TAKE YOUR REST.
As freelancers, we know that work does not always arrive in conveniently week-sized packages, with conveniently week-sized deadlines, and at times when we can both take our weekends and finish the projects in time to pay bills with the money.
So how do you work within this reality and still pay your bills? A few recent projects have let me fine-tune my strategy, and it’s really quick simple: finish the job, and then take as many weekend days as have accrued. Seriously. That’s it.
Example: if you work Monday-Friday usually, and you receive a job you need to start on a Sunday, that will take 11 days to complete, that Sunday is the first day you need to start counting as accrued weekend time. You work that Sunday, and then the next week, and then Saturday-Sunday, and then through Wednesday. At this point, you have three days of vacation accrued. Take Thursday-Friday. Take the weekend. And then take Monday, because you are still owed a day.
“I can’t afford to take five days in a row.” You can’t afford not to. You are not salaried. There is no team to pick up your slack. You cannot coast for a week and still get paid. To get paid, you need to finish projects, and to finish projects, you need not to be sick in body and/or spirit.
So take the days, and do (wait for it) absolutely nothing with them. I mean this. I just spend two days playing video games for my delayed weekend, and I don’t even mean finishing a video game, I mean bumming around looking at the scenery and learning to video-game-cook, with reruns of Friends on in the background. I am serious. I did nothing useful with my time. (Except mow the lawn. I did that. But it’s a small lawn, so that took me about ten minutes.)
Doing nothing? Was fantastic. At the start of the two days, I felt tired as crap. Very proud of what I had pulled off in the preceding days, yes, but absolutely exhausted. I didn’t want to type. I didn’t want to open a word processor. So I didn’t. I did nothing. And in the background of doing nothing, I recharged. By the time last night rolled around, I actually felt refreshed and eager to start working on a manuscript of mine in the week or so between pieces of the contract project. This morning, I got up, made some coffee, and had the time and energy to be grateful for the life I have.
Contrast that with this time last year, when I was working 16 hour days every day and irrationally upset when people wanted to do things like spend time together (BECAUSE DEADLINES), and I think you can pick a clear winner.
We all have a learning curve, and we all have to pay our dues. I can’t help you with the second one (beyond counseling you sometimes on how to indicate to clients that your time and talents are valuable), but I hope you can use my experiences of the first one to take some shortcuts. We’re in freelancing to pursue our passions, not to wind up in a self-made prison, surrounded by the sound of our own voice saying things like, “I should be happier.”
Take your time off. Remember what time off you’ve skipped and bank it. If there is one piece of advice I can give, over and over again, it is that. Your work will thank you.