Making time to take time off

If you’re a freelancer like me, chances are you’ve got friends and family who think your work life involves rolling out of bed around noon before spending a few hours in front of your computer in your pajamas.

After more than 30 years hustling for my next gig – first as a musician and since 2004 as a journalist and copywriter – I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

For most freelancers – myself included – anxiety over where the next pay check is coming from keeps us on a perpetual search for new projects. That’s on top of making sure we keep current clients happy by producing consistently high-quality work and (too often) politely chasing overdue invoices.

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day just to keep the ball rolling.

time-clock

That’s why it took me almost 30 years to take a real vacation. In fact, last summer was the first time in my adult life that I completely closed my business to take time off.

And guess what? The sky didn’t fall in!

Instead, I returned refreshed and ready to dive back in.

In fact, the experiment was so successful that I decided to do it again this year – for a week in July and another in August. I escaped to Lake Huron, and left my laptop at home.

Here’s how I made it work:

  1. I planned my time off well in advance, so I could manage my workload accordingly.
  2. I gave existing clients plenty of warning so we could make sure nothing fell through the cracks while I was away.
  3. I honoured my time off by making sure I could complete projects before I left, or by asking clients to extend their deadline by a week or two. I learned there can be a surprising amount of wiggle room – if you ask.

Then, I cleaned my office, turned off my laptop – and left it at home.

Did I check emails from my phone while I was away? Yes – once in the morning and again at night.

Did I get sucked in to new work? No. I simply explained that I was away from the office for a week and would follow up upon my return. Then I made a note for myself so I didn’t forget!

Did I lose any gigs by giving myself a break from the daily grind? I probably lost out on a couple magazine assignments because the editorial deadline simply wouldn’t work on my end. Did I burn my bridge with my editors? No. They totally understood.

Will I do it again next year? Absolutely! In fact, I am hoping to treat myself to a few quick getaways this fall and winter. The reality is – life is short, when it comes to work almost no-one is irreplaceable, and if you don’t make time to take time for yourself, it just won’t happen.

Where do you think I should go on my next non-work-related adventure?

Stepping away to move forward

A few months back, I delcared 2018 my year of momentum. And now that I’ve reached the half-way point I can definitely say that this year is indeed shaping up to be one of momentous change.

On the work front, I continue to write for many of the same clients who have kept me busy since 2004. I’ve also forged new connections that are stretching my writing skills and expanding my accumulation of random knowledge. I still love my job and feel grateful to work with such a wide range of interesting people who seem to genuinely appreciate my way with words.

Since January, I’ve had the opportunity to do two speaking engagements. And I just rented a desk in a funky co-working space where I plan to finally get to work on a book project that’s been percolating for the past few years.

BakersWall

A funky wall for a funky co-working space.

I’m now confident that I made the right decision to focus on growing my freelance business rather than trying to enter the traditional work world when my marriage fell apart almost two years ago.

On the personal front, I’ve experienced the love and support of family and friends – both old and new. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to open up my home and feel that I am starting to build a community of people who care.

I’ve also started to take better care of my physical, mental, and spiritual health. For me, that includes finally having the courage to take time away from the office.

As a life-long freelancer, not working can feel scary.

Unlike a salaried worker who can occasionally get away with daydreaming on the job, if I’m not producing, I’m not being paid. In the past, I’ve always brought projects along with me whether I was traveling overseas or just to the (former) family cottage. Over the last 14 years, there has rarely been a day that didn’t include some sort of research or writing.

That stopped this year, when I made a commitment to myself to take one week off in June, July and August.

Last month, I took advantage of a child-free week and flew to New York.

Me and Klimt

Me and Adele Bloch-Bauer, at Neue Galerie. (The original is upstairs – no photos allowed.)

I was joined by a friend and we spent five days exploring. We went gallery hopping – the Guggenheim, Neue Galerie, MoMA, Cooper Hewitt, New Museum , – stumbled upon a Damien Hirst exhibition in Chelsea, and I discovered my new favourite perfume which was kindly shipped back to Canada since the bottle was too large for hand luggage.

Beach

And then – the beach!

Last week, my son and I escaped to a rental cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.  I think I must be a beach bum at heart, because sun, sand, and time spent with friends who came up to visit felt like my first real vacation in ages.

So – what did I learn from my time off?

  • Clients (old and new) are willing to work around your vacation plans.
  • I still love traveling as much as I did in my 20s, and it’s something I want to do more of.
  • I can more-or-less navigate the NYC subway system.
  • Beach time is good for my soul.

Today I’m back at the keyboard with several projects on-the-go. I am not sure what adventure August will bring, but I feel refreshed and ready to embrace the second half of 2018.

How’s your summer shaping up?

Musing on millenials and Eiskaffee

Having the opportunity to meet young people who are trying to change the world is one of the best things about being a freelance writer.

I recently had that chance when I interviewed the founders of Ezzy Lynn – a group of women who are using fashion for social and environmental good. Their weapon of choice? The scrunchie.

[For those who aren’t in the know, Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines a scrunchie as   “a piece of elastic covered in often brightly-coloured cloth that is used to hold long hair at the back of the head.”]

Sound crazy? That’s what I thought when the assignment dropped into my inbox.  Then I met Western University grads and Ezzy Lynn co-founders Samantha Laliberte, Sonja Fernandes and Bianca Lopes.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

This trio of 25-year-olds have their act together, and I wouldn’t bet against them. Intrigued? You can read my cover story here.

It made me think about what I was doing when I was 25…living in Geneva Switzerland, working as a freelance musician with no plans to change the world.  Without many plans beyond next week, actually.

Worrying about the bottom line and trying to build a business in a socially and environmentally responsible way was definitely not on my radar screen.  But eventually I gave up my bohemian ways, returned to Canada, and went back to school…

Fast forward 15 years and I have a new career and a family that includes a 9-year-old and two Newfoundland dogs.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

Last week, we made a quick trip to Geneva (minus the dogs)…

We visited some of my old haunts…

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

… drank real Eiskaffee…

Why can't I find this in London, Ontario?

Why can’t I find this in London, Ontario?

…and escaped the heat wave by jumping in the lake.

Yes, you can swim in Lake Geneva!

Yes, you can swim right downtown in Lake Geneva!

We also went on a day trip to Chamonix and took the gondolas up Mont Blanc – something I couldn’t afford to do as a twenty-something musician.

On top of the world....

On top of the world….a pricey day trip, but worth it!

It was wonderful to revisit a city that was once my home and that holds so many great memories. And so, while I am in awe of this generation of  driven, entrepreneurial millenials who are working so hard to change the world, I hope that they’ll also take some time to explore it. Responsibilities will wait.

Embracing the summer slowdown

Or what I plan to do on my Summer Vacation

Now that summer has officially arrived, the media is full of articles offering advice on how small business owners can make the most of the summer slowdown.

Summer slowdown

The summer slowdown is here!

Network, catch up on your business-related reading, ramp up your social media presence, revamp your website, and reassess your professional goals seem to be the most popular suggestions. They’re all great ideas – but here’s another one:

Turn off the computer, close the office door, and give yourself permission to play hooky from work and have some fun.

And that’s exactly what I plan to do over the next 8 weeks!

A wonderfully-busy work schedule, a tenacious winter cold, and some family health crises (thankfully resolved) have left me feeling tired and emotionally drained.  So I’ve decided to give myself the same kind of complete summer break enjoyed by people with ‘real’ jobs.

Of course, I do plan to catch up with colleagues over lunch, and I do have two feature stories and two websites to write before Labour Day weekend rolls around. But I won’t be spending the short summer months actively looking for my next gig.

Nicole Laidler, writing

I hope to spend plenty of time doing ‘nothing’ this summer!

It’s a scary thought for a freelancer used to living with one eye on the current project and the other on the lookout for the next.

My goal is to hit September refreshed, re-energized, and roaring to go. So here’s to the summer slowdown, and to having faith that my first fall blog won’t be entitled ‘Help – I need to find work!’

What are your thoughts on taking a self-imposed vacation?

To learn more about my writing life, visit www.spilledink.ca