to say, you know what? I really don't need my computer this weekend. There's nothing that's going to be urgent enough or important enough for me to feel like I want to drag my computer out and work on really slow wifi. Now, I really believe that every quarter you should be taking at least a couple of days off, if it's easier for you at first to have those be planned days where you've got appointments, where you've got specific things doing that can help you. We're definitely living in unprecedented times where you can't really schedule things like a massage or a weekend getaway or a couple of day cruise, right? So you still need to honor that time off in your calendar.
However, I find it to be helpful to kind of balance my days between things where I have stuff planned for my days off, relaxing activities, exercise being outdoors. And then also just days where I don't have anything planned and where it's totally okay to wake up and read a book or binge-watch a TV show all day. If you have been working really, really hard now, one resource I want to share with you before I wrap up, I recently interviewed this author for my other podcast and he was absolutely incredible. And I love his book and he talks a lot about the power of rest and how it's not just something that people say to help you prevent burnout. It is really essential physically and emotionally for you to feel rejuvenated and recharged. And the more you run yourself down, the more exhausted you're going to be for your business and for your clients.
And that's ultimately going to start to show in the results or in the way that you show up for those clients. And so building rest in and being very proactive about it, benefits everyone across the board. So one thing I want to challenge you to do is to sit down right now and take a look at your upcoming calendar and see if there are, you know, two days that you can take off in the next six weeks that you're going to go ahead and actually block out on your calendar. And I like to look for days that don't have a lot of things scheduled already. That makes it easier for me to be like, Oh good. I don't have to bump any meetings. Now, this book that I'm going to recommend to you is called The Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg. He's also written a book about peak performance. He works with a lot of athletes and tells some really incredible stories in both of those books that are primarily based on athletes but have so much crossover to business owners that I cannot recommend them enough. He really talks about these cycles of rest as being essential, to working at your highest level of performance. And that is certainly true for entrepreneurs. And so you need to do more than just give yourself permission to rest. You need to be proactive about how you build it into your calendar, and it can't just be
Vacations that you take a couple of times a year when the kids are off school. And when it's easy for your spouse to step away, you also need time, both scheduled and unscheduled time where you're able to just decompress from your business and not have things that are making you feel pressurized. And you don't need to explain this to anyone like your subcontractors or people in your digital team or your clients. You can just say, I will be out of office on Friday, September 30th and, you know, put an autoresponder up for that particular day and start small, right? And really honor those commitments that you make to yourself. I always like to look at my monthly calendar at a glance and start to see where I might have some opportunities to take that time off so that I can really hold myself accountable and make sure that it's spaced out.
Now, I'm recording this episode after taking three solid days off last week. And I can't tell you how much it was needed. I was actually really disappointed in myself that I hadn't taken time off that off like that in the recent past. I had taken, you know, days off to go do other things or to handle other meetings or presentations or, you know, in February to go to the pod Fest conference. But I hadn't ever actually taken some days since the pandemic started to just decompress and to have nothing on my calendar. And I felt so good coming back to work on Monday. I felt like my mind was clear and that means you're going to show up as strong as possible for your business and for your clients. So if it's been a while, since you've taken some time off, you have a clear action step from this episode that can really drive you towards doing that.
Laura Briggs is empowering the freelance generation. Through her public speaking, coaching, and writing, she helps freelancers build the business of their dreams without sacrificing all their time, family, or sanity. Laura burned out as an inner-city middle school teacher before becoming an accidental freelancer with a Google search for “how to become a freelance writer.” Since then, she’s become a contributor to Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and Writer’s Weekly. She worked for more than 300 clients around the world including Microsoft, Truecar, and the Mobile Marketing Association. She’s delivered two TEDx talks on the power of the freelance economy for enabling freedom and flexibility and how it’s being used to address the technical skills gap in the U.S. Laura is the host of the Advanced Freelancing podcast, a sought-after public speaker on the gig and digital freelance economy, and a freelance coach focused on aspiring six-figure freelancers. Laura’s books, courses, and coaching have reached over 10,000 people.
As a military spouse, Laura is passionate about serving her community and founded Operation Freelance, a nonprofit organization that teaches veterans and military spouses how to become freelancers and start their own business.