Achieving Freelance Work-Life Balance over the Holidays

A person wrapping a gift and working on a laptop
Microsoft Edge/Unsplash

“The holidays are upon us” is a sentence I dread hearing. My mind associates it with the fall and winter decorations I should be putting up now and will then need to take down and store away. I start thinking of the dinners with family and friends I need to start organizing and wonder how I’ll navigate a busy social calendar that for the past three years I’ve (gratefully) been able to keep to an absolute minimum. I make lists of gifts that need to be purchased and wrapped and cards that need to be sent out. The whole time, I’m also thinking about my freelance editing work: I have to complete projects and keep booking work for future months. I should check my year-end goals and I need to start thinking about my goals for next year.

How am I going to balance work and family over the holidays?

If you’re already exhausted after that first paragraph, I’m with you! As freelance editors we juggle so much more than our freelance work, and few people understand our world. But I’ve learned over the years that if I have a plan of action, if I give myself permission to choose what’s important for me this year, and if I prioritize my mental and physical health, I can finish the year with a hop in my step and feeling not only that “I did it!” but also “I’m proud of myself!”
Having a plan of action helps me. Writing down the answers to each of the questions below allows me to transfer the things that are starting to make me anxious off of my mind and onto the page, where they’re visible.

  • What are my business goals for the next two or three months? I write those down—all of them!
  • What are my personal/family/social goals and activities for the next two or three months? I write those down.
  • What can I give myself permission to let go of/not do this year? With a pencil, I cross them off the list (e.g., design and order custom-made holiday cards).
  • What must I absolutely do? I highlight those things in yellow (e.g., dinner with my sister, nephews, and nieces; my son’s school holiday show).
  • Which of those activities brings me joy? I draw a star next to those (e.g., meet up with girlfriends for coffee and a small gift exchange; take a holiday craft class; keep doing my Tuesday evening walks with my neighbor). I don’t skip this one, as it is key to my mental health and well-being.
  • What do I not want to do but can ask for help with? I jot these things down (e.g., gift-buying, gift-wrapping, grocery shopping, housecleaning, or chores when we host guests) along with the name of the person who can help me.
  • What days do I need to take off? I may need time to spend with guests, for travel, or to take a breather the day after a night of celebration.

I put approximate due dates and “ideal execution times” on all of them. For example, I’d
rather do my “deep” editing work in the mornings, and when my family is home (afternoons/evenings), do things that don’t require the utmost concentration (e.g., decorate
the house, bake the cookies).

By now I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do, what I can let go of, and who I need to
approach for help. Then, by looking at the due dates, I can backtrack on my calendar and
schedule the tasks.

Over the years, I’ve learned to give each task more time. Better to plan for more time than
less time. I keep my initial draft taped in my planner and check off the tasks as I accomplish
them. What’s more, I add a note of what worked, what didn’t work, and why, so I can look
back at it next year and be better prepared.

Here’s a networking suggestion: Meet up with a fellow editor (in person or virtually) in these
next few weeks and share your lists. See how they prepare to work during the holiday
season, how their planning could benefit your planning, and vice versa.

Linda Ruggeri

Linda Ruggeri is the Professional Editors Network’s former mentor liaison and a Latinx nonfiction editor based out of Los Angeles, specializing in memoirs, biographies, and cookbooks. She is also the award-winning coauthor of Networking for Freelance Editors.

This article originally appeared in Networking News, the Professional Editors Network’s members-only newsletter. Join PEN today to get every issue of the newsletter in your inbox—plus access to our archive of past issues.

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