• Jenny Stallard

Advice on having a day off as a freelancer

Updated: Mar 15

As I write this I’m on a day off. Ah, that sounds a little bit like a fail already since I’m writing on a day off. Let’s rewind a minute.

Today is a day off. And yes I have been finishing off a blog post (this began as notes earlier in the week).

The out of office is set, and there is no outstanding work to file or look at. I am officially on a day off from when I post this.

And it feels…. Hmmm. It feels a mixture of guilty, worried and strange.

Because, well, we freelancers don’t have days off. Do we?

But we should. And I wanted to explore this as for me a day off will always, I think, involve some kind of work and there are myriad reasons for that.

A survey by IPSE found that 92% of freelancers say taking time off has some positive effect on them.

That could be improving work-life balance or feeling less stressed and anxious.

But we only take an average of 24 days of holiday a year. And here lies problem number one as I see it. Because we don’t have to ask anyone for the day off – that is, fill out a holiday form, we tend to forget to take official holiday days. Because there’s no ‘better check the holiday rota!’ we just take days as and when. For me this is great in many respects; when you work for yourself there’s nobody to say ‘sorry I’ve booked that day off we need you in the office’. You can take any days you want, really. I have booked two days in mid-December without having to worry about the pre-Christmas holiday rota or office workload, for example. Last year I had a month off in September and went around California. But I had to do a LOT of planning to make that happen. Because here we go onto number two. We don’t get paid for days off. Not officially. Because we don’t have a salary in the same way a staffer does, we don’t have holiday ‘allocation’. Depending on how you pay yourself, that might differ, but for me the days I don’t work are days I’m not officially earning.

For me, a day off is different to holiday. A day off has a certain extra level of that ‘naughty’ feeling because it’s just one day. A day when we ‘should’ be working. But isn’t it the whole point of choosing the freelance life that we can be flexible and juggle things round? The reason I have the day off is I’m going to the cricket with my boyfriend. I’ve got two articles to work on and I’ll be looking at those on Sunday. On Saturday, I’m working on the Freelance Feels podcast and going to a workshop. Yes, it’s clear to see that there is no official ‘weekend’ when you’re freelance. But I also feel guilty if I have a day off for work-related events, like a networking day or workshop. I forget to remind myself, as I would tell others, that it’s all a big juggle and our hours are not 9-5! And that attending talks and workshops is very much part of work! Is it still work if someone’s not paying you? Yep, guess so, especially if it’s leading to future work or gains.

So why does a day off feel… like I should be doing something, still?

Part of this is phones, for sure. The IPSE survey found that 78% of freelancers don’t feel able to switch off entirely. This is me, for sure, and actually I’ve come to make my peace with it. While we have smartphones, we won’t be able to resist checking in on work.

I get more anxious if I’m cut off from emails – I found this when I tried to spend a day off not looking at them at all. I’d rather know what’s happening than have to check them the next day and then be hit with an onslaught of stuff to deal with.

Sometimes, there will be a reply to a pitch I sent earlier in the week. Is it so bad if I click reply and say ‘great! I’m off today but I can get working on that tomorrow’? I’d rather do that and know the commission is in the bag. Likewise with a meeting or job interview. Most people just say ‘enjoy your day off!’ but for me, keeping in touch is part of being able to feel relaxed.

The biggest thing freelancers do when on holiday is check work-related emails. Then they take calls, and next is working on projects remotely. For me, time off is split into holidays and days off, though. A day off is different to a holiday. But does that make it ok to take a work call on a day off? I’m lucky as my partner is also self-employed so he understands that often yes, it is ok. And it’s often a good call – someone offering work!

I do think it’s important to set the out of office, though. That way you’re in control of when the emails are checked, and your clients are aware there might be a delay in replying. 9% of freelancers didn’t take any time off in the last year, which really worries me. It’s so important to have a day doing something other than work, and I would urge anyone who’s in that camp to try and arrange some time off, sharpish. Yes you won’t be paid and I know that can be a huge worry, but sometimes time away from the screen and work can really bring the mindset you need to actually return to work stronger and more focused.

As we all know, stepping away from the screen can help ideas come together. And remember, as I was once told, ‘your inbox is full of everyone else’s agenda’. Try and focus on the things that are YOUR agenda when you check those emails on your day off.

The other thing is the people you spend the day off with. If you are insistent on still checking in with work, then do it considerately. Don’t check emails when you’re in the ice cream queue with your kids – talk about your favourite flavours instead. I often do my checking when I’m on the loo – I know! Sounds odd? Quick toilet break, check the emails, back to the day off. Done. Come on, I can’t be the only one?!

I also admin a Facebook group for freelancers and I’m not sure I’ve had a day off from that for years! But I enjoy it – I thrive on it. Why deny myself that? We have a great admin team and we let each other know when we’re less ‘on it’ but I often just approve a post when I see one flash up on Facebook. I don’t see any harm in it. Should I be taking official days off from that? I’ve not considered it before – should I have whole days off without doing even the admin or my own social? I wonder if that should be an experiment! Feels more like a digital detox, though, and I like social media.

I guess the issue comes when a message or someone else’s post sends you into an over-comparison spin. Suddenly you’ve gone from checking your social media or emails to thinking you’re not doing well enough, or you get work FOMO. Not good.

I’m always plotting ideas or taking snaps for social media and for me that’s not so much work as just ‘life’. So there is a halfway for me, with days off. I guess it’s about doing your own thing, not someone else’s thing. Time off, as the IPSE survey found, has a hugely positive impact on our wellbeing, so we all need to take it. Some of us need to take more of it. And those words that go with it – own them. That’s what I try to do. Instead of feeling guilty about that ‘cheeky’ day off, add a grin. ‘Yep, I’m having a Friday off.. because I can! I chose this life, yay!’. Try that – not apologising or explaining but saying ‘HELL YES I’m not at my desk today’. The desk will be there tomorrow.

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