The importance of being on holiday

Freelancing and holidaying – does that go together? Sometimes when I hear fellow freelancers talk about their holidays, I get a little confused. Many of them take their laptop and phone and check their emails regularly, even take on work, while they are away. This does not sound like a holiday to me, and I wonder if it is beneficial – for the freelancer or the client.

I just got back from a holiday in Somerset, relaxed, refreshed and with new ideas. I had been working flat out since February, and I switched off for the whole week. No emails, no phone calls, no Internet. Is that scandalous, irresponsible or damaging for my business? Let me explain why I think it is the exact opposite.

watchet harbour
Scandalous!
Everyone needs a break from time to time. I don’t know about you, but I find that I am working harder as a freelancer than ever before. Why? Because I love my job, I care for my clients, and I am responsible for every aspect of my own business. I work evenings and weekends if need be, and I don’t let a cold stop me from sitting at my desk. So do I need a break occasionally, just like everyone else? I think so.

Irresponsible!
How can I leave my clients on their own while I go on holiday? How can I not post anything on social media for a week or two? Will my blog be overgrown and all my followers gone by the time I come back? These may indeed be issues to consider before you go on holiday. Depending on the business you are in, you may need to find someone to cover for you, schedule a few posts or plan the timing of your holiday carefully. But let’s be honest – no one is really that indispensable that she or he can’t go on holiday for a few weeks without everything falling apart. In fact, it would be irresponsible if that were the case.

Damaging!
Of course, I don’t just drop my pen, shut down the computer and run off. As a freelancer, there are a few things I need to do before I go on holiday. A couple of weeks in advance I send out an email to my regular clients to inform them about my upcoming absence. That way, projects can be planned and scheduled around it, or – if a job really needs to be done during the time that I am away – a colleague can be found to do the job instead (which, by the way, I don’t consider as damaging either, as colleagues may need help sometime too). A week before I go on holiday I stick a message in my email signature that reminds anyone I am in contact with that I will be on holiday soon. And just before I go on holiday I switch on my out-of-office assistant and change my message on the answering machine so that people know when I will be back. This seems to work, and so far I haven’t lost a single client over a holiday.

Switching off – is that allowed?

In our fast-paced online world it may seem impossible to switch off for fear of missing out on something. However, I think going on holiday and not switching off can be damaging to the business. We need to take a step back from time to time to reflect on what we are doing. While we are in the thick of things, we don’t often realise if we are still on course, if we look after our own health enough, if we treat our clients the way we want to. So being away and having some time out can be rather beneficial – for ourselves and for our clients.

coastal path
I returned from my holiday with a clear head and fresh insights that came to me while I was busy inhaling the scent of the sea, admiring the views on a walk, savouring a glass of ale. New ideas popped up like corks that previously had been suppressed by daily routine. Suddenly I know what I will be concentrating on in my professional development, how I can improve my website, which post I want to write for my blog. And coming back with recharged batteries, I can’t wait to catch up with my clients and give them my full attention and best service. I would say all this is rather good for business. Wouldn’t you?

How do you organise your holiday? Do you switch off completely or take (some) work with you? I’d love to hear what works for you!

Stuck in a rut?

Whenever I need some inspiration, it helps to step away from my desk and look at things from a different perspective. I get my best ideas when I am running or walking in the countryside, breathing the fresh air, stretching my legs and enjoying the view. As soon as I am outside, the synapses in my brain that were previously tired and uninspired seem to find a new spark. Suddenly I know the right solution for a tricky translation, the ultimate gift for a friend’s birthday, even a fresh idea for a blog post.

One day when I was running around the fields, I noticed that I was skipping between the two ruts in the path, because the one I was running in always seemed to be full of obstacles – long grass, muddy ground and rabbit holes. By contrast, the parallel track always looked much easier to navigate. Funnily enough, as soon as I hopped over to the other side, it turned out to be just as challenging to run on as the first one. I skipped between the two tracks for a while and started to think about it in a more figurative sense, thanks to the revived activity of the synapses, no doubt.

Sometimes it can be tempting to glance at how other people fare from the side and believe that they have it somewhat easier or that they are more successful, and you may find yourself thinking: I wish I could be ‘running in their rut’. But just imagine for a moment that you were – is it really that much easier? They may be better off, but perhaps there are areas of their life that are harder than in yours: a difficult relationship, a chronic illness or other worries that you are not aware of.

Just as I came to the conclusion that the other track was as tricky to navigate as the one I was running on, I realised what an illusion it is to think that someone else could have it easier. And just as I decided to choose one track and stick with it instead of hopping back and forth and expending even more energy, it dawned on me that it may be a good idea to concentrate on my path and do my best to tackle it instead of being distracted by the way other people tackle theirs.

That afternoon I could suddenly relate to the old adage that the grass is always greener on the other side, or as they say in German: the cherries in your neighbour’s garden are always sweeter (die Kirschen in Nachbars Garten schmecken immer süßer). Of course, it is not wrong to get some inspiration from the way other people go about their business. It does not mean, however, that they don’t have their own obstacles to overcome.

So, by all means, if you feel stuck in a rut, hop over and try out the other one. But don’t be too surprised if it turns out that the path you were on is just right and worth persevering. Maybe you just need to step outside and take a brisk walk to fire up your synapses.

What do you do when you need a little bit of inspiration? I’d love to hear where you get your best ideas!

I may be some time

Being cut off from the grid for a stretch of time is inconvenient in any situation. If you are working freelance from home, it can also become quite tricky to keep your business running. As we are recently experiencing unusually harsh weather conditions in the UK, it seems a good time to become more prepared for such events.

When we had a power cut that lasted for around 51 hours following a storm last autumn, I was unable to do my normal work and quite surprised how little I actually could do at all. I made a promise to myself to be better prepared next time and to implement emergency measures as soon as we were back on the grid. So, four months later – are these measures in place? Well, let me start at the beginning.

It started in the morning. My other half was already out of the house. He’d had a hot shower and a coffee, and I was just about to make my first cup, when the lights went out. At first I thought the power cut would only last for a little while, perhaps a couple of hours. Still, I needed a coffee, so I went to get our camping stove and the gas bottle we had left from our last camping trip. Luckily there was enough gas to boil the water for that all important first cuppa in the morning.

I sat in the kitchen with my cup and read the papers, then the magazines from the professional bodies I belong to. This was great, because I usually never get round to do this thoroughly. I checked my emails on my smart phone to see if anything urgent was waiting for my attention. The battery was running low, so I had to be quick. I noticed an enquiry and texted the client to say that I would get back to them as soon as we had our power back and give them a proper quote. Then the phone went dead.

As the day went on, I realised that this situation could last a little longer than usual and that I had to do something about it. It is amazing how much we rely on electricity for almost everything we do without giving it a second thought. No electricity meant in our case (as we don’t have gas): no heating, no hot water, no stove, no kettle, no light, no phone, no internet, no nothing. Brilliant.

But there were a few things I could try:

1. Dig out the old analogue phone. Fortunately we still had the old analogue phone that we used before we switched to wireless and digital. When I plugged it in, I already felt a little less cut off. At least people could reach me now, and I could reach them.

2. Go online via mobile broadband. Or so I thought. Here’s a tip: if you do have a mobile broadband stick and haven’t used it for some time, check it before they announce bad weather on the news. Make sure it has some funds on it to buy your online time (mine had) and that it is still registered (mine wasn’t). I could not re-register my mobile broadband stick because – ta-dah! – I could not go online, so that was that.

3. Use the good old dial-up method. Remember how we used to log on to the internet before we had broadband? Unfortunately I didn’t have the right cable anymore, but even if I had, I would have needed a number to start the dial-up connection. As it was, I could not even look it up on my oh-so-smart phone because the battery was flat.

In the end, I gave up trying to access the internet and instead drove to my mum-in-law for a cuppa and a chat and a warm shower, charging up my mobile phone as well as my own batteries. Fortunately I did not lose any business during these two days, but I promised myself to be better prepared for the next time and not to fall into the same traps again. Unfortunately it is very easy to take electricity for granted, once you have it back …