Tips for taking time off as a contractor — a Virtual Vocations guide

Taking Time off as a Contractor

Regardless of your employment type, you’re not immune to burnout at a job. Situations in your life arise that may cause a job to feel more like a chore or a burden than anything else. If you’re a remote contractor, the problem can compound even more. Without paid time off or access to mental or emotional health resources, taking time off as a contractor seems almost impossible. To exacerbate the issue, a fear of losing money and clients can cause many contractors to avoid taking time off altogether. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You only need to learn how to take time off as a contractor. Taking time off is a comfortable medium between alleviating burnout while also leaving your temporary employer or clients happy and satisfied with your workload. It’s a bit of a juggling act, but once you figure it out, you shouldn’t have any problems doing it again. If you’re ready to zip out the door on an adventure, a vacation, or just have a day for yourself, use these tips to take time off as a contractor.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Taking Time Off

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of how to take time off as a contractor, you should first understand why it’s good for you. Because let’s be honest: Americans are terrible about taking an appropriate amount of vacation. Call it an industrious attitude, fear of losing money, or just poor work policies, but contractors, employees, and freelancers have a tough time unplugging from it all — especially in a remote atmosphere.

But taking time off comes with a number of advantages that you — and your clients — shouldn’t ignore:

  • Physical reasons: If you’ve packed on a few pounds from working too much, a vacation can help you get some much-needed exercise and put you back on track to healthier habits.
  • The Oxygen Mask Rule: The idea of putting your mask on before assisting others applies directly to burnout. If you don’t have your own self-interest as your top priority, you’re going to struggle with other responsibilities.
  • The excitement of looking forward to something: The mundane can rule a contractor’s existence when it’s the same thing every day or week. But when you schedule a vacation, you’re effectively breaking the mold. Studies even show that you can have heightened efficiency and improved mood up to eight weeks before you actually head to your destination.
  • Your clients won’t care as much as you think. If you’re a great contractor, you’re in rare company. While remote work can be cutthroat in certain professions, gelling with a client in terms of professionalism, mentality, work ethic, and personality doesn’t happen every day. If you’ve been great so far, few clients — or at least the ones worth working for — surely won’t mind if you take time off as a contractor.

Give Your Client a Heads-Up

Giving your client fair notice is perhaps the most important part of taking time off as a contractor. Even if you work a flexible remote job, you still need to inform clients in a timely manner, i.e. don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

As a general rule, you should give clients between one and two months of notice before you take a vacation or a longer-than-a-weekend trip. This will give your client time to feng shui their schedule, pick up your workload, or assign your work to someone else for the amount of time that you’re gone.

Never wait until the last minute to give your client a heads-up. Not only can it damage your relationship, but you also leave your client holding the bag. That’s something that no one will appreciate.

Know When It’s Hectic

Speaking of telling your client when you’re going on vacation, you also need to time your vacation correctly. Are you working on a giant project that’s near a deadline? Have you been consistently falling behind on your work due to burnout? Does your contact have other responsibilities to worry about? These are the questions you need to ask yourself before you schedule a vacation.

While only you know when the ideal vacation time is, you might want to consider one after the completion of a major project. You’ll need a break, your client will need a break, and you can hopefully agree on the perfect occasion to take time off — even if it’s at the same time.

Complete Assignments Early

If you feel like your workload is so large that you feel like you’re never going to be able to take time off as a contractor, you aren’t alone. However, you do have the proverbial ace up your sleeve: ask for your assignments ahead of time and complete them early.

Instead of doing your normal workload, you can take a few weeks or a month to complete the tasks that are needed while you’re gone. This may feel like you’re being overworked, but it also gives you a goal to achieve. And once you complete your tasks, you have an entire vacation that’s free of any responsibility.

Try the 2/6

Another way that you can take time off as a contractor is by applying the 2/6 method. This method is essentially a slimmed-down workcation. In an eight-hour period, you can do whatever you want for six hours and work for two hours. How you choose to work is entirely up to you, and you can fit it to your personality and works schedule, whether you’re a night owl or a morning person.

The idea is to relax when you’re working. Don’t get caught up by work when you’re trying to apply the 2/6 method or it could easily get reversed.

Contractors and PTO: Is It a Real Thing?

Some outsiders or employees may think that contractors get PTO, but a vast majority of the time, it’s simply not true. This is the double-edged sword of being a contractor. You can work your own hours and at your own pace, but you don’t get the perks that a normal employee would in terms of benefits.

Negotiating PTO as a contractor isn’t going to be an easy sell either. As a contractor, you’re a temporary or bit-part worker, and clients know it. That isn’t to say they’ll treat you poorly, but most know the numbers. You make more money than you would as an employee, and they pay less because they’re cutting out the middleman. So if you’ve dreamed of PTO as a contractor, you might want to keep on dreaming. If you’ve gotten to that point, you should probably look for full-time employment.

Don’t Overthink It

Humans aren’t robots, and even if you’ve been Johnny-on-the-Spot for all your clients, burnout is more harmful than just taking time off as a contractor. And that’s the cardinal rule. Don’t overthink your role as a contractor. Sure, your clients count on you, but if you’re not at 100%, your clients aren’t getting the best work possible.

If you need time off, the best approach is to just be straightforward. You don’t have to go into minute details or personal stories. You might be surprised how willing others are to work with you.

Are you a contractor? How do you manage your time off? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!

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