Tips for finding the right balance between freedom and responsibility

The good news is that, as a freelancer, you’re in charge. You choose your clients, your schedule and even your pay. You design your work experience from A to Z. It’s all in your hands. Not to quote a certain masked superhero or anything, but, “with great power comes great responsibility,” so as the master of your own work life, it’s also your job to find the right balance between work and rest (or work and play, whatever you’d like to call it). Ultimately, that’s also good news! It’s your call when to say “yes” to more work, and when to take a break. But how do you set yourself to take time time off when you need it? How should you organize yourself so that you can take proper breaks? And how do you broach that with clients?

Choosing the right freelancing strategy

In general, freelancers have a lot of freedom

They can choose with whom they work, on what projects, and for what fee. As independent contractors, they tend to be better paid than full-time employees. And it’s also up to each and every individual freelancer to decide to take on more (or less) work at any given time. 

Emilien Pecoul, a passionate freelance coder based in France and CEO of SuperIndep, an administrative service for freelancers, wrote a book called Code Freelance in which he writes about how to freelance successfully. One chapter focuses specifically on the issue of choosing the right freelancing strategy for you. His take is that it’s up to you; you decide if you want to earn more or work less. You choose when you work and for how much. Ideally, the right strategy would allow you to work less and earn more. In the end, it’s about finding the right balance for you. You should also, in his words,

quote Emilien

The idea is to be in control and to be properly compensated for your skills and talent.

Productivity tips for freelancers

Before we get into how to take time off as a freelancer, let’s cover some general work productivity tips.

Basic productivity tips: Keep a calendar

First, make sure you have a calendar and a to-do list. That may sound obvious, but it’s absolutely essential for you to be able to organize your schedule in order to get things done. Keeping a calendar will enable you to maintain oversight of your daily workload as well as your longer-term timeline, and to be able to tackle your work in an efficient way. And after all, if you don’t have an updated work calendar, how could you even begin to think about scheduling time off?

Basic productivity tips: Track work hours

Another important work practice is to make sure you’re keeping an eye on your workload too, tracking the time you spend on each client project. This will help you tackle your list of tasks and stay on schedule, delivering work in a timely manner without letting too many assignments pile up. Tracking your work hours also helps you ensure that you’re charging clients appropriately for your work, and that you don’t overcommit or overextend yourself. Ultimately this allows you to understand whether or not you’re charging enough to be able to take time off. 

Basic productivity tips: Prioritize

Prioritizing your work tasks, whether administrative or related to client projects, will help you get them done in an organized way. When deciding what tasks to tackle first, keep in mind their intended delivery dates. You also may want to consider what some refer to as “eating your frog,” or tackling your least-appealing assignment first. This may seem a little counterintuitive, but once you’ve gotten the most challenging work out of the way, all other items on your list will be easier to complete!

By keeping in mind the tips above, as well as other basic best practices for work-life hygiene, like taking breaks or having an organized and comfortable work space, you’ll be a more productive and more successful freelance professional.

man looking at screen

How to organize time off as a freelancer

Once you’ve boosted your productivity and eliminated non-productive time, you’re in a good position to consider taking vacation or time off. And remember that taking time off is beneficial for your well-being, and can help bring fresh energy to your work.

In principle, according to Emelien Pecoul (who we heard from above), taking vacation as a freelancer “is exactly the same as for employees.” In other words, it should be done “intelligently and with the approval of the company you’re working with.” On the other hand, there are some freelancers who choose a different rhythm for their lives. Some choose to work for a few months at a time, and then take several months off. However, that can be more difficult, practically-speaking, Emelien warns. 

So how exactly does taking vacation work when you’re a freelancer? How do you go about taking a break? There are three basic guidelines to follow.

Plan ahead to anticipate your workload

When accepting work, think about the project scope and timeline. This is where keeping that calendar is absolutely essential. If you’re planning a break, make sure not to take on too many back-to-back projects, and beware of projects with timelines that are either too long or have an undetermined timeline. And keep all your work commitments in mind when planning to take time off. This includes, of course, letting your clients know about any planned or upcoming time off, which leads us to the second guideline.

Communicate clearly with your clients

If you’re planning to take time off, you should think about how (and when) to communicate that with your clients. Depending on your relationship and work history with the client, you may manage those conversations differently for each one. And those conversations may also be impacted by whether you’re taking a long weekend, for example, or several weeks off. You may also choose to remain available for certain clients during your holidays, but in a more limited way. As a freelancer, once again, it’s up to you.

Consider the approach of freelance content creator Elena Balzer:

quote EN Elena

IT consultant Fernando Jofre explains his approach:

And as another example, freelance translator Bryan B., opts to tell his regular clients about upcoming vacations with a few weeks’ notice, so that he “can make sure to finish any work they might have before that time.” Once he’s on leave, he checks his messages but always makes sure to use an out-of-office reply for his email account.

These freelancers choose to continue checking their emails or to remain available to their clients in a limited way during their vacations. At the end of the day, this is how they choose to manage their time off, and it’s a choice. As a freelancer, if it works for you, then it can be the right choice for you, but you can also opt to be more fully offline during your holidays. It’s important, though, to make sure your clients know you’ll be offline and to set expectations.

Out-of-office replies, or your Malt profile, can help you do that. On your Malt profile, you can update your availability to ensure that any existing clients or new prospects know if and when you are available. You can simply indicate whether or not you are currently available and when you will be available again. This helps limit incoming requests during a time you’re not taking on new work. If you select “available soon” your profile will become visible in searches on Malt one month before your intended return to work. However, one important detail to add is that with Malt Plus, our AI-powered freelancer sourcing tool, you’ll only stop receiving opportunities for new projects if you have set yourself as unavailable for two months or more.

Budget well, building holiday pay into your daily rate

Unlike full-time employees, freelancers don’t technically get any paid time off. However, as independent contractors, you tend to get paid higher hourly fees than full-time employees. And, they have the freedom to set those rates. So, with the knowledge that, as a freelancer, you don’t technically get any paid vacation, think about the real cost of taking time off and build that into your client billing. Indeed, part of why freelancers can charge higher hourly or daily rates is so that they can have added security, which includes the ability to take time off as needed.

It may also be helpful to actually make a vacation budget, determining how much your planned vacation will cost you and deciding how much time you can afford to take off. Don’t underestimate the power of a low-key vacation either, where you disconnect and rest among family and friends, without having to travel too far or too extravagantly. Any kind of break, whether a staycation or a full-on tropical adventure, can help recharge your mind and body.

Final thoughts for freelance vacation

As independent professionals, freelancers have all the autonomy in the world when it comes to…well, pretty much everything related to their professional lives. And when it comes to taking vacation, the same is true. If you’re a freelancer, it’s up to you when and how you take a break; how to communicate that with your clients; and how to budget that into your overall rates. Consider tools like out-of-office replies for your professional email account or Malt’s availability feature to ensure that you don’t miss out on, or mismanage, any work opportunities.

If, as a freelancer, you’re your own boss, then do yourself a favor: Be a kind, generous one, one who understands the importance of taking time off and who can guide in the right way to go about it.