Self-Employed? Tips for Taking Time Off Without Trauma

Photo: Ed Yourdon

Vacation days from a traditional employer are almost as valuable as the paycheck itself. In fact, since becoming a work-at-home mom in 2007, I haven’t really ever taken a real vacation. Sure, I was forced to check my online meetings and frequent business trips at the door of the hospital when I gave birth to my fifth kid in 2010 — but other than that, time off has been limited.

You may be wondering, then, “What makes Linsey qualified to tell me how to take off time from my own business? She rarely does herself.” It’s amazing what you can learn from your mistakes, however. And so I give you a brief list of the wisdom I’ve learned to getting some much needed me-time, even if your small business cash flow limits the “when,” “where,” and “how often.” (See also: 5 Office Habits to Keep When Working From Home)

Look Beyond the Week Off

Some traditionalists claim that you need at least three days away from the iPhone, laptop, and email to truly get into the zen mode that vacations are famous for. I call “bull” on that theory. The length of time it takes you to get out of “work mode” and into “fun mode” has more to do with your personality and boundaries than any industry standard.

If I personally know that I am having two days off with no work duties, I take that time and have the best 24 hours I can imagine. Given an entire week at that rate, it may actually be too much and I might never return to my grown-up responsibilities. Others will need far more than six days to let their hair down. That may be a sign that you are wired too tightly into your business and frequent, shorter breaks can help you to learn to appreciate the chunks of life in between your working tasks. Whatever your tendency, seven straight days of vacation can be too costly (both in time and money) to commit to. Don’t overlook the value of the short break, and see how you can work on ways to learn to enjoy 24-48 hours of peace. (Like a weekend. Remember?)

Live in the Real World

Looking forward to leaving your online business to pursue “other” online entertainment endeavors? Try to avoid this, if possible. Yes, role playing games, Facebook connections, shopping for the best online deals, and watching hours upon hours of old Firefly episodes on Netflix can be great ways to unwind, but if your small business requires you to stare at screens all day, your body (and mind) may really need a break from being so plugged-in.

Don’t feel you have to abandon your online communities completely, but do try to schedule some vacation time without your gaming buddies. Go outside. See a new “real” place. Breathe the air and remember what it’s like to live in the slow crawl that is tangible humanity. You’ll have plenty of time to work on that wicked case of carpal tunnel when you return to work.

Budget for Your Break

If you really want to take a short intermission from your small business, make sure you plan for the interruption in revenue. You can either work ahead of time to earn that money before you go, or set aside a chunk of “vacay revenue” to help you through in the down time. (I actually prefer to set aside a chunk of money and NOT try to scramble to make up the revenue I will lose. My work schedule is murderous enough without having to try to earn EXTRA before I leave.) A friend of mine does a mixture of both, and outsources the work she would have done while on vacation to a friend. She earns 20-40% of her regular fees and can walk away and enjoy her break.

Let People Know Where You’ll Be

If you work with hundreds of people in your business, you don’t need to email them all individually. A nice “I’ll be on vacation from this date to this date” will suffice. (Be sure to use BCC, okay?) Otherwise, an out-of-office reply lets only those who need you know that you’ll be back and to hold any important new business until you return. (No need to alert the world that you’re gone unless they are actually looking for you.) Be sure to avoid this common out-of-office reply faux pas, however.

Just the fact that you’re looking to take a recess should be commended. There is much to gain from stepping back from your small business and much to lose by ignoring the need to reconnect with friends, family, or just yourself. Whether you see the world, or just hit a new local eatery, you’ll never regret the time off, provided you look ahead and put it into your plan!

What fun breaks have you taken from your small business?

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Guest's picture

Spot on tips. I do have my own bimonthly sabbaticals off from online work. I've been noticing a lot of other self-employed, especially those whose income depend online, take digital breaks from time to time. I think it's a healthy way to step back and do some object appraisal of your work.

Andrea Karim's picture

I don't even run my own business, but I do have a lot of freelance work on the side of my full-time job, and having one day a week in which I can step away from the computer is crucial to maintaining my sanity, not to mention my eye health. A whole Saturday with no blogging or editing, just walking around downtown Seattle and gawking at people almost feels like a full vacation.