Eighty eight.

How to take time off at Christmas.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from brand and visual identity designer Matt Jones.

He says…

“After years of having a full-time job, I always knew exactly when I would be off for Christmas, when I would be returning and not having to worry about projects or answering emails while I was off.

This is my first year as a full-time freelancer approaching Christmas and I’m worried about being able to ‘switch-off’ over the holiday season…

What advice do you have about managing client expectations? When to set an out of office? And any other tips or tricks on how to switch off (not checking emails, editing to-do lists etc)?

Oh… and also throw into the mix that it’s both my daughters birthdays smack bang in the middle of December!”


• • • • •

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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:01:51] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:02:01] – Steve
Hello! Yes, each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community, but we start each episode by looking back at the last one. Last time we were talking about…

[00:02:11] – Frankie
It was Claire the accountant talking about marketing her ‘boring’ business.

[00:02:17] – Steve
Liz Fisher got in touch.

Liz said:

“There was a bit of shouting at my phone going on because the stereotype of ‘boring’ accountants and bookkeepers is so pervasive. But so many of us aren’t! And actually, even the ones that seem like they are often aren’t either. Accounts and IT basically ruled the dance floor at the Christmas party when I was employed.

Also, being interesting/funny/personable/sweary/creative: none of these preclude you from being good at accounts. Like people in many other industries, sometimes we fall down in the communication aspect of things, not explaining things in an accessible way, or forgetting that not everyone likes a three page email outlining the exact steps they need to follow to do their VAT return (a note to self there)…”

[00:03:02] – Steve
That was Liz’s aside, not mine!

[00:03:06] – Frankie
Yeah, Liz is a bookkeeper.

[00:03:08] – Steve
Liz continues:

“I also agree that not everything has to be fun or entertaining. Sometimes we just need the info and we’re happy to take it however it comes, as long as it’s clear.

But small things make a huge difference in making these traditionally scary/boring/complicated topics easier to engage with. And as long as you’re aware of where your target audience is likely to be at, then you’re A-OK.

And obviously, we all need to buy that book!”

[00:03:32] – Frankie
Yes, we do.

[00:03:33] – Steve
Book. Ooooh, that book. That book changed your life, right?

[00:03:40] – Frankie

And Richard Berks says:

“Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of DIY videos on YouTube as I’ve been putting the finishing touches to some building work we’ve had done.

Now, DIY videos on YouTube aren’t really very exciting, but I don’t really go to them for entertainment. I go for information — how to do stuff, what tool I need for this job, what not to do, and so on.

There’s obviously a lot of different DIY YouTube channels, but what keeps me coming back to the same ones is that I know they’re going to explain things clearly and comprehensively. And what keeps me engaged is that their personality shines through.

Some are funny, yes, but mostly they’re just nice, honest people who can explain things well. Honestly, there’s a million things I’d rather be doing than DIY, but given I have to do it myself, it’s made slightly more enjoyable by having these folks guide me!”

[00:04:26] – Frankie
I’m loving this analogy, by the way.

[00:04:28] – Frankie
Richard continues:

“This is the same for you, Claire. You explain things well and your personality shines through in all your content. As the saying goes, ‘in a flock of pigeons, you can be a flamingo’. That draws people to you, so you become the go to person for all our tax questions and worries. It’s a great position to be in and you’re doing a great job.”

[00:04:46] – Frankie
Love that. Thank you, Richard.

And then me and Richard got into a quite lengthy exchange about DIY videos. I was asking him for recommendations on a handheld circular saw. Anyway, this DIY chat went on for quite some time and I was like, “Maybe we need a spin off community about, like, freelance parenting people who like circular saws?” And he said, yes, we need a “DIY-FTK”.

Richard. Yes. Yes, we do.

Richard works with words, you can probably tell.

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:07:20] – Frankie
This week’s question comes from Matt Jones, brand and visual identity designer. His website is formatt.uk

[00:07:29] – Steve
Good name.

[00:07:31] – Frankie
Matt says:

“Frankie and Steve, after years of having a full-time job, I always knew exactly when I would be off for Christmas, when I would be returning and not having to worry about projects or answering emails while I was off.

This is my first year as a full-time freelancer approaching Christmas and I’m worried about being able to switch off over the holiday season.

What advice do you have about managing client expectations? When should I set an out-of-office? Any other tips or tricks on how to switch off, like not checking emails, editing to do lists, etc?

Oh, and also throw into the mix that it’s both of my daughter’s birthdays smack bang in the middle of December.

Thanks, Matt.”

[00:08:05] – Frankie
So Matt is amazing. He did an intro post in the community when he joined about his name.

[00:08:11] – Steve
Formatt – I like that.

[00:08:12] – Frankie
He says:

“I left a branding agency in Brighton at the end of last year to go freelance. I go by the name Formatt because over the years I’ve done so much work for other companies and people, I thought it’s about time I did something for myself and my family.

For-Matt. Get it?”

[00:08:27] – Steve
Be upstanding *applauds*.

[00:08:28] – Frankie
Cool, isn’t it?

[00:08:30] – Steve
Very good. You need to get that on your about page. I like that.

[00:08:35] – Steve
So, new to freelancing. Wondering how to manage time off at Christmas after being used to having time off at Christmas.

I remember this feeling when I first went full-time freelance and was looking after my kids. So there would be lots of times during the year when I would be off because of the school holidays and I would kind of struggle to do bits of work and reply to people and people would think, am I around? And then it got to Christmas…

[00:09:00] – Frankie
… and nobody’s around!

[00:09:02] – Steve
Right! It was a very different feeling and it’s a wonderful feeling. Everybody takes Christmas off and yes, okay, fine, some people don’t celebrate Christmas, but still it is a given that there is a break over the Christmas period. It’s also quite a substantial break. People don’t bat an eyelid at finishing way before Christmas and coming back way after New Year’s Day.

So make the most of it. Make the most of the fact that there is no expectation with who you’re working with. Nobody’s going to judge you. You don’t need to feel guilty. This is the one.

[00:09:37] – Frankie
I think this is an excellent time to be asking this question. So we’re recording this mid-October — blink and it’s half term. The final term before Christmas is so short. It is so short and it is so full of stuff. You know, nativities, nursery Christmas shows, going to see whatever… That run up to Christmas is bonkers.

So even though some people might go, “Why are we talking about Christmas in October?” Actually, ending for Christmas is going to come around a lot sooner than you think. And actually, the amount of working time you have between now and Christmas to plan what you’re going to be doing over the break, like… this is the time to be thinking about it. If the key to you taking proper time off over Christmas is wrapping up various branding projects, I’d be mapping out the next two months now to make sure that that happens.

But also, does anyone actually need their branding project wrapped up on the 22nd December? Are they going to do anything with it on the 22nd December? Can you wrap it up in the first week of January? I also wouldn’t want you to set yourself deadlines that actually don’t mean anything in real terms because client side, it’s very unlikely — unless they’ve got a big Boxing Day sale or something that involves this new branding you’ve done — it’s very unlikely that they’re going to need that work over the break.

[00:10:55] – Steve
Yeah. Although, psychologically as well, it is quite nice to finish things.

[00:11:00] – Frankie
No, it is, yes.

[00:11:02] – Steve
And then you don’t think about them. And you can also get that invoice sent out. So you’re getting paid in January.

[00:11:08] – Frankie
That’s true. Both of those things would help you switch off if you could wrap it up.

I think my point is, if you don’t finish the thing before Christmas, I wouldn’t allow that to not allow you to switch off properly over that break because nobody else cares. Nobody else is waiting for that work during that two week period. So if you don’t finish the project, it’s all right. Don’t feel you need to carve out time away from your kids or whatever you’re doing over the Christmas break to finish it, because you don’t need to.

[00:11:39] – Steve
In terms of communicating this, now is also a good time to let people know.

[00:11:43] – Frankie

Right. I got an email today.

[00:11:45] – Steve
Did you?

[00:11:45] – Frankie
About Christmas, yes. From Lucy, who does some VA stuff for me. Lucy Critchley from Untold Creative.

Yeah, she emailed me today and was like, these are the dates I’m off in the run up to Christmas and also over the Christmas period, she also mentioned raising her rates. Great opportunity to do that.

[00:11:59] – Steve
Yeah. And don’t say, “Oh, if it’s okay, I’m going to do this”. Just say, “I am off between…”

And then honestly, I would pick the week before Christmas to stop working. And then, if your children are of a school age in particular, think about restarting the end of the week after they’ve gone back in January — don’t just go back to work exactly the day they’ve gone back. Give yourself a bit of a breather.

An email now is a chance for you to set those expectations. Both the fact that you won’t be available, but also — are there things we need to do before Christmas?

Also, we’re talking about, like, the week before Christmas, but as Frankie mentioned, the lead up to it is crazy. Each year, Frankie and I say to each other, “Why have we not taken the whole of December off?” So I shall say it now.

[00:12:49] – Frankie
Especially if he’s got two daughters’ birthdays in December.

[00:12:52] – Steve

[00:12:53] – Frankie
Yeah. That’s tricky.

[00:12:57] – Frankie
Christmas is already a job as a parent. There is so much going on. You’ve got family visiting, you’ve got presents to buy, you’ve got kids to entertain. So protect your mental health and your energy levels in the run up to it as much as possible, because while you stop working for money, you’re still ‘working’ over Christmas.

I find Christmas is actually a really good time to plan, to like, mull over big picture stuff around your business. Not the like, granular, client day-to-day stuff, but the like… “Where am I going? Is this working? Is this the kind of work I want to be doing?” I find those questions always come up for me at Christmas time. I think because I stop doing the daily grind, I’m not in the weeds of it. And I can think, “Did those projects go well this year? Do I want to do more of that next year?”

[00:13:48] – Steve
Matt says about answering emails when he had a full-time job — he wouldn’t worry about answering emails while he was off. The thing is, this is totally up to you. If you set a decent out-of-office, then people shouldn’t be expecting a reply from you. So then it’s up to you whether or not you’re checking that email.

And really, that probably comes down to whether it is on your phone or your laptop. How likely are you to open your email? And this is also another reason why it’s great to separate out business and personal emails if you haven’t done that already.

Matt — probably you have with your clever formatt.uk url. Why would you not use that? Right? But yeah, when you run your business just from one email and it’s also your personal email, it makes it really hard to ignore anything business-y.

[00:14:40] – Frankie
I’m sure I mentioned this before as well, but when I first started out as a freelancer, I actually had two accounts on my iMac — one for work and one for life. So I literally ‘logged out’ of work.

Use technology to your advantage to set boundaries with yourself!

But as Steve says, unless you actually adhere to those boundaries that you’ve set… Because it’s very easy to find your emails if you want to check them. So it’s as much about getting out of the habit. I think you need to psychologically say to yourself, “I’m checking out now. I’ve put all the things in place. I’ve put my out of office in with clear boundaries. I’ve emailed all my clients in mid October or whatever it is, in the run up to outlining what dates I’m off, outlining how to get in touch with me and when to expect me to come back”.

It’s a bit like in the episode we talk about maternity leave, like putting all those boundaries in place as early as possible, so that when it comes to it — you log out. But you have to log out psychologically as well, because all that stuff is pointless if you’re sneaking a little look at your email on the phone.

[00:15:44] – Steve
And he says ‘when to set an out-of-office’… Obviously, there’s your actual out-of-office, but you can add your Christmas working hours into your signature from November onwards as well. You can have, like, your Christmassy thing in the bottom of it.

[00:16:00] – Frankie
A lot of freelancers also do content around Christmas, like marketing stuff. There’s a lot of freelance advent calendars, for example, where they send out…

[00:16:14] – Steve
…ADVENT CALENDARS. OFF! No, I’m sorry. Every year I think about doing an advent calendar and then I remind myself it is 24 days…

[00:16:22] – Frankie
I’m not suggesting he does that

[00:16:23] – Steve
…of nonstop content!!

[00:16:26] – Steve
It is relentless and you don’t do it. Guys, it feels great for the first three days and then you’re like, “No, why did I choose this? Why didn’t I at least do the twelve days of Christmas?”

[00:16:39] – Frankie
All right, bad example. But it could be as much as a Christmas card.

He’s a designer, he can make a digital Christmas card, or even a physical one, whatever. Send it out to clients. A) it means you’re visible, you remind them you exist, you remind them how talented you are. And B) it could, you know, remind them of those dates, key dates, boundaries, information about when you’re around, when you’re not, wish them a Merry Christmas and all that jazz.

[00:17:02] – Steve
Send them a Christmas tin of biscuits and there’s a biscuit in there for each day that you’re not available.

[00:17:07] – Frankie
Right, exactly.

Like the comms around Christmas and you taking time off doesn’t have to be just an out-of-office. It doesn’t have to be dull. It can be in -line with your brand, it can be in-line with your personality. And it’s nice to send clients stuff at Christmas anyway. So combining that with like, “Don’t you dare email me for two weeks!!” Obviously in a much nicer, softer way.

[00:17:29] – Steve
Also conscious that there might be people listening who are like, “Well, actually, I have to work over Christmas and don’t want you to feel bad about that”. There’s something to be said about the fact that maybe there’s extra family help looking after your children, therefore it’s a good opportunity to do work and things like that. So don’t feel bad about that. We’re answering Matt’s question, which is about taking time off.

[00:17:54] – Frankie
In fact, working over Christmas can be good in some ways because your clients aren’t necessarily around. You’re not getting those emails pinging in in the same way, so you have headspace and some quiet time, work wise. But then you’ve also got small people running around, so it’s sort of swings and roundabouts…

[00:18:12] – Steve
You get to make it wherever you want it to be. You get to be your boss here.

[00:18:16] – Frankie
I think Matt is in a strong position. First year freelance, used to having time off over Christmas. He is in a strong psychological place. So I think this is great. I think he’s being really proactive and if he can crack it this Christmas, he’s setting himself a really strong precedent for future years. He should come in to the community in January and tell us how to do it because we all need to aim for this!

What would your advice be?

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