A note from James: Last week’s post on the life of freelancers and their runaway trains hit a nerve – many people could see themselves on that crash course to burnout already. One resounding question many people had was, “How do we take our hand off the throttle and start coasting towards a refueling station?”Alex Fayle brings the answer. Enjoy.
Recently James invited me to write about runaway trains and freelancers who want to kill themselves working too hard…Wait, I mean freelancers who want to die in a train wreck… Well, something like that, anyway.
It’s all well and good to acknowledge that your life is a runaway train and you need to slow down before you derail completely in a wreck or burn out with no fuel to keep going.
It’s another thing entirely, though, to know how to stop the insanity and take a holiday. It can seem impossible with all your obligations pushing you onwards from behind.
Think about this a moment. Didn’t you choose to work for yourself so you could have more control of your life? What happened? Why is the business suddenly in control, running you ragged?
There’s only one answer to that question. That answer provides the key to slowing down and taking a vacation for the first time in three, five or maybe even ten years.
The business runs you because you believe you’re irreplaceable.
I have something to tell you. You’re not irreplaceable. You’re not so important or crucial that the world will end if you take time off. You could enjoy a week, two weeks or even a whole month off if you want.
Doctors take time off all the time. Sometimes their clients and patients literally face life-or-death situations. And yet, off the doctor goes on vacation. How can they do this?
It’s easy. They have temporary substitutions, locums, and a support staff in place. Let’s look at the options for freelancers:
Get Yourself a Support Staff
Doctors normally have at least one assistant working for them. When a doctor takes a holiday, the assistant pays the bills, arranges appointments, takes messages and redirects emergency phone calls.
I’ve also known doctors who have other types of support “staff”. They don’t have assistants. They still take month-long vacations, sending their phone calls to voicemail and setting up auto-responders for email, both redirecting people to a substitute. As for administration, the doctors just forget about it for a while.
Let’s take your freelance business and apply the same philosophy. If you’re a busy freelancer, you shouldn’t be wasting your time on administrative duties anyway. Your energy is best applied towards your actual skills and the work you do, no matter how much you like doing bookkeeping or answering email.
Get help. Hire a virtual assistant. Learn to frickin’ delegate. Many freelancers start their own businesses because the reality is that they’re control freaks and feel that they’re the only ones capable of carrying out the work properly.
Get over yourself. Your administrative needs are the exact same administrative needs of every other freelancer out there, and these needs are no more important than the doctor’s administrative needs either. Save yourself a lot of time, stress and worry by giving that work to someone else.
There. That’s half the job done. Now when you go away for a break or focus on the work you do, you’ll have someone supporting you.
If you don’t have much administration or email to take care of, then you really shouldn’t worry about it. People are very understanding – they take holidays too, you know – and they’ll wait two weeks for you to come back to answer their questions.
Trust me. If they’ll wait weeks to see a doctor, they can certainly wait for a freelancer.
What to Do About the Work
Let’s move on to the creative part, your projects and your work. Self-confidence gives us a boost and draws clients to us, but too much self-confidence results in a god-complex. (Just like those doctors.)
And a god complex just isn’t healthy.
Take a deep breath and say these words out loud: “I am not the center of the universe. The world will carry on just fine even if I’m not working ten hours a day.” If needed, repeat this mantra twenty times an hour until you start to believe it.
You know a million and one other freelancers, I’m sure. You must respect the work of at least one or two of them. Talk to these freelancers and arrange a mutual substitution. They probably would appreciate a break, too. Make it so that the arrangement allows both of you to take a holiday at different times of the year.
- Pick dates for your break, even if they’re six months down the road.
- Find your substitute and confirm that the freelancer will be available to replace you during that time.
- If required, train the other person for any urgent tasks – but don’t go crazy. You’re not training a total replacement, just giving the critical information.
- Start telling current clients about your vacation and let them know that all projects will wrap up before you leave. Communicate that you have a substitute set up with background knowledge of their situation in case an emergency arises.
As you get closer to your vacation time, remind your current clients and tell new clients that you’re leaving soon. Give them the following options:
- They can continue working (or start working) with you, take a break while you are away, and you’ll finish the project when you return
- They can work with your substitute (whom you highly recommend)
- They can wait until your return to begin the work
Talk to your substitute about which clients might be in contact from your current client list and what types of work these clients might request.
Let your virtual assistant, your voicemail or your auto-responder handle potential clients who get in touch while you’re away. Have a message that mentions they can contact your substitute or wait for your return. Stress that regardless, you’ll contact them personally when you’re back in the office.
Don’t worry about losing clients. When your substitute goes on holiday, you’ll be taking over their new clients, so it’s an even trade. Also, if you plan your annual budget properly, you won’t need the immediate income during your time away to survive.
As for keeping up with your blog, that’s an easy one. When took a three-week vacation, I wrote a dozen articles ahead of time. Thanks to the magic of post scheduling, I set them all up in advance to publish themselves while I was away. I also informed my readers that I was absent andI wouldn’t respond to comments.
Did I lose readers? No. My regular commentators stepped up to the plate and turned the comment section of my blog into a discussion with each post, taking over my job of responding for me.
You can also get yourself a guest blogger, giving your readers a different perspective on your blog’s theme for a little while. Readers will likely quite enjoy it.
Let’s put this vacation strategy to good use and use James’ desires as an example. He dreams of spending a month in the Gaspésie region this summer. Do I think he can do it? Hell yes! Here’s his nine-step how-to:
- Start telling yourself, “I’m not the centre of the universe.”
- Pick your departure date and the date you’ll return.
- Create very strict boundaries around the work you will do and won’t do while you are away. (I know you wouldn’t be able to fully relax and do nothing, James).
- Find a substitute you trust who would be willing to take on your clients during your holiday and who plans to take a holiday as well at some point in the current year.
- Decide whether the administrative stuff can take care of itself, can wait, or if it needs a virtual assistant. If the latter, start looking for that person. Hire them at least a month in advance to get them comfortable with the way you do things.
- Book the holiday and make bookings non-refundable so you can’t back out.
- Let your current clients know your plans.
- Set up various messages and auto-responders that you’ll be away.
- Give yourself permission to relax knowing that the world will not end while you’re away having a life (for once).
Now for the rest of you reading, what are your vacation plans for this year? After reading this post, you shouldn’t have any reason to say that you don’t have any, right?
This post was brought to you by Alex Fayle, who specializes in slowing down speeding trains, helping people read track maps and making sure they coast in for a refuel without derailing off the tracks.
Even better, he helps people lighten their freight and find new tracks heading to better places. Learn how to drive your train at Alex’s site, Someday Syndrome.