Freelancers! Take a Break! Your Work Will Improve
It’s time to stop working even when you’re not working
Oh freelancers, I know you’ll know what I mean.
I’m a freelance writer, which is code for ‘I’m always working’. It might not look like I’m working, but I am. In my head the cogs are whirring, creating, imagining, planning. All work.
I feel guilty sometimes when I’m not physically typing, but the energy is still being sapped all day long. Even when I shut my laptop down in the evening, my mind is still working.
For many months, I didn’t really see it. To me, I was either writing, or I wasn’t. I had tons of downtime, right? I’d go for walks in the day time, head to the supermarket when everybody else was in the office, I worked less.
Or so I thought.
And it wasn’t until I was forced away from work, that I finally realised that I hadn’t actually stopped working for ten months. Not really.
To recharge you need to actually STOP working
Recently, I went away for a long weekend. I’ve done this lots of times in the past year but, as a travel writer, going away is hardly a break from work.
I might not be literally typing (although I often am either typing or handwriting notes), but I’m constantly thinking about what I could write about everything I see and do.
But this long weekend was different.
For a start, it was the first full-family get together I’ve been on since I was a child. There were lots of nephews and nieces to play with, lots of catching up with siblings and parents and more meals than you could shake a stick at.
I ended the weekend going off on a two day adventure sport jolly so physically intensive that every ounce of energy bypassed my brain entirely and went directly to my muscles.
In short, I was utterly forced away from working and into the present, physical moment.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Hitting the reset button
May was a busy month. It was filled with different projects and types of work and at times it felt like I was being pulled from all directions. It was fun and I’ve always been partial to stints of hectic activity.
But creatively, I was zapped. I struggled to write and come up with new ideas to pitch. I was dragging half-formed things out of my head and forcing them onto the page. Not ideal.
At one point, it all got so much that this happened:
And while I had days where I didn’t do an awful lot, I was still working. My mind was still buzzing away. I had no idea how to shut it off. A day in front of the TV wasn’t going to cut it, it’s not enough of a mental divide.
Us freelancers are famously shit at taking a real break. We take our work on holiday with us because, ‘hey! We’re digital nomads! We can work anywhere!’
Let me say this; the ability to work from anywhere at any time does not mean you should.
We don’t have bosses who switch the lights off at 5:30pm. We need to do that ourselves. There is no shame in shutting it all down, putting on an Out of Office reply and going out into the world for a few days or more and Not Working.
I mean, switching your brain from Work Mode to Absolutely No Work Mode is a genuine skill.
A skill I do not have nailed. It took a 60th birthday weekend commitment for me to actually (reluctantly) take a break from work. It took extreme physical sport to stop my brain from thinking, ‘oooo, what could we write about this then?’
But my god, do I feel good for it.
You’ll know it when it happens
When you get to the end of a day and realise that you haven’t thought about your work for 24 hours, it’s an extraordinary feeling. It feels like clear air after a storm. It feels like the purest of water on a hot day.
It feels bloody glorious.
When I woke up after five days off, my body was beaten and bruised from a wicked mountain bike jaunt but my mind was alive.
The difference was astounding. I sat down at my laptop and didn’t struggle at all. There was no mental murkiness. No staring at a blank page. It was as though I could just call, ‘ideas!’ and they would form an orderly queue, all nicely dressed up in their Sunday best.
My brain was refreshed. It had completely stopped working for a time and it was ready to work again.
I’m not sure when the effects will wear off, but when they do, when that murkiness creeps back in, I’ll put down the metaphorical pen and spend an entire day or two Not Working. I’ll go out on a little adventure, I’ll go cycle somewhere beautiful.
And I won’t feel guilty. Because the work I do when my brain is refreshed is 1000% better and more productive than the stuff I drag out of myself when I’m burnt out.
So freelancers, I know you know what I’m talking about. Do yourself and your work a favour, and take a proper break.
Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk