If you’ve got a case of freelance holiday blues, you are not alone. There are many people who really struggle with the shift from leisure to work mode. It’s a different mindset, really. Work reminds us of scarcity in a lot of ways. The whole making money, acquiring the work, putting out the fires, dealing with clients (good and bad)–it’s all a mix.

But instead of dreading the return, you can do little things that will help you get back on the road to glory quicker.

Consider this your guide to dealing with freelance holiday blues

Recognise your starter style

Remember when you were at school and there were some kids that were super excited for the new year and others were dragging their feet? The same thing can happen with work.

The way we design the start to a working (or schooling) year is one size fits all. Even as freelancers, we tend to swap the jailers and recreate the not-so-great parts of work. We rarely entertain that the way it has taught us to approach work might need of an overhaul.

Instead, ask the following questions:

·        Would you prefer to ease into the start of the year?

·        What does that look like for you?

·        What are the major barriers to easing into the year? E.g. eager clients, deadlines, financial situation.

·        What can you do to overcome these barriers?

·        If you can’t change the start, what ways can you up your self-care to take the sting out of the workplace re-entry?

If your freelance holiday blues occur because the switch from holidays to work is brutal, look at ways you can stick a toe into the start rather than cannonball off the diving board.

Build a good foundation

When we’re on holidays, we lower the obligations we have to others by not including clients, peers or even our own ambition. We also enjoy a much less rigid timetable. And we’ve shut off that surprise communication that always catches us on the hop and derails what we have planned.

Even if we’re working on projects and are under obligation to family, we can at least temper the impact by finding control and direction of our own.

When we go back to work, all bets are off. And that’s when the freelance holiday blues can begin.

We rarely start with a plan and are quickly run over by clients who have missed us who want a lot in a brief span of time. Plus, we can fall into the habit of giving up our time and boundaries for the person paying our way.

There’s nothing wrong with providing high touch customer service, but that doesn’t mean we stop having a say in our working lives.

Stop starting in a rush by:

·        Sorting through your own work first. Have a planning day, sort out your social media for the next 30 days, plan your calendar, go through all your emails and make notes about what you need to do and give it a priority. Give yourself something to have control over right from the start.

·        Using a triage system and putting client complaints and needs in order of necessity. This might be outside your usual pattern of working if you work set days and hours, but it can help to clear the blockages.

·        Consider your triggers and avoid or delay them. If loads of meetings make you feel pressured, limit the number of meetings you have in the first week. If some clients are tougher than others, start with the more receptive ones. Look for the easy ways in and the small wins in that first week back.

Avoid forcing yourself

Freelancers have this weird “gun to my head” style with commitment. We often force ourselves to start January with guns blazing with massive launches and deadlines. We try to goad ourselves into starting with a bang and getting to the finish line by any means possible.

We’re caught up in the idea of a new year of opportunities. Mainly because we’ve reviewed what we did last year and felt underwhelmed. And/or because we’ve decided it’s make-or-break time through imagined or actual pressures. Or because we’re looking over the fence and seeing every other freelancer do it and jumping off the bridge, too.

The only thing worse than that flat pancake feeling you have as you complete the last week of work before the big December break is the first few days back. Especially when you’ve committed to so many responsibilities and ideas, you don’t even know where to start.

Deadlines can be incredibly helpful in keeping us motivated, but we should use them as a positive, action-orientated tools. They are carrots, not sticks.

Instead of forcing yourself with hard deadlines and setting yourself up for failure and self-punishment, try these ideas instead:

·        Book solid time into your timetable to work on a project you want to complete and keep those dates. Get your hands, brain and creativity messy and dirty to enjoy the difference.

·        Delay all client deadlines until the second week so that you both have time to communicate and coordinate properly.

·        Work on what you want to launch, but don’t make a huge social media fanfare out of it to help manage your mood better

·        Recognise the difference between what we tell ourselves is what we should do and what people actually notice. Most people are in holiday mode, too. They’d probably appreciate a slow re-entry rather than a barrage of information, ideas, and requests for participation.

With the freelance holiday blues, incremental progress and smaller steps can be far more effective than giant leaps.

Game your brain

Motivation is a funny thing – you can find it everywhere, not just at work. In fact, you can use other tasks outside the work arena to help your brain switch from holiday mode to work mode.

The aim is to encourage your brain to seek small wins and feel empowered in the early stages. That way, the motivation can increase and include other options.

A couple of ways you can kick the freelance holiday blues without actually doing client work are:

1.      Focus on positive, easy tasks. Pick some housekeeping tasks that make you feel accomplished that improve your working life, even if they are not work related. E.g. grind a week’s worth of coffee, clean your office, do the filing, clean out desk drawers, fold that washing, tidy up a little – all the jobs that make it easier to work at home.

2.      Clean up your digital spaces. Sort out your Dropbox or Google Drive, and/or tidy up your noticeboards and project trackers like Asana or Trello, archive your emails and/or comms from Slack or other channels, accounting program and/or other digital drives and programs you rely on to get work done so you can start fresh.

3.      Have a planning session with yourself. Look at your business and marketing, the clients and their work, the ideas, and review your ingoings and outgoings to see where you can save money or replace software and items that don’t work for you. Map them all out into an action plan.

4.      Keep the supportive rituals. Identify the good habits and supportive rituals you established during your holidays you want to keep in the working year. Nobody says that work has to be serious, and holidays are the only time to relax, have fun and take a breather. If you want to keep those beach walks, reading sessions, trips to art galleries, coffee by yourself in the morning or lunches in the sun, why not see if you can make room for them?

5.      Plan strategic breaks. Choose to get housework done in parallel to work tasks to get a sense of accomplishment. Cook yourself lunch on the first day to break the day up. Book an extra exercise session in for the afternoon or evening. Do some life admin appointments. Walk the dog. Whatever can help you keep a balance between life you and work you in those early stages.

6.      Write your What’s IN/OUT in 2023 post to yourself or your audience. The popular trend this year is to identify what is out for 2023 and what’s in. That could be everything from freelance industry trends through to humorous personal stuff. Break up with the stinky and bring on the positive by allowing yourself a visible version of what you’re looking for this year.

Motivation is wherever you can find it. Use it to increase the petrol in your tank and beat those funny back to work feelings.

Share how you feel

Let’s not get caught in the trap of pretending we’re all big, brave working robots that enjoy every moment of our working lives. Freelancing doesn’t make us immune from finding it hard to come back after holidays. And it doesn’t mean that we’re always happy to be here, either.

Sharing how you feel can help you keep a realistic perspective on your relationship with work and how you feel about it.

It’s OK to acknowledge that the return to work is tough.

You can share the freelance holiday blues feels by:

·        Putting something out on your social media. It can also help you identify which clients feel the same way, so you don’t accidentally put pressure on each other.

·        Writing, recording, drawing or creating it out to share with others in blog, infographic, comic, illustration or photo style.

·        Putting up a comment in the Freelance Jungle and/or other groups you frequent to see who responds.

·        Release the tension with memes and TikTok videos so you feel less alone.

Whether you create your own content and/or share the content floating around, it’s OK to share how you feel about the start of another year.

Begin with a focus on your own creativity

Writing this blog is part of my start to the year. Adopting the attitude that my business is just as important as my clients helps me start with good habits. Plus, the act of writing for myself helps me to avoid early-stage criticism, create on my own terms, and set myself a goal without the harsh glare of a deadline. It’s an important step to establishing a good morning routine I can take into the year.

I have emails to answer, briefs to write, work to complete and clients to check in on. But before I reach out to others to ask them what I can do to meet their needs, I need to meet a few of my own. And it’s working.

This is something you can easily do for yourself, especially if you usually jump into people pleaser mode straight off the bat.

Consider what your version might be:

·        Writing a blog for your website or recording a new social media video.

·        Pitching an article that you want to write, a cartoon you want to draw, etc.

·        Making a short list of clients you’d love to work with and writing an email of introduction.

·        Working on a course, toolkit or lead generation activity.

·        Exploring a new plugin or software you know you probably won’t get to if you don’t do it now.

·        Channelling your inner Adrian Elton and taking on a topical trend and smashing out some creative commentary.

·        Making a shortlist of the events you’d like to go to or speak at, the awards or grants you’d like to apply for, or other opportunities that interest you.

·        Book in holidays specifically to work on your marketing, creativity and/or your craft through retreats and/or setting aside time to work on your own work.

·        Creating your first newsletter for the year.

·        Engaging with a challenge that might help you keep your creativity focussed.

Whatever the case may be, you can apply your considerable skills and fantastic attitude to beating those post-holiday freelance blues.

Want more ways to dip into 2023 with self-care and boundaries at the forefront? Subscribe to the Patreon for Another 30 Days of Self-care now.

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