The Born Freelancer on Surviving the Holidays

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.


lightsThe only thing as stressful as not having enough work to do over the holidays is having too much work to do over the holidays. It seems the fate of many freelancers is to suffer from one extreme or the other this time of year. Rare is the lucky freelancer who finds the perfect balance. I know I never have. In this post I would like to share with you some of my past experiences and how I managed to cope one way or the other.


Too Much of a Good Thing?

Too much work over the holidays for a freelancer can lead to all kinds of anxiety. Will there be time to see family and friends? Will there be time to do the work?

As a result your attention is bifurcated and you might end up missing the best of the holidays and not doing a good enough job on your work.

* You must plan ahead. It’s not like the holidays come as a big surprise. They happen at exactly the same time every year! So you need to look ahead and simply block out your time. Use a calendar, a large sheet of Bristol board or your computer to help visually do so. Determine your workload and family requirements. If you need to, alert your family and friends well ahead of time to the fact that perhaps unlike them you will need solo time to work over the holidays. Talk with your family about this so they know what they can and cannot expect. Talk with your freelance clients so they also know what they can and cannot expect. Schedule your time accordingly.

Of course this does not mean you cannot be spontaneous when the occasion arises. But if you have done your forward planning well, you should be able to adjust for any minor diversions. I remember the wise words of a very well organized television producer I once worked for, who never seemed to run short of time: “I love surprises. I just need to know about them as far as possible ahead of time”.

* You must be prepared to adhere to your own schedule. Once you have fairly and equitably divided up your available holiday time in advance to ensure a reasonable amount of personal versus professional time there is no point ignoring it. You must follow your own schedule or else nobody else will take it seriously. If you have allotted time for family activities – enjoy it, thoroughly. Don’t cheat them by using some of it for work. Conversely if you have work to do, don’t try to squeeze out extra time at a family party when everyone knows you’ve already announced you have work to do. It will make it harder the next time you plead to be allowed to follow your schedule (except for true emergencies and unexpected calamities) because everyone will know you have already ignored it when it suited you.

If you don’t respect yourself and your own needs why would you expect anyone else to do so?

* You can always work on location. Today there’s no reason not to travel to see family and friends over the holidays. A smart phone or laptop should be ready to travel with you wherever you go. It needn’t necessarily be an “either/or” situation. It will require enormous focus and great self-discipline to incorporate both elements (above) into your road trip. But it can be done.

It’s important to travel with all your own required work tools. If you are planning on relying on good old Aunt Betty’s desktop or your niece Victoria’s laptop at your holiday destination you may be sorely out of luck. Their computer may not have the software or connectivity you require, or it may not be available when you want to use it. If it is available, it may be located in a central area of their house affording you no privacy or ability to concentrate.

If you do not have a mobile internet plan already, look into it. An excellent temporary measure to allow you to survive your holiday journeys by providing you with your own dedicated internet access might be something like the contract-free “pay as you go” mobile internet plan offered by Wind Mobile here in Canada. I have no personal experience with it yet myself but it certainly looks like it is worth investigating further.

Of course, if you can survive comfortably with only an ordinary notebook and pen, at least make sure you are well stocked up with multiple supplies of your favourites!


Please Sir or Madam, I Want More

For many freelancers, the holiday season is difficult for the exact opposite reason – there’s just not enough work to keep you busy. Everyone is seemingly running around shopping and excitedly going off on exotic holidays.  Meanwhile the average freelancer is facing too much downtime and not enough income. There is perhaps the greatest danger of succumbing to depression around this time of year, especially when societal expectations are so unreasonably high and end of year realities can come crashing down so ruthlessly.

* If you don’t have enough work to keep you busy, use the “time off” to insure your good health – and that you don’t fall into clinical depression. See your family and friends, do volunteer work, travel (within your budget), go to the movies – in fact, do any of the millions of things you claim you always want to do but are too busy or too tired to do the rest of the year. This is the perfect time to stop and enjoy yourself. Relax. Recharge. You’ve worked hard all year, you deserve it. And some of it might even inspire your future work.

It’s also important not to get caught up in the holiday spending madness. Most freelancers have learned that in order to survive we must learn to live on a tight budget. This time of year the temptation is to blow that budget sky-high – but come the New Year you will most certainly regret your indiscretion. Ignore all the media hype and stick to your financial plan – you will come out ahead of the game and in better shape financially than most to move forward in the New Year more readily. And if you really must spend beyond your budget, consider getting temporary seasonal work over the holidays in retail or some other non-freelance work. You don’t want to begin the New Year worrying about being even deeper in debt.

* If you don’t have enough work to keep you busy, do administrative stuff. Get your files up to date, send out promotional emails to past clients letting them know what you’ve been up to (more on this topic another time), review your past year’s successes and failures and make new plans for the New Year, look into courses and lectures to attend, organize your tax receipts, compile a list of new clients to approach, and take care of the support or business side of your freelancing career.

I’d also look at cleaning out your hard drive of unnecessary files that might be slowing it down and cluttering it up, backing up all your essential files (of course you should be doing this all along anyway), spending the time to clear out and reinstall any seemingly “buggy” apps and programs, and generally seeing to it that your primary work tools are in top condition for when you next need them. All of this takes time. What better time to do it than right now?

* If you don’t have enough work to keep you busy, work on that great novel that you keep putting away in the bottom drawer because you never have time. Or is it a film script? Or sitcom pilot? Whatever your dream project, work on it this holiday! View the downtime as a blessing not as a curse and you will have an opportunity to do things you normally never have time or energy to do.

Too often many of us dream of running away from all the distractions of modern life in order to write our fantasy project. The little known secret about the holiday season is that everyone else is so busy running around like crazy that you can often be left alone for periods of time to indulge yourself and work on your pet project unhindered. If you plan it right, you can position yourself right in the eye of the holiday hurricane (once you have taken care of all your outstanding responsibilities of course.) Let the others go off skating all afternoon while you write your film treatment. You’ll all be happier. And you may never have such freedom to be so creative as you will at this time of year.

The holidays can be a difficult time of year for many folk and we freelancers are no exception. I would argue that it can actually be even harder on us – and particularly those nearest and dearest to us – because of the unique dynamics of our chosen work paradigm. However, with a bit of forward planning and a certain amount of tenacity, it is possible to actually enjoy the holidays – and still be productive as a freelancer – with the least amount of turmoil and anxiety for all.

And with that thought, may I wish you and yours all the best of the season, however you may choose to celebrate. Thank you for reading my posts again this year. I will look forward to sharing more thoughts and experiences with you again in the New Year which I hope will be another good one for you personally as well as professionally.

Posted on December 19, 2012 at 9:15 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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