When determining whether or not to go the consulting route (vs. finding a job as an employee), there is an old adage often used: Which fallacy do you prefer? The one that suggests employees have more job security or the one that suggests that consultants have more flexibility in choosing their own work hours?
Of course, there is some truth to both but anyone who has been a part of the IT industry for any length of time also knows that neither is always the case! As my blog entry today is aimed at contractors or aspiring contractors, I thought I would share a few thoughts on the topic of using some of your “flexibility” by building in some down time for yourself.
This, it turns out, is really quite hard to do. It takes planning and conviction; and potentially some negotiating as well. A common prairie saying is “Make hay while the sun shines“, meaning that while you’ve got the work, you should be doing it. Especially for those working here in Calgary, given the down-turn in the economy, it is really hard to set some time aside for yourself knowing that many others don’t have the work opportunity that you are enjoying. Additionally, as a contractor, if you’re not working you’re not billing, and that can be a powerful detractor as well.
That said, many contractors have been “running hot” for a long time. Burn-out is becoming more common place, as are mental health issues which can range from being slightly irritable to limitless issues that can be caused by working too hard for too long in a too stressful a situation. There are rare individuals who are truly (and healthily) motivated and invigorated by this lifestyle, but most people would benefit from some respite. Most companies demand that their employees use the vacation time given to them each year and, as an incorporated contractor, you are running your own business. Part of your responsibility as a business owner is to look after the health of your employee(s)… which in most cases is just you.
How would your client/agency like you to plan time off? The key is to begin discussing this early. It gives them a chance to work it into their schedules. Also, being as flexible as possible shows that you are intent on your project’s/work’s success and will make it easier to accommodate your absence. Finally, look at the milestones set for your project and speak with your management contact to decide where your absence might have the least negative impact. There will be times/projects/clients where they simply cannot accommodate an absence request for a certain period of time, but those are more rare and most people are quite reasonable… especially if they recognize that there is likely to be a productivity and/or quality boost to your work when you return fully recharged!
One of the aspects of taking a break from work that has made the biggest difference to me is that it helps to regain a sense of perspective. When you’ve been head down/tail up working for many weeks/months straight, one tends to lose a broader perspective or, rather, your perspective becomes fixed and rooted in the day-to-day problems and issues. Creativity suffers and you can quickly find yourself in a “rut”. Some ruts are straight-up bad while others can become “comfortable” and these are the ones that can last a long, long time. The daily grind becomes routine, you aren’t as bothered by your failures, and you can become numb and ambivalent to both your work and your life outside of work. A good break changes things up, it allows you to see the bigger picture and your role in it, and it both refreshes and regenerates. That way, when you return to your work, you do so with renewed enthusiasm and energy.
If this last paragraph at all rings true for you, you may be overdue for a vacation. Instead of trying to decide whether you can afford to take a break, consider whether you can afford not to. There are plenty of benefits to taking a vacation, and this article perfectly summarizes 7 of them.
Summer is coming soon! What are your plans??!