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How to Take Time Off Without Losing Revenue or Clients

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Read Time: 15 min

In this post we’re going to look at 7 things you can do to ensure that you’re taking enough time for yourself throughout the year.

When you work for yourself, it can be hard to justify taking a day off, let alone an entire week or two. Heck, it can be difficult to step away from the job when you’re employed full-time.

If you’re reading this, I bet you’ve found yourself making excuses about going on vacation, taking a mental health day, or keeping your computer turned off over the holidays. 

  • “What if a client has an emergency and I’m not available?” 
  • “My clients are gonna think I’m lazy and go find someone else.” 
  • “I can’t afford to lose a day/week/month of pay.”

There’s some validity to those concerns — but only if you don’t plan for time off. 

Why You Need to Take Time for Yourself

I could go into what the research says about what happens to your body, mood, and productivity when you don’t take a sufficient amount of time off. But you don’t really need me to do that. 

You know how you feel when you’re overworked, stressed out, and reaching burnout levels. You’re exhausted, you get grumpy, you feel unmotivated, you become resentful, you lose any joy you once had for your job. 

image of a very tired personimage of a very tired personimage of a very tired person

You also know how it feels when you reach the point of burnout or illness and you’re forced to take time off or to slog through your work while you’re unwell. You can’t win in either situation.

What’s worse, your bad vibes and poor health spread — your clients can feel it, people who work with you can feel it, and the people close to you can feel it, too. Bottom line: Not taking time off can not only be damaging to your health, it can also hurt your business and relationships. 

How to Take Time Off and Not Let It Impact Your Work

So here’s what you can do to take a break, not feel guilty or stressed out about it, and reap all the benefits.

1. Create a Work Schedule You Can Commit To

In order for you to get comfortable with the idea of taking a large chunk of time off, you need to start by bringing order and predictability to your work schedule. The greater a handle you have on your day to day schedule, the easier it will be to plan for longer chunks of time off.

Start with your basic schedule:

  • Which days of the week will you work?
  • What time will you start each day? 
  • What time will you end?
  • How many breaks will you take?
  • When will you take your breaks and how long will each last?

Setting strict work hours and availability will help in a number of ways. 

For starters, you’ll be less likely to slack off midweek if you know you can’t tackle your overflow work at night or on the weekend. It can be tough to focus when you’re operating from the mindset that you can work whenever or make it up later. Take away that excuse and you’ll learn to stay focused.

Secondly, you’ll become more effective at scheduling projects. If you know how long it takes to get certain tasks done, and you see how much availability you have each day, you’ll be able to slot in tasks when you have room for them as well as when it makes the most sense to.

There’s also the client piece to think about. When you stick to a set schedule and are firm about working within that time frame, clients will learn where your boundaries are and respect them. But it’s on you to have the confidence to say “no” when they overstep.

2. Practice the 3M Framework 

The 3M Framework is something I recently learned about. Dr. Sahar Yousef is a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Berkeley and she suggests using the framework to beat burnout. However, I also think it’s a great way for self-employed designers to ease themselves into taking time off. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Micro break: A few minutes taken each day.
  • Meso break: A two- to four-hour break taken every week.
  • Macro break: A half or full day taken every month.

Now, when we talk about breaks in the context of the 3M Framework, we’re not talking about stepping away from the computer to cook, play video games, or pick the kids up from school. These are actual breaks where you disconnect from all responsibilities and distractions. 

This is something I’ve been working on in my own business and life. Not gonna lie, it’s definitely hard to do if you’re used to being “on” all the time. 

It’s been a few months now and I’ve been able to integrate the micro and meso breaks into my life. 

For micro breaks, I lay down on my acupressure mat for 10 minutes at the end of the work day or I recline on the couch with a heating pad around my shoulders. No podcasts, no TV, no phone. Just me treating my body to some pain relief.

Meso breaks were much harder to get the hang of. First, I had to distribute my chores more evenly throughout the week so I wasn’t spending my entire weekend busy with personal “work”. Then, I had to teach myself it’s okay to keep the phone off and tucked away no matter how beautiful that sunrise is or how cute my dogs look.

Macro breaks… Ugh. Those are tougher to do, especially when you’re at home with all your gadgets. The trick is to put yourself into a brand new environment and to have little to no agenda to steer you. Planning something with others can also help.

3. Factor Other People into Your Time Off

The first couple of years that I freelanced, I was terrified to take time off. I thought that it would make me look weak or like an amateur and that all my clients would go looking for a “better” freelancer. But then December of that first year rolled around and I realized something — 

Everyone needs a break. 

Most of my clients went on break that December. Some of them let me know ahead of time that they were going on holiday the last part of that month (if not all of it). Some of them disappeared without a word. As I found out later, they assumed I knew it was common practice in this industry. 

woman on christmas holiday, holding drinks and mince pieswoman on christmas holiday, holding drinks and mince pieswoman on christmas holiday, holding drinks and mince pies

While I didn’t know enough that first year, I’ve been able to leverage that trend going forward. I now take the last week off every year when most of my clients will be on vacation or at home celebrating holidays with their loved ones. 

I don’t wait around for my clients to take a break in order to take my own though. I plan things with other people throughout the year. Weekend roadtrips. Beach days. Date nights. Whatever.

If you’re finding it difficult to justify taking a break, start with your clients. Most industries experience predictable lulls. Take advantage of those slower periods. 

Another thing to consider is when clients are likely to spend money. For instance, I used to work for an agency that designed websites for telecom companies. For most, their budgets would be tapped out by early December, so we knew we wouldn’t get new work until early to mid January. 

Figure out what your target clients’ fiscal year looks like and plan your big break during their downtime. Then look to your family and friends to schedule other breaks throughout the year.

4. Have Something to Look Forward to During Your Time Off

For some people, the issue isn’t so much the carving out of time. It’s getting to that weekend, personal day, or vacation and going through with it. It’s easy to find an excuse not to take a planned break, especially if your nerves are gnawing at you. 

Planning your breaks with someone else is helpful. Because you’re not just committing to giving yourself a break, you’re committing to them. And breaking an obligation isn’t quite as easy.

Another way to ensure you take the break you deserve is to have something planned for that time. 

I’m not saying you need to jam-pack your break with activities for every second of every day. However, without any plan, you might fall back on bad habits. Like doom scrolling through Twitter or napping entire days away. 

Depending on the length of time you have set aside, pick at least one thing to do and find a way to put a carrot at the end of that stick. 

For example, let’s say you’re taking a half-day on Friday.  Why not book tickets to something? You could go to a movie, a special museum exhibit, or a concert. 

Not every break has to be an event. However, in the beginning, it might be helpful to plan it that way. Once you recognize how enjoyable it is to step away from your work and give your brain a rest, you’ll want to do more of it and won’t need a special event to convince you to take time off.

5. Plan Way in Advance

When it comes to things like sick days and mental health days, there’s no way to plan ahead of time for those types of breaks. The best you can do is build some wiggle room into your schedule. 

So instead of booking yourself solid for what typically amounts to 21 to 24 viable workdays a month, schedule tasks on 20 days and leave the rest open. If you get to the end of the month without needing a break, you can fill those open slots with projects, play catch-up on admin stuff, or take a break. 

As for lengthier and planned breaks, however, do your best to plan them far in advance. As a general rule of thumb, plan them based on your project cycles. 

For instance, as a writer, my project load rotates every month. I would never tell clients that I’m going to take time off after committing to a month’s worth of projects, so that means I need to do my vacation prep at least two months’ in advance. 

You also have to consider what you’ll need to do in order to make up for the missed time (if anything). For instance, if you feel like you need to work extra days in the lead-up to time off, advanced planning will come in handy so you’re not burning yourself out the last week or so before you take your break. 

Here are some things that can help with your advanced planning: 

  • Once you have your dates set, inform your clients. Create a reminder for yourself to follow up with them once or twice more to let them know about the work interruption and your plan for finishing the job, pausing it, or handing it off to someone else.
  • Add the break to all your calendars — personal, professional, as well as any project or task management calendars you use.   Set that time to “Busy” and “Unavailable” on all of your calendars so no one can accidentally book you then.
  • Set up an Out Of Office (OOO) auto-reply right away. If you wait until the last minute, you might forget to add it and could end up with an inbox of confused or irate clients wondering where you are (even if you already told them).
  • If you don’t already have a way to mute work-related alerts via email, text, or social media, set up that system now. Most devices have ways to silence certain apps at certain times, so start there. You can also use distraction blocker apps.
  • Don’t take on new clients or kick off projects in the weeks before your break. Instead, focus on the ones you have and getting them wrapped up or in a good enough place to leave them.

I find that putting these things into place builds excitement around my breaks. It also helps when you get a client’s thumbs-up ahead of time. Like, “Not a problem! Enjoy yourself and we’ll pick back up in January.” 

One other thing I will say is that you should do this even if your break is planned for the same time as your clients’ breaks. Even if they’re MIA during that time frame, that doesn’t mean you won’t hear from prospects, old clients, collaborators, or anyone else who’s outside that loop.

6. Digitally Disconnect Before and During Your Break

As a designer, you’re glued to your computer screen all day. When it comes time to shut down for the day, how much of that non-work time are you spending glued to your other screens? Research suggests that we’re all spending a good chunk of our days connected to the Internet.

But that’s a problem. You get used to that regular dopamine hit you receive whenever a new email or push notification comes through. 

people on their mobile phonespeople on their mobile phonespeople on their mobile phones

When a client calls or emails you after hours, your body isn’t going to magically be like, “Eh. No biggie. I’ll deal with it when I’m back at work.” You’re going to feel that rush of urgency and maybe a touch of stress when work notifications come through. 

In general, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of digital detoxing. That’s part of the purpose of the 3M Framework. It teaches you to feel good without the need to be doing or distracted by something.

It also prepares you for the disconnection needed to truly enjoy the breaks you give yourself. Without that disconnect, you’re going to feel a whole lot of temptation to work when you shouldn’t be.

  • “My clients need me!”
  • “I’m just gonna fix this one thing.”
  • “I can’t afford to lose any business right now.”

I don’t know how old most of you are, but this wasn’t something we dealt with 15 to 20 years ago. It’s because we weren’t constantly connected to the internet. Letting go of our work might have been stressful at first, but a lack of reminders of what was waiting for us made it easy to leave it all behind.

Even if you don’t want to digitally detox your life, at least get in the practice of doing a digital “cleanse” before and during a lengthy break. It’ll allow you the true freedom to enjoy yourself and reset your health during that much-needed break.

7. Get Well Acquainted with Your Budget and Profits

Having a good handle on your schedule, doing advanced planning, and openly communicating with clients about your availability can help with the not losing clients piece of this. But what about protecting your revenue?

One thing you could do is work extra hours before and/or after your break. I don’t like that idea because it essentially teaches you that, as a self-employed individual, you aren’t entitled to time off the way that employed workers are. 

It also defeats the point of the break in the first place. You’re not really taking a break if you’re having to offload that work to a different date and time.

What I’d suggest instead is that you get acquainted with your financial state. Start by asking yourself the following:

What would happen if you took X amount of days off and didn’t work extra hours to compensate for it?

If the answer is, “I’d be fine. I just don’t like the idea of losing money”, then it’s a mentality issue. You need to get comfortable with viewing time off as a benefit, the same way an employed worker does. 

If the answer is, “I would have a hard time paying for my expenses”, then you’re not charging enough. Plain and simple. You shouldn’t be working 52 weeks a year with barely any wiggle room for time off. 

To fix this latter problem, you can do a couple things. 

The first is to evaluate your budget. Identify everything you’re spending money on in your business. If you have unnecessary expenses, cut them out entirely or find a cheaper alternative. That will give you some breathing room. 

man stacking coins to work out budgetman stacking coins to work out budgetman stacking coins to work out budget

Another thing you can do is raise your rates. What I suggest for people just starting out is to give yourself a set number of “paid” days off you want to take every year. The typical employer will start you at around 10, so give that a try. 

Then, set an annual revenue goal for your business. Let’s say it’s $60,000. You charge $5,000 a website and can design 12 websites a year or 1 a month. 

But you’re no longer working on a 52-week schedule anymore. With 10 days off, that drops you down to a 50-week schedule. Would you rather design one less website a year and make $55,000 or raise your per-website rate to $5,500 so that you can earn $60,500 by doing 11 websites?

$500 isn’t a huge deal compared to the $5,000 that clients were already willing to pay. Plus, if prospects or clients push back on the higher costs, all you have to do is explain that it gets reinvested back into your business. 

It’s not like you need to tell them that you’re raising your rates so you can afford a vacation or the occasional Friday off. That’s not really what’s happening either.

Being able to take time off and to reset your body, brain, and mood is critical for maintaining your creativity and productivity. It’s no different than working with tools that help instead of hamper your work. If your clients want top results, they won’t argue with any of that.


Breaks come in all shapes and sizes. From giving yourself a set weekend free of work emergencies to planning annual vacations, you should be carving out time for all of it. 

Taking time off from work might seem like a nice “benefit”, but it’s critical to your success. If you’re not feeling in tip-top shape, it’s going to trickle down into everything you do and all the interactions you have. The opposite is just as true. When you’re in peak form, you and your design business will thrive. Your clients will also reap the results of that!

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