Ask a Freelancer

Ask a Freelancer: How Do You Plan for Breaks and Vacations?

By Nicole Dieker January 13th, 2015

Do you ever take breaks? Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly? How long are your breaks and what do you do?

— Break It Down

Taking breaks is an essential part of staying sane while working. Everyone, regardless of their occupation, should take breaks. But doing so is even more important for freelancers, who often fall into the mindset of thinking “every hour I’m not working is an hour I’m not earning money.”

During a standard freelance workday, I schedule mental breaks by alternating writing work with administrative tasks. After 90 minutes of writing, it’s great to take 20 minutes to answer emails, make a few jokes on Twitter, and reset my brain to tackle the next piece.

And yes, I’ll occasionally watch a YouTube video or go out for a cup of coffee. However, I try very hard to avoid procrastination because if I take too many breaks during the day, I’ll end up working all night.

A 2014 study reports that 31 percent of all workers waste 30 minutes of their workday and another 31 percent waste a full hour. The remaining 38 percent waste more than an hour of every day. I’d like to remain a part of the group that spends less than an hour every day procrastinating or wasting time because whatever I don’t get done during the day comes out of my evenings and weekends.

On the subject of weekends: I try to set aside one day per week, usually Saturday, when I don’t do any writing. It’s difficult for me to take the entire weekend off because there is nearly always some catch-up work I want to get done. In that aspect, I am like a lot of modern workers, using the weekend to finish anything that couldn’t get done during the workweek. Raise your hand if you’ve ever spent Sunday evening catching up on email.

So I think, for most freelancers, structuring daily and weekly breaks is like it would be for any other office job. It’s your responsibility to finish tasks by a set deadline, and you need to figure out how to manage your time, avoid procrastination, and take enough breaks so you don’t burn yourself out. The key difference is in the extremes: Don’t be the freelancer who works all day without a break and don’t be the freelancer who takes a break that lasts all day.

As for longer periods of time off, although I’ll take the occasional three-day weekend now and then, I only take one big vacation per year, when I go on the annual JoCo Cruise. This year, the cruise is scheduled for the first week of February. I’ll be gone for the entire week, and I won’t have internet access for most of the trip unless I pay for the expensive onboard WiFi.

As anyone who’s worked more than one job knows, planning a vacation when you have more than one set of responsibilities is difficult to manage. In my case, I need to figure out how to manage or rearrange responsibilities for seven clients—and I need to talk to them all this week so they have plenty of warning. (Ideally I would give clients the recommended full month’s advance notice, but that would have meant telling everyone during the holiday break when they would have been less likely to respond.)

Two of my clients will be easy. They work on a pickup system—that is, I look at the available assignments and pick up ones I want to write—so I can just tell them I won’t be picking up assignments that week.

I also have two columns I’ll need to write and revise in advance: Ask A Freelancer and my new column Tracking Freelance Earnings at The Write Life. I need to check in with both of my editors to make sure they know they’ll get their columns early, but otherwise this should run smoothly.

Another client only needs one article from me per week, so it’ll be very easy to write an extra article before I leave.

For my remaining two clients, I’ll let them know the dates I will be unavailable and ask them if they’d like me to turn in any work ahead of schedule.

Yes, that means I’ll probably be cramming two weeks of writing into the week before my vacation, but I’ve planned ahead and am ready for a few long nights.

Because freelancers don’t get paid vacation, some of us—especially those of us just starting out—might feel like it’s a better idea to work straight through the year without a break. As Freelancers Union notes: “One-third of small to medium-sized business owners have no plans to go on a vacation any time soon. The primary reason? Six in ten said that financial hardship was the culprit.”

If I didn’t have this yearly cruise on my schedule, I would probably find it hard to take a full week off. I didn’t do a real summer vacation in 2014, just two long weekends. I spent part of one writing articles so I wouldn’t miss any deadlines. I also know that, just like last year, I’m going to spend at least one morning on this cruise logging into the expensive cruise ship WiFi to check my email and make sure everything I set up with my clients ahead of time is running smoothly.

But I still think vacations are important, and we should all do our best to take what we consider at least one “real” vacation per year. Maybe that means staying home for a week and watching Netflix. Maybe it means car camping. Maybe it means an annual Caribbean cruise with your friends. CNN reports that in 2013, Americans took the least vacation time they had taken in four decades. If we don’t make the effort to take these vacations, they’ll never happen.

My system of doing as much work as possible in advance makes me curious how other freelancers handle their vacation schedules. If you’d like to share your vacation planning stories, email me at, and they may end up in a future edition of Ask a Freelancer.

And believe me—after I have gone through all the work of preparing for this trip, I will be ready for a vacation!

Nicole Dieker has blocked off time on her calendar to write all of these extra pieces. Make it easy for her by sending your Ask a Freelancer questions right away, so she can get started on the next column. Send your questions to

Image by Igor Yakunin
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