Working through the summer

Working through the summer can be a frustrating business for freelances, torn between the desire to bunk off to the beach with everyone else and the urgent needs of clients. In this post I offer four tried-and-test strategies for keeping your cool through the summer holidays. Which one do you think I am following in 2012?

For the first two decades of most people’s lives, the summer is a time for winding down, recuperating from the stresses of school and exams, getting out into the sunshine and having fun with your friends. Even once the grind of working life begins in earnest, the summer is still a special ‘low key’ time when rostered leave rules the office and temps pop up in unexpected places. Meanwhile, with MPs on long leave and deputies of all kinds getting a chance to hold the reins, the press call this the ‘silly season’ and delight in finding the daftest stories, the best beach reading, the wettest camping photos …

This year feels different. Although many people are taking leave, we know that there are thousands on extra duties – especially those in the Armed Forces who have been called up for additional security duty. For 2012 is not your ordinary summer holiday season.

The powers that be warned of transport chaos in London, with hundreds of thousands of additional journeys expected from the flood of overseas and UK-based visitors flocking to the London 2012 Olympic venues. Employers were encouraged to release their minions into the uncharted territory of ‘home’, with the aim of minimising the number of regular commuters clogging the system. A survey by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) reported by Channel 4 found that 50 per cent of businesses intend to let their employees work from home during the Games and 57 per cent plan to adapt their working hours. And although London Mayor Boris Johnson described the government’s home-working policy as a “skiver’s paradise” there has been a general outcry against this out-dated thinking.

As the jobs editor of the Daily Telegraph wrote recently:

… Multi-tasking throughout your working and home life is the future; not the amount of hours you work or where you do it. … Anyone I’ve ever met who works from home says they work harder than if they were in the office. Their hours are longer, they find it difficult to switch off, they are lonely and ultimately have to meet deadlines earlier than expected to ‘prove’ they are working. It doesn’t involve snacking on cheese every five minutes, as Boris seems to think.

Those of us who have been freelancing for a while recognise the problems of working through the summer – especially those of us who are parents. On the one hand, we want to join the rest of the pack setting off on summer hols en famille; on the other, our clients tend to need additional freelance support because their in-house staff are taking time off. It’s not an easy circle to square, and I do hope you are not reading this blog post in the hope that I have definitive answers!

But I do have a few suggestions, most of which I have tried over the years, for you to ‘cut out and keep’ ready for summer 2013.

1. Plan well ahead

Be brave; book a holiday. Book it well in advance. Give your regular clients plenty of notice that you won’t be around. Stick to your plan. Enjoy!

Yeh, right. Great in theory; nerve-wracking in practice – especially if you have had trouble keeping the work flowing in the months running up to your planned break.

Good for: editors with nerves of steel and a lengthy client list.
Bad for: new freelances and generalists with lacklustre marketing strategies.

2. Pack your bags and your laptop

It is true that your clients don’t care where you do the work, so long as you deliver a good job on time. Get yourself a dongle and a mobile phone that will work well in the region you’re planning to visit. All network providers have online coverage-checking resources, and there are several websites showing links to all service providers, e.g. www.smartmobilephonesonline.com. Then pack carefully to make sure you have all the necessary files and notes and off you go.

Be careful not to let your work interfere with the family holiday plans. Try getting up early and putting in a couple of hours while the family lie in. Organise a rota for cooking if you’re self-catering so you can check your emails while someone else prepares dinner. Plan a short ‘cool down’ period after each work stint to let your brain file away the work and clear your head of niggles so you can concentrate fully on the holiday.

Good for: proofreaders – just think PDFs, not airport block-busters.
Bad for: dangerous sports enthusiasts (white-water copy-editing, anyone?).

3. Staycation with benefits

If you can’t afford to book a holiday, for financial or business reasons, there is no reason why you can’t still take advantage of the holiday season. Join the in-crowd with a ‘staycation’ – plan a few days to down tools and relax in whatever way suits you best. Switch off your computer, and let the answering machine take the strain, safe in the knowledge that if a really exciting project pops up one afternoon, you have a ready-made ‘slot’ into which it will fit nicely; just take your staycation later on!

Try a ‘sports day’ (i.e. take a detour on your daily walk to the newsagent); take in some culture (village fetes, local outdoor theatre – there’s always lots to do, often for free); splash out on a meal (good old M&S do some great ‘meal deal’ offers if you want to pretend you’re dining out: just add smart crockery, clean table cloth and maybe even a candle!); and round it all of with a ‘home spa’ (a.k.a. bubble bath and a good book).

Good for: in-control copy-editors who can’t bear the thought of missing a ‘dream job’.
Bad for: lonely copy-writers who worry they don’t get out enough at the best of times.

4. Give up on the summer; just keep on keeping on

Well, the weather so far has been rotten, hasn’t it? So might as well just keep working while you can …

Hmm; not advisable. Everyone needs a break and when the sun does finally shine, you should get out there for a quick top-up of vitamin D. If you really must keep going – and many of us don’t have the choice – try a change of routine. A change is as good as a rest, they say … Try splitting your day into different blocks: work from 06:00-09:00, 10:00-12:00 and 16:00-18:00. That way you can fit in a nice long lunch-break (watching the Olympics) and have plenty of time to catch up in the evening (watching the Olympic highlights spending quality time with your friends and family).

Good for: clients and insomniacs.
Bad for: night owls and travel companies.

*****

Sorry: no prizes for guessing which option I’ve chosen this year. How do you cope?