The Importance of Play


As you read this I will be in Glasgow. My husband will have taken time off work to sit at home and entertain our ageing collies and I will be having some quality time with our daughter and her friend.

It’s just a quick getaway, no more than two days, but we are off to see a concert and it takes two days to get to Glasgow comfortably for the evening… three if you count the drive back home. For once I have stepped away from work, and the computer, and I’m having fun. Heart-swelling, singing-at-the-top-of-our-voices-while-driving-300-miles, eating-rubbish-if-we-want-to, fun.

I’ve been looking forward to this for months, and after working like a mad thing since early November, I figure it’s time to lighten up for a few weeks. After all, the free in freelance should surely relate to your work timetable, or else what is the point?

It’s very easy to forget the importance of play in the work schedule. We tend to start and finish our day in front of the computer, guided by workloads and deadlines, and if we are diligent we allow some of the working day to move around and get some exercise. But I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen or heard of colleagues who have worked through holidays, or had to postpone, because work took over. This seems especially prevalent in the publishing industry where deadlines have a habit of sliding or being left slightly open-ended. I will admit to working through holiday-time a few times myself, and it’s not healthy. It’s not fair on you and it’s certainly not fair on your family.

It’s time to say “No”.

erm no

For a while now, when I take on a new commission, if I have holiday booked, or a few days off, I will tell the client. I will also tell them that this is non-negotiable. So far it hasn’t lost me any work. If a schedule slides through no fault of my own I am usually very accommodating, work is fit in where possible, and if there are problems clients are usually understanding, after all everyone realises that schedules can be tight, mishaps happen, but at the end of the day you can’t pluck hours out of nowhere. And if schedules slide and start to impinge on holiday time, well that’s when conversations happen and alternative arrangements are made. It may sound harsh (does it really?), but since deciding not to work through holiday-time I’ve only had the alternative arrangements conversation once… and there were no nightmares, just a rearranged schedule. It helps that I arrange a free week before I go away where possible, just as a contingency plan for if the job nearest to the holiday does slide. And if that doesn’t happen… I have a blissful week extra to just relax.

Apart from holidays though, it’s important that we have days off to look forward to and realise that there is fun to be had. As a freelancer we have no Bank Holidays, long weekends or occasional days off mid-week unless we book them ourselves. That’s why it is so important to add extra days to a schedule if you can to allow for a day at the seaside or the odd day just having the kind of fun that lifts your spirits. When you are approached by a client who asks how long a project will take, add in a factor of a few days at least. And if the client dictates the time-scale have a really good look to see how long you think it will actually take, then still add the extra days. This is also a good idea to cover illness… how many of us have worked to a tight deadline while shivering with a bad cold or the beginnings of the flu? Allowing for days off mid-schedule covers the eventuality of illness as well as the chance to be spontaneous.

So, as I am out there having fun, here’s my guide to getting out and enjoying life while being a freelance… after all, life should not be all work!

  1. Schedule in extra time to your workload if possible… cover all eventualities e.g. illness, spontaneous days off, emergency days. Never look at how long a job will take and use this and only this as a basis for your timescale quotes – give yourself a few days grace or you may find yourself working when ill or not at your best.
  2. Tell your clients when your holidays are arranged. Being upfront at the beginning sets you both on an even playing field, you both know the score and no-one will get a nasty surprise if schedules slide. Your client wouldn’t want to work through their vacation time, just as you don’t. Remind them as the holiday approaches.
  3. If you can, add extra time off just before a holiday. Use it as a buffer if needed, or as a relaxing start to your holiday if it isn’t.
  4. Look out for things you enjoy. If there is a workshop/daytime concert/day out at the seaside coming up that you fancy ask yourself if there is really a reason you can’t go on it, or if it’s just a self-enforced embargo on fun.
  5. Remember that life is not all about work. Play is an important part of life, it is good for mental health, bodily health and family relationships. It makes you more productive, opens you up to new possibilities and allows you to meet new people. And if you really feel guilty make sure you always have business cards to hand.

5 Comments on “The Importance of Play

  1. Wonderful reminder, Sara. I do tend to take this whole thing a bit too seriously. Hope you are enjoying Glasgow! I shall be in my garden or painting doors this weekend (spiffing up the house for moving later this year. 🙂

    • Thanks Joanne.

      It’s 8pm, I’ve just returned home and have had the most amazing time… the McBusted gig was, I think, the best gig I’ve ever seen (so much energy!), I bought lots of goodies in Glasgow and have returned happy and refreshed (if quite a few pounds lighter in the wallet).

      Play is definitely important! 😉

  2. One of my greatest challenges as a freelancer is committing to non-work time. I’ve been freelancing for 10 years, and it’s still so hard! The timing of your post is perfect for me, as I’m about to embark on a great adventure – two weeks in Hawaii to visit my daughter. It must be a partial working vacation, as my fiancé and I can’t afford to take that length of time off completely. But we hope to commit to just a few hours a day, with 3 days completely off in the middle. And honestly, after the winter we’ve had here in Boston, a few hours of work on a warm, sunny patio will feel decadent. Hope we stick to it!
    So thanks for sharing this… I just retweeted it 🙂

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