If you’re working for yourself — as a freelancer or solopreneur — you need discipline to finish tasks. But you also need the discipline to take time off. In this episode, we talk about why it’s important to take breaks (even if they’re just mid-afternoon coffee breaks) and how to take time off without worrying about work getting in the way.
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Taking breaks is what keeps me going. So maybe I could be working on something for like three hours and really struggling through it right like struggling in every aspect, getting the work done, just pushing that creativity out, I reach this point where I say I can’t do anymore, I just really need a break. And then I find that after that break, I come back to the same piece of work with a completely different attitude or feeling. And I feel refreshed and energized. And it can finish in like an hour. And then I think to myself, it was just me, I just needed a break.
I’m always in this go mode, or even when I’m reading, I’m always like, “Okay, this could apply to something else that I’m working on.” So I found that having a day set aside where I don’t even allow myself to think about things that way. Maybe I end up playing like the Sims instead, or reading pulp fiction that has completely nothing to do with anything that I’m doing. And for me that requires so much discipline. But I do think that it’s very important to take breaks. As you mentioned, it’s something that helps you come back to your work in a new way.
Hey, guys, welcome to Solo Sync, a podcast for the curious solopreneur where we discover simple solutions to keep enjoying what we do and who we do it with.
I’m your host, Jeannette.
And I’m Sarah.
And today we’re going to be talking about taking time off.
I’ve been freelancing for a really long time. And the thing people always say to me is, “Oh, you must really have discipline to you know, really get stuff done.” But for me, I think the struggle is to stop working. I think that’s where the discipline part comes in. I’m just really bad at scheduling time off. This Malaysia day week was actually the first day off I’ve had since mid July.
So crazy. Why though? Why do you do that?
Um, I don’t know. I’m the sort of person who needs to be doing something all the time. So if I find like, “Oh, I see this empty space in my calendar. Yes, I can put something in here.” And then I do tend to forget that sometimes work can happen last minute or certain scheduling goes out of whack. And then I end up with like, a weekend that has like four deadlines or something like that, which is what happened over the last weekend, actually. I had four or five deadlines within three days. So yeah, it gets pretty insane for me because of scheduling and just my behavior towards life and work, I guess. But I think you’ve had a really different experience. Right? Maybe I can get some tips from you.
I think we have a different approach to what’s work. For me, I don’t think I would be able to do that, like to work non-stop. Taking breaks is what keeps me going. Maybe sometimes I take too many breaks, I don’t know. But I have said, I mean, we’ve talked about this before as well. I said that maybe I could be working on something for like three hours and really struggling through it. Right? Like struggling in every aspect, getting the work done, just pushing that creativity out. But also like my attention span and my concentration, and just my general attitude towards what I’m doing. And so maybe that’s why it takes three hours when it could take less time. And then I find, I reach this point where I say I can’t do anymore, I just really need a break. A break could mean going out for coffee. Or if I have the time, it could even mean like a whole day. Like okay, tomorrow, I’m not gonna touch anything, I know that I’ve managed my time well enough. And I can take that one day off. And then I find that after that break, I come back to the same piece of work with a completely different attitude of feeling. And I feel refreshed and energized. And I can finish in like an hour, you know. And then I think to myself, it was just me. I just needed a break.
Yeah, I do find that as well. Which is why I tend to schedule at least like one day off a week where I don’t think about work at all. Like I don’t even allow myself to do it. Because even on like normal weekdays. I like to think about work. I always tell people work is my hobby.
Yeah, like I find it hard because I’m so excited about certain things that I’m working on. Or there’s something that I want to do. And I feel like I need to do it. Yeah. Because that’s just how excited I am.
And you’re working on quite a few different things. At the same time. Not everything is like paid work, right?
Yeah. So I have my own projects. And then I have research that I’m doing as well, which is always exciting. So I’m always in this go mode or even when I’m reading I’m always like, “Okay, this could apply to something else that I’m working on.” So I found that having a day set aside where I don’t even allow myself to think about things that way. Maybe I end up playing The Sims instead or reading pulp fiction that has completely nothing to do with anything that I’m doing. Yeah. And for me that requires so much discipline. Yeah. But I do think that it’s very important to take breaks. And, you know, like you mentioned, it’s something that helps you come back to your work in a new way, right?
Yeah, absolutely. I think breaks really prevent burnout. I mean, what’s the point of working on stuff when you’re just gonna feel so unhappy? I mean, for those who do feel unhappy? Maybe not in your case. But I do. I’m sure you experienced some form of burnout at some point of time. So taking breaks really helps to prevent burnout, I think. The truth is like, you’re not irreplaceable, I would feel, okay, one thing sometimes, like “Oh, my gosh, I have to deliver, I have to deliver because all my client is thinking about today is me”. You know, I have this idea that it’s all about me, and that they’re going to be wanting to check in all the time, or they want to be able to look at my work and see, “Oh, yeah, she’s pumped, like a lot hours into it”. But the truth of the matter is, they’ve got a lot more going on. They don’t really care, I guess. They’ve got their whole lives to live. It’s not about me. And I guess if we try to remind ourselves that that helps take off the pressure, in some sense.
Yeah. I think in cases where people don’t take breaks, because they feel it’s something they need to do because they’re being pressured by clients and things like that. And, okay, so for me, I have encountered situations where I think like, okay, I have a deadline to meet. And I might be feeling not that well, or something like that. But what I’ve started telling myself is that if I die, my client’s not gonna miss me, only my family will. Yeah, so that helps to sort of like, rein me back. And, you know, tell the client the truth, like, “Oh, you know, I was not feeling well. So this thing is going to be delayed”. Does that work for you?
Well, maybe in my case, not that drastic. But for people who really are passionate about work, and who find a difficulty in just having that divide between personal time, taking a break and work, I think that I can see how that’s really useful. Just these little thought habits, right? For me, I think the thing that drives me is the creativity aspect. Like I said earlier, it’s just so important for me to go away, and come back totally refreshed. One thing I find that’s really helpful is we shouldn’t take for granted what we do outside of work, the things that we think about, the media that we expose ourselves to, the stuff that we’re constantly absorbing throughout the day. Because if you’re truly passionate about your work, and I think both of us are, respectively. Naturally, like you say, you might be doing something completely different. Binge watching a Netflix TV series, or reading a book, or just hanging out with a friend and having a conversation. And you’re able to draw inspiration and ideas from all those experiences to your work. Okay. And I know this is about picking your brain. But that’s the whole idea. Right? And then you feel like oh my gosh, that’s it. That was the missing link, or that’s a great idea. And you feel ready and pumped to go back to your laptop, you know?
Yeah. So maybe taking a break doesn’t have to be totally like, being brain dead. But it’s about taking inspiration from places outside of work as well.
Yes, yes. I mean, I find, for people in the creative line, you know, artists or content producers, photographers, video producers, podcast producers, writers, that really helps. But I believe that this can be applied to every kind of profession. It’s just how you choose to apply it.
Yeah, so there’s so many reasons why it’s so important to take breaks, including health benefits and things like that. But I guess what I want to focus on is discovering solutions, and what are some of the challenges that we or anyone else who is freelancing might face when it comes to taking breaks? So I guess for me, some of the biggest challenges for you know, not taking time off work is because I like money a lot. And sometimes I find it hard to say no, when, you know, it’s such an easy job, and the money is good. And then as I mentioned earlier, when I see empty blocks of time, I decide that I want to fill it up and I don’t realize that sometimes there are scheduling issues. Sometimes the client needs this thing a bit sooner than expected. So it becomes like an unexpected thing. I guess one of the biggest struggles for me is that we’re always connected. People can reach us anytime via WhatsApp. But I feel like you have a pretty good handle on, you know, separating work and play. Perhaps you could share some, you know, like, do you have fixed working hours or like, well…
I try. Okay, so maybe a typical day for me would be like, I mean, there are days that I have to go to a client’s office, but when I’m working from home, I’m not a morning person. And I really mean that. Even if I were to wake up at eight, I’m not going to be productive until like 11. So my workday would typically start at about 10. I’ll try and put in a good hour and a half before I start getting hungry. Take a break for lunch. Okay, say 12. So 12, it’s lunch. And then I am back at my desk, say, by 2pm latest. I look forward to tea time. That’s just me. So I’ll work till 4pm. And what I find is that after the tea break, right, that’s when I’m really in my zone. So I’ll break like, say, maybe for half an hour, literally, it’s just like coffee and a bun or a piece of cake or whatever. And then I know that if I need more sugar, I’ll like top up on the desserts. And then from four to say, 7:30. Sometimes, I’m just at it, and I have to peel myself away from the laptop to remind myself, it’s dinner. And if I have to cook dinner, or if I have to go out for dinner, I have to really be very disciplined with my time and that rush that I did, oh my god, the days ending already. And you’re feeling really pumped and you need to be disciplined helps me get stuff done, okay. And so if it’s a packed day, like there’s lots to be done in the day, I’ll go for a quick dinner. And I’m back on my laptop at, say 9:30. And then I’ll work till midnight, just because I am a night person. And that means I have better concentration at night. I actually enjoy working till one or 2am because I feel that the rest of the world is asleep. No one’s going to be texting me, no one’s going to be commenting on my Instagram, no one’s going to be asking for requests on the goal. There’s no reason to go out, you know. And so that really helps with my concentration. So that’s like on a daily basis, I guess, when I can afford to. Of course, there are times where, you know, I don’t even get lunch breaks, because I just need to get the work done. When there are multiple deadlines. For the whole week, I think by Friday, I’m dying. Saturday really is my break day, I don’t want to think about work. And so I’ll take a break on Saturday, I will. I’m still deciding if I’m an extrovert becoming an introvert or I’m still an extrovert, just a more mature one, I have no idea. But there are days where I feel like meeting friends really is my way of taking a break. So I’ll fill my Saturday with whatever I need to. And then I find that by Sunday afternoon, I’m already thinking of work. So I end up doing some work on a Sunday evening. But to me that’s like, that’s okay, if I’ve got my break on Saturday. If I didn’t get to break on Saturday, like Saturday was a working day for me, there’s Sunday has to be a break for me. And I might not touch my laptop, like the entire day, or even the entire weekend if I can help it, because I feel that like we spend so much time staring at screens all the time, I just really want to take a break from that posture of sitting at the table, staring into a laptop hunched over. At least for two good days and go out, go get some sun do something else, you know. So that is the schedule that I try to stick to. But you’re right in saying that it’s so easy to keep taking on jobs, because you’re like, Oh, yeah, I could do that. Yeah, that’s pretty easy, or Yeah, it’s a little bit more pocket money, you know? And then suddenly, you’re like, Oh, my God, why did I do that? I’m still at my laptop and it’s already Saturday evening, right?
Yes. So what I found works for me is being really aggressive with my calendar. Like, if there are times when I forget to schedule stuff, like, Okay, this block of time is meant to be working on this, then that’s when things like multiple deadlines and too much work, to the point where I might not even be able to take breaks, that’s when that happens. So I think one of the things that I’ve had to be really disciplined about doing is like aggressive scheduling. So even break times, like there are times when I’ve put in blocks of time to say watch this TV series.
Would you consider taking a break from one kind of work? By doing another kind of work? Would you consider that a valid break?
I would say yes. But I have a friend who is really like, I guess strict with me. She’ll say: No reading. It’s not taking a break. Like the only thing you’re allowed to do when you’re taking a break is watching TV or going outside. Yeah. So for me, that’s like the hardest thing to do. Like, I don’t know how to, like just not do anything.
You know, I think one really important thing I’m picking up here is that everyone really is different. And to be really honest, my biggest struggle also is allowing myself to be guilt tripped by comparison. After a while you realize that everyone’s just different. Some people can, like yourself, you find it hard to take a break, because you love work. You love what you do. And you need to keep your mind active. For other people, like maybe me, like people always say, “Sarah, your attention span is so short”. And it’s true, you know, and I can’t keep denying it. I can’t pretend that’s not the case. I think the idea is to acknowledge it, and to find a way to make that work for me, so that I can still deliver my best without the expense of my happiness, I guess, or my creativity. So I think just knowing who you are, and like quit comparing yourself to other people. I think that has worked for me. Over time. I’m not the best at it yet. I still sometimes feel really guilty. I have this other friend that I work with. And he just loves working like every time I see him, you know, when we meet up. I’ll ask: So how was your weekend? How was your day? Stayed up till 5am doing work? It’s always the case? How come? I don’t do that? But I just can’t. Right? Yeah. And I think just stop comparing and just like do what you can with the time you have with who you are. I think that has really helped.
Yeah, the main thing is to figure out who you are. We all have different biologies ,different capacities. And it’s all about figuring out what works for ourselves. And I’d say, I’m still figuring that out as well. Like, there are systems I think that can help you do that.
We’re gonna talk about some methods of coping, especially for people who are working full time while freelancing. I think that’s especially pertinent to me now, because I recently decided to go back to school full time. And I’m doing that while you know, working on my own projects, and like freelancing as well. Yeah. So I know that you used to do that. Yeah. Freelance at work full time.
Yeah, that’s how I started freelancing. I had a full time job. And then I would take on writing assignments on the side. And at one point, I had one full time job and two retainer freelance jobs and I was just working around the clock for a whole year. This was a few years back. Yeah. And it’s so funny, because at that time, I had housemates, and my housemates were just like, “Oh, that’s typical Sarah. She comes home, she just goes straight to her laptop”. And they could see how tired and stressed I was. You know, you always have to learn the hard way sometimes. That was what made me realize that I’m not a workhorse, like, I can’t do it. I was so unhappy. And I wasn’t great at pricing at that time, either. So I think I spent way too many hours doing work for nothing. It wasn’t worth my time. Okay, so now I’m like a full time freelancer. But if you’re still having a full time job, the first time you take on a piece of freelance work, you might not know how much time it takes to do that. So just do it anyway. Use the opportunity to time yourself. For example, okay, how long does it take me to write a 1000-word article, and that includes research time, writing time, editing time. Time yourself, even if you’re not working at it at one go. Just add up all the little hours that you’ve spent on it. 30 minutes here, 60 minutes there. So that the next time you offer that same service, you can already know, okay, for one article, I would typically take between three to five hours depending on how complex it is. And then you know, if I’m going to take on one article for that week, I can take on one article for one week. Because throughout the week, I can divide those five hours into two or one hour a day throughout that week. And that helps you plan ahead as well. And then you know, okay, I can still have a life. I can still have a social life, I can still go for dinner with my friends. I can still watch that TV series or, you know, yeah, that’s where I was at.
Do you happen to use any like project management tool like time management tool or anything like that?
I started out just using Google Calendar, to be honest, because I liked how you could slot in time slots for work. And then it will kind of remind you of the next thing. And you’ll get that pop up, right. Other than that, not really. Like I do use Asana and Trello separately, but I’m not really using any other platforms. Would you have any to recommend?
Yeah, so that’s, that’s why I’m asking I’m so bad at using these productivity tools. I pretty much just use Google Calendar and like a checklist in Notes app.
Yeah. And if that works for you, that’s fine. You know, it feels good to check things off the list anyway, right?
It does, it does. But I found that really putting things into my calendar helps to like really estimate, you know, what blocks of time I do have.
Yeah. And the thing is, once you put in your calendar, it’s always there. So if you have to refer to it again, you know, “Oh, actually, a month ago, I was working on this. And look, according to my calendar, it did not take just two hours. It actually took more than that”. Because the time blocks are there. And that helps you come back to reality. I think.
Yeah, it helps provide like a realistic time. It’s historical. So that you, you can estimate better in the future, right?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think as you go, you will start to gain more confidence in yourself. And that will help you know when to say no, right? Yeah. Which goes back to what we’re talking about taking breaks. I mean, it comes with time, if you already know that a certain piece of work, even though you might think it’s interesting, or it might pay the bills or whatever. It’s going to take just way too much of your time that helps you say no, so that you can say yes. To stuff that matter. Like taking a break for sanity.
Yeah. And I suppose like, knowing that schedule also helps you to tell the client like if you need it within this time period. No, I can’t do it. But if you can wait until like, another like, week or another month or something like that. Then like, yes.
That’s so important. Just communicating, and not feeling pressure to always deliver according to the terms. Yeah. Because it’s a two-way conversation. And I think that helps build trust, as well with them.
Yeah, I guess what we want to take away from today’s episode is that it’s really, really important to take breaks, even if you’re a workaholic and you enjoy work. It’s important for your health. You know, your heart sometimes can’t take it. I’ve heard of people who have had heart problems because of too much work. You’ll be able to do better work because you come back refreshed after your time off. And there’re just more important things in life than work.
Yeah, we are more than our work. Yes, we’re human beings, not robots.
The way we can enable ourselves to take breaks is to plan our time. If you know you’re able to plan your year. If not then at least like the month or the quarter.
Yeah, take breaks every quarter if you want to. When I say break, I mean like, go away for the weekend. To come back feeling really refreshed. I think that’s it.
Yeah. So if you guys have any tips, or like, productivity tools to share, please feel free to get in touch with us.
And we hope that this episode has helped you recognize that, you know, your life matters more than a work that you do.
Yeah. So if you want to get in touch with us, our Instagram handle is @solosyncpodcast.
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