Who else takes freelance work home over the holidays?
Since freelancers can work from anywhere, it often means that we have the luxury of spending more holiday time with family than our traditionally-employed peers who have to be back at work on Monday morning.
Of course, we usually have to work on Monday morning too. Family members don’t always understand that just because you’re home for the holidays doesn’t mean you’re on vacation.
How do you manage these expectations and ensure that your work gets done while keeping both clients and extended family happy?
I’m coming up on my fourth year of holiday freelancing, so here’s my guide to getting it all done while also catching up with family and friends.
1. Start with communication
The easiest way to manage expectations is to communicate them. Tell your family members that you’re excited to see them this holiday season, and that you’re going to be spending part of your time working.
Present this as a positive: Because you’re a freelancer, you have the opportunity to earn money and maintain your client relationships while still getting to see family for the holidays. Other people in the workforce don’t have this luxury.
Once you’ve established that you’re going to work during part of your holiday visit, it’s time to communicate the boundaries of your workday. I often say, “I need to check in with clients in the morning, and I need to answer emails and turn in a few pieces. I’ll be available for holiday and family stuff after lunch.” You might also say something like “I need to spend most of Thursday working on freelance stuff, but I’ll be available to visit Grandma with you on Thursday evening, and I’ll also be available all day Friday.”
Make these boundaries known early. Let your family know as soon as possible when you plan to be focusing on work along with which periods of time you’ve reserved for them.
By communicating early, everyone can prepare for temporary schedule changes.
2. Batch your workload
If your typical freelance workday includes a lot of puttering around and chatting on social networks between writing pieces, it’s time to hunker down and focus.
Try to batch your workload into small, distinct time blocks: 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays, for example.
You need to avoid as much procrastination as possible to get your work done in a pre-defined time block. If you like to take 20-minute breaks between writing sprints, for example, you may need to cut that down to five-minute breaks. You don’t want to hear a disappointed family member say “I thought you were working!” when they catch you watching YouTube.
If you can’t get all of your work done during the time blocks you’ve set for yourself, consider working a few extra hours after everyone else has gone to bed or before they wake up. I’ve gotten a lot of work done on family trips by staying up late or setting my alarm a little early.
Pay attention to your family’s schedule to find the optimum time to work.
Is your family the kind that likes to spend an hour or two after lunch relaxing in front of the TV? That might be your ideal work time. Have a parent who likes to spend the hour before dinner cooking up an elaborate meal? Grab your laptop and answer emails from the kitchen island. It’s like you’re getting work done together!
3. When you’re not working, be present
We all know you’re not going to turn your phone off when your freelance work is done. You could, however, put it in your pocket — or at least turn off email notifications.
When you tell your family that you’ll be available for certain activities, be present. I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard. I have definitely been the person sending emails during a family hike because something came up with one of my clients. But do your best to work when you’re supposed to work, and put work away when you’re not working.
Consider it the other side of the “I thought you were working!” argument. Try to avoid the distractions of the Internet when you’re getting work done — and then avoid the distractions of the Internet when you’re with your family!
4. You don’t have to do everything
Family and clients often come with similar pressures: You have to do everything, or else you’re not part of the team.
It’s OK to say no, to both your family members and to your clients. It’s OK to tell your family that you can’t play Monopoly after dinner because you have to finish a freelance assignment, or that you’d like to get some work done while they pick out the Christmas tree — but you’ll be ready to help them decorate it!
It’s also OK to tell a client that you can’t take on a specific assignment because you’ll be visiting your family. Or, you can ask for a deadline that falls after the holidays. You are not required to be available at all times. Many freelancers forget this, including me.
Setting boundaries with yourself, your family and your clients — and then taking the time to communicate those boundaries — is the key to having a happy holiday while also getting your freelance work done.
Remember, you are an adult with a real job, and you have the right and the responsibility to manage that job effectively during the holiday season.
Then enjoy that extra piece of pie, because you’ve earned it.
How do you manage your workload during the holiday travel season? Do you have tips for setting expectations with both clients and family?