12 Steps for Taking Time Off as an Independent Contractor

taking time off

All telecommute contractors face the same conundrum about taking time off: How do I enjoy a vacation without sacrificing income? In this article, we offer 12 tips for remote independent contractors on taking a break without breaking the bank.

12 Steps for Taking Time Off as an Independent Contractor

There’s a difference between telecommuting and working as an independent contractor. Though many independent contractors work remotely from their homes, not all telecommute jobs fall under the contractor status.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 6.9% of all employees (10.6 million workers) were independent contractors in May 2017. Furthermore, the BLS found that:

  • At least 33% of independent contractors were age 55 or older.
  • Independent contractors were more likely to work in management, business, finance, and sales occupations than traditional workers.
  • 79% of independent contractors preferred being a contractor over conventional work arrangements.

Though most remote contractors enjoy their independence from employer regulations and authority, their freedom doesn’t always come easy. Many tend to overwork themselves in fear of losing clients and sacrificing income.

If you’re a telecommute independent contractor who needs a break, consider these tips on taking time off to achieve better work-life balance.

1. Determine How Much Time You Need

As a contractor, you’re not bound by a two-week vacation rule. You can take as many days off as you want, to some extent. However, it’s unprofessional – and potentially a breach of contract – to bail on a client or neglect your duties for prolonged periods.

So, are you hoping for a week off around the holidays? Two weeks so you can take an international trip? Or do you want a sabbatical, where you’re out for at least a month to brush up on skills, go to conferences, and reflect on your career? Figure out why you want to take time off and how much time you need to make budgeting and scheduling easier.

Contractor Tip: Allot yourself annual vacation time, sick days, and holidays to prevent burnout and maintain a sense of work-life balance.

Related: Can Telecommuting Reduce Stress for Women?

2. Budget for Time Off

Contractors don’t get paid for holidays, vacation, or sick time, so you need to plan ahead for expected and unexpected absences from work. Consider your daily, weekly, and monthly financial goals and needs. Then, decide how much time you can afford to take off based on your goals and budget.

Contractor Tip: Set aside a portion of your income for vacation, sick, and holiday time so that you’ll always have a buffer for planned and unplanned time off.

3. Take Time Between Contracts

One benefit of being a contractor is that you can tell your clients when you can work and negotiate start and end dates.

If you have short-term contracts, try scheduling your breaks between projects so that you don’t have to negotiate time off. Plus, breaking between contracts can help prevent burnout and give you time to catch up on other aspects of your life.

For longer-term contracts, it might be nice to schedule one or two week-long breaks during anticipated workflow lulls. However, breaks longer than two weeks might be best to take between contracts, unless your client won’t need your services during that time or you arrange for backup support.

Contractor Tip: Many contract jobs start immediately upon hire or within a few weeks of signing an agreement. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a different start date that works better for your schedule and needs.

4. Give Your Clients Fair Notice

Maintain positive report with your clients by giving them ample notice as to when and how long you’ll be gone. You’re not obligated to provide details about where you’re going or why, and you typically do not have to ask permission. However, it’s professional and courteous to tell clients whether you’ll be unavailable for the duration of your absence, if you’ll have office hours during certain times, or if there’s another person to contact in your stead.

Contractor Tip: Of course, your clients are going to want to keep you on standby while you’re away. If you truly want a break from work, stay strong and tell your clients that you won’t be checking emails or phone messages until you return.

5. Book the Tickets

Turn your daydreams into a reality. Do your research, set a budget, plan the trip, and book the tickets! Then, get excited about your vacation and feel relieved that you’re giving yourself a well-earned break.

Contractor Tip: Contracting isn’t always easy. To be successful, you have to act like an entrepreneur who plays many roles, such as a salesperson, proposal writer, human resources specialist, and an accountant. Thus, you deserve to take some time to yourself or reward your effort with a vacation.

6. Plan Your Work Backward

Plan your workflow backward from your departure date to ensure you complete all your tasks before you leave. If your job allows it, double up your duties during the weeks prior so that you don’t have to sacrifice income while you’re gone.

Contractor Tip: If possible, plan at least three weeks out from your trip to avoid piling on extra stress.

7. Prioritize Family and Fun

Telecommute contract work can be exhilarating and help you feel independent and free. However, avoid becoming a slave to your work and forgetting about the people you love the most and activities you enjoy doing.

Contractor Tip: Check out our 17 Ways to Reduce Work Hours When Telecommuting so that you can create more work-life balance each and every day.

8. Plan Personal Projects Separately

Don’t confuse vacation time with a chance to do house projects. If possible, create separate plans for completing household and other major tasks outside of vacation so that you can actually kick back on occasion.

Contractor Tip: If lounging around seams boring and you just have to keep your hands busy, at least do something you enjoy. Pick a project that exercises parts of your brain that you don’t normally use in your daily work tasks.

9. Turn Your Devices Off

Unless your client’s operation will inevitably crash and burn without your constant presence, put the phone away, shut the laptop, and silence all notifications. If you’re going to take a break, then take a break! There’s no point in taking time off if you’re just going to be working while you’re away.

Contractor Tip: To settle your nerves, dedicate five or ten minutes each day to checking emails and other messages. However, resist the urge to respond so that others do not get the impression that you’re available.

Related: 18 Ways to Unplug and Take Tech Break When You Work Online

10. Get Out of the House

You don’t have to take a worldly adventure to get some rest and relaxation. If globetrotting seems like more work than its worth, you can simply remain in your town and enjoy the comforts of your home. However, avoid staying cooped up in the house all day. If you work from home, it’s especially important for you to get outside and breathe some fresh air.

Contractor Tip: Close up the home office and avoid going near your workspace. Instead, take a walk around the neighborhood, catch up with some old friends, and use your time to entertain your personal interests, like cooking, sports, or volunteering.

11. Consider a Working Vacation

If you aren’t able or willing to take time off, or if your client desperately relies on you all year round, consider taking a working vacation. Just grab the laptop, hit the road, and make sure there’s high-speed internet along the way. Before you drive off, however, be sure to set clear boundaries, work hours, and output expectations with your clients.

For example, perhaps you agree to work part-time hours instead of full-time during your trip. Maybe you commit to checking emails every morning and evening or being available for phone calls during set hours each day. Though working vacations don’t let you completely get away from your job, they can help you balance work and play without breaking the bank or sacrificing clients.

Contractor Tip: Save your receipts! You may be able to deduct some of your expenses on your tax return if you work while you travel. Check with an accountant or professional tax preparer before you leave so that you can organize your finances and reap the rewards.

Related: 5 Essential Tips for Telecommuters Who Travel for Work

12. Know Your Rights

As an independent contractor, you are not entitled to the same benefits and leave of absences as employees. For example, independent contractors do not receive Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits, which entitle employees to 12 weeks of paid leave for family and medical reasons. They also don’t receive sick leave, disability leave, school-related parental leave, or military leave benefits.

However, your contractor status allows you to legally declare your own time off without submitting or receiving approval. Though it’s always courteous to consider your client’s needs and plan your breaks around the workflow, your client does not have the legal authority dictate your schedule.

Therefore, if at any time a client forbids you from taking time off work, it’s possible that the client is treating you like an employee, which changes the nature of your working relationship and the client’s legal obligations to you. As Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit advocate for workers’ rights, states, “It is the nature of the relationship that matters, and employers can be subject to stiff penalties if they misclassify workers.”

Contractor Tip: The best way to avoid any conflict or confusion is to clearly state expectations up front and include a section about time off in your contract agreement. Make sure your client understands your terms before signing.

Is Independent Contractor Work for You?

HCMWorks, a contingency workforce staffing and solutions agency, predicts that 50% of all private-sector workers will perform at least some independent contractor jobs through 2026. If you’re thinking of switching careers or giving the freelance life a try, first evaluate the differences between employee and contractor work arrangements.

Related: Remote Work Types: W-2 Employee and Independent Contractor Pros and Cons

When you’re ready, sign up as a Virtual Vocations member and head over to the telecommute job database. Use the “Employment Status” filter to narrow your results to independent contractor positions. As always, if you have any questions about finding telecommute contract work, contact us – we’d love to hear from you!

Is taking time off a goal of yours? Do you have additional advice for independent contractorsConnect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn to tell us about how you maximize your work-life flexibility while working remotely. We’d love to hear from you! 

Photo Credit: 1. iStock.com/BrianAJackson


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