When you started your business, you dreamed of creating your own schedule, working when you wanted, and taking vacations whenever you pleased. Now cut to you during your first year in business, eyes glazed over at your laptop on Christmas Eve, desperately trying to finish your work before the family party begins. It’s a lesson most of the self-employed have to learn the hard way: taking time off is often much more difficult when you run a business than when you simply work for one.

As freelancers and entrepreneurs, we know the time and dedication it takes to build a successful business. What we’re not as familiar with is how to take the occasional step away from work. End of the year holidays are the perfect time to take a breath, reflect on the year, and reward yourself for all your hard work — but you won’t be able to do that if you don’t take at least some time off. Skeptical you’ll be able to manage a vacation this year? It’s not too early to start preparing — and these six steps will help you to log off and actually take that well-earned PTO.

Log off and actually take that well-earned PTO.

1. Start Planning Now

Start by getting clear on how you’d love to spend your time off. Do you dream of planning a ski trip with friends, or simply having the spare time to build a snowman with your kids? Get clear on what would make your time off memorable and restorative — then dive into the tactical planning.

Decide how many days or weeks you’d like to take off, and start calculating your finances. How much extra income will you need to make up? How will this time away affect your January income? Take the time now to face the numbers to prevent any stressful surprises in the new year.

2. Make It Up

Now that you know the amount of money you need to make up, start taking on extra work now. Try to front-load your vacation so that you’re not returning to urgent deadlines and undue stress.

Strategize for your return.

Then, strategize for your return. Make sure you schedule a whole day to simply respond to emails and make a plan before you actually get back to work. Write yourself notes for your return, so you’re not spending the entire morning wondering what you’ve forgotten. Making lists, schedules, and notes like this will also help you to relax on your time off — because you’ll know you’re prepared for the next step.

3. Set Mini Deadlines with Buffers

Taking on extra work now won’t be easy, but it’s possible. Write out a work schedule for yourself and make sure to set personal deadlines. If a project is due by the end of November, aim instead to have it finished by the first week of the month — you never know when unexpected visitors (or this year’s flu) might show up.

This will allow you to enjoy the time leading up to your favorite holidays. You don’t want to be running around like the proverbial headless chicken the night before Thanksgiving, when the family is coming to town and the turkey is still frozen. Plan for those distractions and detours now.

4. Communicate Your Plans

Once you’ve decided on your time off, tell your clients or colleagues when you’re planning to be ‘unavailable.’ Aim to give them at least one month’s notice and be clear with your boundaries. Will you still be checking email? When is it okay to contact you?

Set limits now and stick to them.

Understand that clients may still contact you with various “emergencies” that pop up during your time off. Save yourself the headache of agonizing over how to handle them by setting limits now and sticking to them.

5. Start Buying Gifts

Do you plan to exchange any gifts with friends and family this year? The holidays can bring a number of extra costs, so make a list of gifts to buy and start spreading out the expense. Stock up on beautiful candles when you see a sale or get creative with personalized gifts from Etsy shops.

Taking your time to pick out the perfect gift (and not have to rack up your credit card bill) will keep this year much merrier.

6. Be Kind to Yourself

Taking time off at the holidays is great, but if you can’t enjoy it because you’re so tired and burnt out, it won’t do you much good. Find ways to replenish your energy all year long by scheduling mini-breaks every day to stay fresh and motivated.

Taking time off can be one of the most difficult aspects of running your own business — but remember, you are your own boss. It absolutely is possible to take some holiday vacation; just make sure you plan accordingly.

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