A Freelancer’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays
December 4, 2018
It may be the most wonderful time of year, but for a freelancer like me, the holidays season can also be one of the most stressful. My flexible schedule means that more of the family tasks–attending the kids’ school holiday parties, making sure we’ve purchased gifts for everyone on our list, baking for various potlucks–fall on my shoulders, just as my clients are ramping up demands for work to make sure they don’t leave any of their annual budget unspent. At the same time, I’m trying to check in with clients to drum up business for the coming year—and get a head start on tax prep.
Throw in cold and flu season, unexpected snow days, vacations, and at least a few holiday parties, and it’s no wonder that just thinking about the last few weeks of the year can fills me with apprehension. After four years as a full-time freelancer–and a decade side-gigging before that–I’ve honed my strategies for not only surviving the holidays, but also for making these last few weeks of the year profitable, without killing my holiday spirit.
Here are my secrets:
I work ahead
For me, the key to keeping stress levels at bay during the holidays is managing my overall workload.
The best way I’ve found to do that–without impacting my revenue for the month–is to jump start on my work. That means I’m often working on assignments with holiday deadlines as soon as they come in, even if they’re not due for weeks or months. Putting in a few extra hours in September or October, means I have more hours available in November and December for holiday parties and getting together with the endless procession of out-of-town friends coming through New York. Going to a party without a pending deadline means I get to enjoy it (“Sure, I’ll take another drink!”) without having to worry about work.
I work a reverse schedule
While some people reverse commute–driving the opposite direction of traffic each day–I prefer a reverse schedule, especially during the holidays. I try to use weekdays when everyone else is at work to take care of all the holiday-related errands I need to run. Getting in and out of stores and parking lots on a weekday morning during the holidays can take literally half the time it takes on the weekends and smaller crowds mean a less stressful experience. Plus, once I know that I’ve finished those tasks, I can get back to my desk more focused on my work projects, even if I have to spend an extra hour or two at night or on the weekend to stay on schedule.
I put down time on my calendar (and tell my clients about it)
As freelancers, we sometimes forget that we deserve real vacation time just like everyone else.
My first year as a freelancer, I worried about what my clients would think if I took too much time off the during the holidays. So, I took a vacation without telling them–and ended up spending half of it tied to my laptop answering emails. Lesson learned.
Now, while I still do plenty of multitasking on both weekdays and weekends leading up to the holidays, I also set aside some time purely for friends and family. As soon as I’ve nailed down the dates I won’t be working at all, I notify any clients with whom I may have work during that period. Then, I remind them right before I leave, and use an out-of-office to remind them when my response time will be slower.
I shop for my business, too
The holiday retail season is more than just a great time to get deals on gifts for your loved ones, it’s also an amazing time to find deals on things you need for your business. This year, I’m planning to shop Black Friday sales to buy a new computer, a new headset for my phone, and an ergonomic chair I’ve been eyeing for months. Not only will purchasing these items during the holidays allow me to take advantage of great pricing, but it will also have the bonus benefit of providing some extra business expenses that I can write off at tax time next year.
I become a (digital) nomad
As a writer, I am able to work from any quiet place that I can set up a laptop and phone. So, while I may be away from home for a full week or more during the holidays, all of those days don’t have to be vacation days. With that flexibility, my family is able to schedule our travel days for less hectic times, cutting down on time sitting in traffic and the general stress that comes from having to adhere to a rigid calendar.
If we’re going to be in a city I’m not familiar with, I’ll spend some time in advance researching where I can find Wi-Fi to make sure there aren’t any connectivity issues. I also resolve to be OK with being more mobile-friendly during the holidays, pushing myself to answer more emails via phone than I typically would otherwise.
I just say ‘no’
A key source of stress during the holidays is over-committing myself. Whether that means taking on one too many assignments from a client, promising to bring home-baked cookies to the class holiday party, or RSVP’ing ‘yes’ to more than one family get-together in a day.
Over the years, I’ve realized that as the obligations start piling up, my ability to enjoy them starts going way down.
Now, I carefully consider each assignment, invitation, or favor request–especially during the holidays. Saying ‘no’ to a few of them (and not feeling sorry about it) has given me back the ability to not only survive, but also to enjoy the most wonderful time of year. If I have to say yes, I also try to delegate a bit more, shifting a task like baking cookies to my husband, for example, or simply purchasing them from a local bakery.
Beth Braverman is an award -winning journalist and content producer, writing mostly about personal finance, parenting, and careers. Prior to becoming a full-time freelancer, she spent seven years covering personal finance, first as a senior reporter and social media editor at MONEY magazine and then as the Life + Money editor for The Fiscal Times.
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