*Glances at clock.*
Great. It’s only 7am. That gives me about an hour until The Family is up. I can get loads of work done. I love Saturdays.
*Work work work work work*
Whew. That was an intense work session. I got loads done.
*Glances at calendar*
What!? It’s Sunday?! Where did Saturday go?
*Looks at spouse* What do you mean you took the girls to the movies without me? And you got ice cream, too? Why didn’t you ask me to go? Oh. You did. I was busy working.
All too often freelancers get into the habit of working non-stop. While this may thrill some of your clients, it can leave your family resentful, your body exhausted, and your mind dull.
The best way to keep your real world relationships thriving and your work at its best is to take a break every once in a while, preferably daily. But how can you stop working when your work never stops? Be strong and use your daily schedule to your advantage.
Schedule your break
You’ve most likely got a work schedule that you stick to, one that outlines your projects and follows your to-do list perfectly. You know that 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is reserved for client work and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. is for networking. From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. you’ve got more client work penciled in.
Having a structured schedule is great, and I highly recommend it. However, if you’re not scheduling your breaks, you’re not using your schedule to its full potential.
One of the worst things you can do for your break time is to not schedule it in your calendar. Don’t just leave a time gap between projects and say, “That’s my break.” Actually block off your break time in your calendar.
Scheduling your break signifies that it’s just as important as the rest of your work. It also reminds you that you need to take a break. It’s easy to forget about breaks when you don’t schedule them.
Including your breaks in your daily schedule also gives you something to look forward to. You may find that you’re actually more productive because you know that you’ve got a break coming up. It’s a little easier to finish a task when you’ve got a reward like a break waiting at the finish line.
Actually stick to your schedule
If you planned a break, especially if you scheduled it in your calendar, take it. Don’t make excuses or promise yourself that you’ll just take an extra long break tomorrow.
This is usually the hardest part for most freelancers because we set our own hours and often work alone. If we want to work 16 hours a day, we can. However, taking some time away from work is important to maintaining your sanity and real-world relationships. (Remember those people you call friends and family? I’m sure they’d love to see you.)
If you find that you have trouble following the schedule you made and taking a break at the appointed time, try setting a reminder on your phone. You could also have a friend call you at your break time to tell you to get off the computer. Have a dog? Train him to pull you out of your desk chair. Do whatever it takes to step away from the computer screen. It will always be there. The world and the potential experiences you could have won’t be.
Divide and conquer
Instead of listing out all the projects you need to do, try breaking your to-do list into chunks. Schedule one chunk in the morning before your break, a second chunk in the afternoon, and a third in the evening. Between those chunks, don’t forget to pencil in your break. The key to dividing up your to-do list is to be sure that you can complete each group of tasks before your break.
It’s easier to take a break if you’ve just wrapped up a set of tasks. You’ve come to a natural stopping point, so you’re more inclined to rest. Dividing your list into chunks also makes it possible to enjoy your break because you’re not worried about the projects that you haven’t finished.
When you return from your break, you’ll be able to move on with a new set of tasks, and you won’t have to worry about picking up where you left off.
Plan your break (and make it fun)
“But Ardelia, I take breaks all the time. I mean, just yesterday I organized my business expense receipts instead of doing client work.” Woo. How relaxing was that? You just can’t beat a good receipt organizing session when it comes to break time activities.
The secret to actually doing fun stuff on your break is to plan it. Yes, write down what you plan to do during your break. Your break activities could look something like this: “Watch two episodes of M*A*S*H* then start epic water balloon fight with neighborhood kids”.
Figure out exactly how you’re going to spend every minute away from work. If you don’t, you’re likely to slip back into working or end up with a break list like this: “Do laundry, load dishwasher, vacuum the house.”
You can also keep a “Fun To Do” list near your workspace. Your list should include activities that you enjoy and that don’t take a whole lot of planning. This way, if you forget to plan your break, you can look at that list and pick something to do. It will save you time and let you enjoy your break more.
Plan your after-break projects
You’ve just enjoyed a lovely, relaxing break, and you’re ready to dive back into work. But…you’re not sure what to work on, so you spend the next hour figuring out what your plan of attack will be. An even worse scenario? You spend your break time planning what you’ll do after your break. Don’t do that.
Plan what projects you’re going to tackle after your break before you even take your break. Have a clear plan for when you return to work. It’ll save you the trouble of wasting your break worrying about it, and you won’t have to spend precious work time trying to figure everything out.
Make the appropriate arrangements
If you’re planning on being away from your work for a few days (or longer), be sure that you let your clients know in advance. It’s the professional and courteous thing to do. Most clients understand the need to take some time off, especially if you’re spending it with family.
Before you start your vacation, work with your clients to figure out the best plan of action for you both before and during your vacation. Do you need to do more work before your break so your clients are set? Will you respond to emails and phone calls during your vacation? Discussing points like this will give your clients realistic expectations of what they can expect while you’re on vacation.
Make your breaks non-negotiable
Often, the hardest part of taking a break is just stopping work and walking away. Don’t allow yourself to overlook your break time. It’s critical for your physical, emotional and mental health. Without breaks, your quality of work will suffer, and your clients will notice. Don’t gamble with your clients’ happiness (and your paychecks) by working non-stop.
Taking breaks is also a good way to ward off freelance burnout. You likely started freelancing because it was something you loved doing. However, if you work so much that you begin to loathe your career, you might as well find a corporate job.
Preserve your fire for your freelance business by refusing to be a slave to your work. Walk your dog. Read love poems. Start an epic snowball fight. Remind yourself that there’s more to life than working.
Take some time today to figure out where you can work a break into your schedule and write down some activities you can do during your break. My favorite suggestions include Netflix, reading, a quick workout, and family time.
Do you have a regular break time? What activities do you enjoy during your break?