tell me more
I'm Mara — I help creatives create and launch digital courses and profitable products. I love chatting about online marketing, design and goal setting!
One of the weirdest things about running your own business vs. being an employee is that taking time off works totally differently. At a regular job, you get a built-in holiday schedule and a fixed amount of paid time off. When you’re in business for yourself, you have more freedom over your schedule, but you have more to navigate and plan to take time off. Honestly, this is something I’ve struggled with over the years. For a long time, it felt SO hard to take time off…and I know I’m not the only one! This year, I’ve been more intentional about taking time off (like, really off) and protecting my time to unplug. So, how do you take time off? That’s what I’m talking about in this episode!
At the end of last year, I looked back on how much time I’d truly taken off…and I could only think of three days for the entire year where I didn’t do ANY work, which is wild! When I don’t take time off, I get really burned out. And half the time, when I finally took time off, I’d end up working the whole time anyway. I cannot tell you how often I’ve gone on vacation and ended up sitting in the hotel room, working. This year, I’ve made a lot of progress – here are four things that have helped me take time off.
Every December, I map out my time off for the following year. It doesn’t always work out as planned, but estimating when I think things will happen and how much time I need helps me plan my workload and schedule time off.
I start with firm dates, like holidays and birthdays, then add some extra breaks around times that are important to me or after my regular busy season. I note when I feel especially busy or closer to burnout during the year. When I plan for the next year, I allow extra space and breaks around those busy seasons!
Here’s what my yearly time off calendar looks like:
I send my current and past clients my scheduled time off each year during the first week of January. It sounds silly, but telling everyone else that I won’t be working during certain times of the year keeps me accountable for not working during that time. I also make that same information available to clients year-round through Collaboration Guidelines, a one-page document on my work availability and boundaries – I include a link to it in my email signature and onboarding documents for all new clients.
Even though I tell clients about my availability at the beginning of each year, I still remind them as we get closer to the dates. Multiple times, I’ve been in an awkward situation where I’d told clients earlier in the year that I was taking time off, but they forgot! That was totally on me. At a regular job, once you’ve submitted time off and been approved, that’s usually all you have to do.
But when everyone is running their own business, it can be hard to keep track of whenever the people you work with are unavailable. I just send quick emails one month, one week, and a few days out, so my clients have plenty of time to get in projects and work requests before I’m out of pocket. When I communicate super clearly that I won’t be available, I don’t feel bad for stepping back from communication for a few days.
This tiny communication step goes a long way toward reminding everyone that you’ll be out of office. Even though I link to my Collaboration Guidelines in my signature, I also have a little spot that lists my upcoming time off. One of the biggest reasons I have difficulty stepping away from work is a fear that someone will reach out while I’m away, and their communication will fall through the cracks. Giving people multiple reminders in multiple places that I won’t be available during certain times gives me and my clients the reassurance that I haven’t forgotten them; I’m just out of the office for a short time.
Even if you plan, plan, plan for your time off, it can be tough to step back from work while you’re away! Let’s discuss my three tips for not accidentally working while you’re on vacation.
This can feel SO difficult to do when you’re already taking time off, but it’s worth it. Traveling is never just the days of the trip for me. There’s always extra stuff to do the day before we leave and when we get back! My solution for this is to build in buffer days. I tell people I’ll be gone, but I’m secretly not entirely out of the office yet. Having a built-in chunk of time to take care of last-minute tasks and projects is so nice.
Think about what you envision time off like, then write them down…and stick to them! I fully close out work-related apps on vacation and don’t look at them until I return. I literally hide Voxxer and Slack in a separate folder on my phone and turn off push notifications so I’m not tempted to look at work stuff when I’ve decided to unplug.
This all goes back to good communication and holding yourself accountable. In reality, most people are rooting for you to take time off and don’t expect you to be a work machine with unlimited availability! Letting them know you’ll be unavailable helps them understand what to expect and reassures them that you’ll be back soon.
I hope those tips help you find the space for more intentional time off. Finding the room to step back and take holidays and vacations regularly is one of the biggest challenges for business owners, but it can be done. It all comes down to setting intentions, boundaries, and expectations with yourself and your clients.
Listen to the full episode – just click on the player above or search for Create a Better Course in your podcast listener of choice or on YouTube.
*This post may contain affiliate links.