Holiday Time Management for the Independent Contractor

Make a plan to stay productive during the holiday season and end-of-year crunch

In the last push of the year, holiday happenings can cut work time short and make you feel frazzled. You might relish the idea of gatherings with friends and family and days away from your desk, but at the same time, you might dread the last-minute scrambling to meet client needs. We’ve got a list of holiday productivity hacks to keep you feeling on top of the game while still being able to partake in festivities and even enjoy a much-needed break.

Establish cut-off times for client requests
As indie contractors, we have a tendency to default to the word “yes.” That’s an awesome attitude with which to approach work. But the holiday season may require setting some ground rules with clients so that you have the time and ability to complete current projects. If you set cut-off times (whether that’s a month ahead or a shorter period) for requests leading up to a holiday break, you’ll avoid the situation of working on a task when you intended to be spending time with loved ones. Your required cut-off times will vary based on what you do for a living, whether you work on large- or small-scale projects, and the amount of time you plan to take off for holiday shenanigans. Don’t be afraid to incorporate rush fees too. For example, maybe you require all requests to be in by December 15, and any requests coming in during December 1–15 will be assessed a rush fee.

Set cut-off times for yourself
Giving yourself a cut-off time can also be helpful. Perhaps you stop taking on new clients at a certain time in the last quarter of the year so that you can focus only on the remaining work and clients on your plate. If this is the case, you can always respond to new client requests with a quick note saying you’ll be eagerly taking on new work at the start of the new year (or whenever you’re next available). If you’re worried about losing out on a job, set up a quick consultation with a potential client, provide an initial estimate, and even send a contract with the intention of starting the gig later. Get the housekeeping issues taken care of fast (if feasible) to secure the job without adding deadlines that will clutter up your holiday time.

Plan out all the details
Grab a calendar and note every available workday from now until the end of the year. Mark which days you won’t be able to work and which days you’ll likely be limited on time because you have to get to a holiday event, shop for gifts, or partake in holiday prep, etc. Assess your deadlines and the work you have left to complete from now until the end of the year. Then map it out, hour-by-hour (if necessary) on your calendar, a scheduling or workflow app, or a spreadsheet. Be sure to account for allthe work, like sending emails, bookkeeping, and other admin tasks, in addition to finishing projects. This hyper-focused planning method is something you can and should do throughout the year to get a better handle on your workflow and time-management, but getting truly detailed during crunch times like the holiday season is vital.

Give up a little free time now to enjoy the days ahead
With travel time and other preparations, you’re likely looking at significantly shorter weeks during the end-of-year holiday push. In order to complete all your tasks, you may need to work extended hours, some nights, and maybe some weekends during the weeks leading up to a specific holiday, trip, or vacation. By building in the extra hours, you’ll secure yourself stress-free time during your break.

Set boundaries with friends and relatives
Keep in mind that others don’t always understand the nature of independent contractor work. You might have family members asking you to travel early for the holidays or friends who invite you to join them for happy-hour hot toddies. Those requests can make you feel obligated, but remember that it’s OK to say no if time just doesn’t allow it. And if you find that you need to carve out a few hours while on a holiday break or a family visit to take care of a task, the last details of a project, send end-of year-invoices, or whatever else may need doing, that’s OK too. If you’re out of town and away from your usual workspaces, research ahead of time the locales where you can grab a strong cup of coffee and tap into equally strong Wi-Fi.