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Chapter
4

Bake in sick days and that sweet, sweet PTO

In the last step, you designed your burnout prevention strategies. Now, you’ll be continuing on that theme by proactively building in time off and sick days to your yearly schedule.‍

Vacation and sick days are non-negotiable

The very best part of freelancing, in my opinion, is the freedom. You are in control of how much and when you work. American society tells us that we need to work 40 hours per week, nine-to-five, to be successful. The longer you freelance, the less you may find this to be true. And yet so many freelancers don't take advantage of this.‍

For example, I once worked with a freelance writer called Dawn. It seemed like every time we spoke, she was supposed to be taking time off but was still working: 

  • I sent her a text message to ask how she was doing last winter. She let me know she was powering through her cold to hand in her project on time to her client. 

  • A few months later, I commented on her Instagram story of her in Mexico – she was supposed to be on vacation, but I could see she’d brought her laptop with her. When I teased her about it, she said it was so she could stay up to date on emails. 

Refresher: Dawn could have used either of these opportunities to practice a micro-no with her clients, which we introduced in Step Two. What should she have done instead to enforce her boundaries?

By contrast, I take off five weeks in the summer, four weeks in winter, and around one day off per week. I didn’t do this right out the gate; I started with a more typical twenty days off per year and built up to my holiday. But that time off to me is sacrosanct. 

Your PTO policy will be different from mine because your life and your income are different from mine. Especially as early freelancers, it can be hard to make the transition and draw those boundaries between work and time off. But it’s best to have a policy and eventually grow it than to have no policy at all.‍

Stat: In a typical 9-5, employees get 23.9 days of PTO, including federal and state holidays and sick days. By contrast, CNBC reported that over 90% of freelancers don’t take any vacation. It’s a fact that freelancers often don’t take enough time off. But you need to if you want to prevent burnout. 

Remember, you probably didn't go into freelancing to be subject to someone else’s rules. You’re a freelancer because you want to build a life you love that fits your needs. That means enforcing your vacation and sick days. ‍

Put the P in PTO

Pop quiz: what does the P stand for in PTO? Many freelancers assume you have to take an unpaid vacation, but that’s not true. Imagine Dawn earns around $5,000 per month. If she had put $500 in savings every month, she could have saved up enough for a month’s paid vacation in less than a year.

Alternatively, you can use a tool like Platypus to smooth out your paycheck. If Dawn earns $4,500 one month because she had the flu, Platypus tops her up to her normal amount. Then the next month, she’s back at it and earns $5,500. Then she pays that back. 

Besides taking vacation and sick days, your priority is to communicate with your clients. Most are pretty understanding if you give them enough notice. I typically give clients about 3-4 weeks of advance notice. Here are two email templates you can modify to ensure you set your client’s expectations and let them know when you’ll be able to get the assignments done for them.

If you need to modify the deadline with advance notice:‍

"Hi [CLIENT NAME],‍

I will be away from work from X-Y dates, which I realize conflicts with the original deadline we set in mind. Might you be able to be flexible with the deadline?‍

Thanks,

[YOUR NAME]" 

If you take time off mid-project, like if you’re experiencing bad burnout: 

"Hi [CLIENT NAME],‍

I'll be able to send you [deliverable] by X date. [I'll be away]/[I’m sick and need to take time off] from A-B. Would I inconvenience you if we resumed after we returned?

Thanks,

[YOUR NAME]”‍

Design your vacation policy

Ready to design and draft your ideal vacation policy? First, take a moment to consider:

What cadence of vacation do you want?

  • Would you rather take one day off every week? 

  • Or one week off every two months? 

  • Or two months off every year? 

  • Or all of the above?

What will you do with your time off? 

  • Travel?

  • Rest at home?

  • Spend time with family?

Will you need to save up for travel expenses?

  • Flights?

  • Food?

  • Accommodation?

Now, it’s time for some math to make sure you can afford your time off. Fill in the following template in your workbook:

  • I want to take ___ (example: 8) weeks off per year.

  • That means I’ll work ___ (example: 52 - 8 = 44) weeks total each year.

  • I need $_____ (example: $10,000) per year to fund these travels.

  • My annual income needs are $________ (example: $40,000). This means I need to make $________ per year (example: $40,000 + $10,000 = $50,000).

  • My annual income goal is $__________ (example: $50,000) and divided by the number of months I plan to work, _______ (example: 10), I now know that my goal is to make $________ (example: $5000) per month.

To see this in action:

  • I want to take 8 weeks off per year.

  • That means I’ll work 44 weeks total each year.

  • I need $10,000 per year to fund these travels.

  • My annual income needs are $40,000. This means I need to make $50,000 per year.

  • My annual income goal is $50,000 and divided by the number of months I plan to work, 10, I now know that my goal is to make $5,000 per month.

It can be tough to take a vacation as a freelancer! But if you know that you’ve already made up for the time and you’re integrating travel expenses into your budget, you can walk away from your computer feeling secure in your finances.

Finally, let’s put it all together. Based on the above info, write up your vacation policy. Just like at a full-time job, it should include how many vacation days you get each year, plus what your availability will look like during those times.

“I, _________ [your name], take off ______ [time] every ______ [frequency] to ______[how you plan to spend that time]. I maintain boundaries with clients by _________ [how you maintain your boundaries]. I communicate this with my clients by ______ [how you keep clients informed].”

Here’s my policy, using that template: 

Recap

In this step, you designed your time off policy to help you manage vacation and sick days. Check for recall: ‍

  • What’s your PTO policy?

  • How will you maintain boundaries with clients to enforce that PTO?

  • How will you afford to pay yourself for your paid time off?

Next, you’ll be covering health care and insurance coverage of all kinds. It’s a crucial component of W-2 jobs, so don’t forget about it in your career as a freelancer.

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