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Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at

Working on vacation: necessity or bad habit?

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)


I read a blog entry recently about the epidemic of folks unable to leave work behind; the writer’s position was that folks who are utterly unable to “unplug” feel that they are simply too important to the world to ever take a true vacation or hiatus from their work. The epidemic of Crackberry addicts, laptops at the beach resorts, etc., are, in her opinion, due to an overblown sense of importance on the part of the folks unable to step away. But then she goes on to ask if it’s perhaps fear (of standing up to the boss) or people who just really, really love their jobs.

I responded in the comments to say that, as a freelancer, when I work on vacation—as I’m doing right this second—it’s not because I think I’m so important, but because I realize exactly how replaceable I am. If I don’t do it, the people who employ me can find someone else who will. If I don’t blog, folks will find other blogs to read. I have no illusions of being such a special snowflake that only I will do; part of the reason I get hired and read is because I’m dependable. (You know, like the postal service, but with fewer anger issues.)

But does that mean I can’t ever unplug?

I am truly torn on this issue, because working all the time isn’t good for anyone, and I think it’s especially tempting as a freelancer to believe that you “can’t” ever step away, not really. I fall into this trap myself, constantly. And at the same time, one of my standard pieces of advice for newbie freelancers is you must build time off into your schedule. So what’s my problem?

Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this since I read Suebob’s post. Here are the conclusions I’ve reached:

1) There are a number of times when my work is disrupted by something truly unavoidable (think illness, kid emergency and the like), and I feel like my unwavering dependability otherwise makes those situations less stressful.
2) I am always, always, always worried about money. (Not because money is a problem, but because this is one area in which I remain completely neurotic.) As a freelancer, no work = no pay and I have a really hard time doing that willingly.
3) Most of the time when I’m gearing up for a vacation I’m about to “work ahead” on a bunch of stuff so that my work load while gone is comparatively light, so that feels vacationy. (Yes, I realize how lame this is, now that I’m typing it out and looking at it.)
4) I maybe have a case of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Le sigh.

Earlier this summer my family took a cruise, and I prepared for weeks beforehand, doing enough work that during the week we were away I worked just an hour or two a day, and checked email only once a day. That was the first time in about five years I’d limited myself so. If I go back through my personal blog I see places where I worked through the flu, other vacations… well, I did take off completely for my marriage and honeymoon in 1997, but that was only three days. Basically, I am lousy at unplugging.

And I’m typing this in a camper at the beach, by the way.

On the other hand, when I’m on my normal work schedule, I work all day and often well into the evenings. When we’re on vacation and I feel the need to work, I set an abbreviated schedule and then share it with my family so that they’ll hold me accountable. On this trip, for example, I’m allowed to work in the mornings, but by lunchtime I’m done for the day. It’s not a full unplugging, but it feels like a good compromise, to me; I still get work done, but I spend the majority if my day with my family, doing vacation things and not working or checking my email.

Or maybe I’m so deeply in denial about my inability to stop working, I don’t even realize it. Hmmmm.

Fellow freelancers, what say you? Do you ever completely unplug?

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9 comments so far...

  • Um…no. We’re on vacation right now and, well, here I am. I did take the week off from my blog, but lined up some guest posters.

    I did work ahead so that I could just deal with emails and linking the WIM posts on Twitter. :)

    Angella  |  July 20th, 2010 at 8:28 am

  • It depends on the job. Last full time job? Oh how I wanted to unplug. I found a way, it was called “Go to Europe for two weeks.” It really was the only way to get totally unplugged as I worked from home (not freelance) with people in a whole bunch of different time zones who thought it was totally reasonable to call me at any time of day.

    Like the one that called me at 9am on the first day of my two week vacation. I didn’t pick up and let it sit on the machine until my first day back to work two weeks later. Everything she wanted to know was in her darned inbox already. Oh, and leading up to that two week vacation? I worked 36 straight hours with only a dinner and a shower break. (Wow, I really don’t miss that job.)

    One of my current part time jobs, I have no problem doing a bit of work on while I’m on vacation. Part of the work really is almost like playtime for me (I am very, very lucky that way). On my recent vacation I checked in most days, but it wasn’t “really” working and I spent less than 45 minutes as day on the computer.

    Meanwhile my husband is not allowed to take his work computer on our vacations because when he says, “I just gotta send this email” it turns into 2 (or more) hours in front of the laptop.

    sassymonkey  |  July 20th, 2010 at 9:26 am

  • This summer I have managed to unplug on the weekends and at night — I know it’s not the same as unplugging for a vacation, but it’s a step in the right direction. I have a killer project due August 2nd and I have finally come to the realization that I am NOT a good mother when I try to fit more work into my nights and weekends. It ups my stress level and I don’t accomplish much so both my family and my productivity take a dive.

    I’m planning 2, (TWO!) vacations in August after my deadline where I won’t be working at all. At least, that’s my plan. I may open the mail tomorrow and find more bills and decide that I can’t afford to completely unplug, but I’ll deal with that tomorrow.

    Lori N  |  July 20th, 2010 at 10:18 am

  • I think some work on vacation is fine, as long as it’s part of the “plan.” If you have a project requiring x hours that needs to be done on vacation, you tell your family that at x times, you are going to be working and they are going to be doing y. Tell them in advance and nobody is disappointed.

    What you don’t want to do is tell yourself “no problem, I’ll just do it after everyone else goes to bed,” because you aren’t going to have the energy for that (unless everyone else in your group sleeps a LOT).

    SKL  |  July 21st, 2010 at 12:06 am

  • I think that since we’ve become so 24/7, even non-freelancers with “regular” jobs are expected to ALWAYS be available. If they’re not, they’re replaced.

    Even my hubby’s mere chip delivery job expects him to somehow make sure that stores with 7-day-a-week service get their deliveries on his “weekend” days, so he really has NO days off in any one week. But if he doesn’t do it, he can be easily replaced.

    It is just the (pathetic) way of the world these days.

    Brigitte  |  July 21st, 2010 at 2:09 am

  • I think this very much depends on the work. I’m a music teacher, and for that I basically take all school vacations off. And I need that because teaching takes a lot and if I go too long without a break I start being a bit, let’s say, impatient with my students.

    I am, of course, also a musician and a writer and from this I simply don’t take time off. As a musician you have to keep training so to speak. When you don’t play (and in my case when I don’t write) not only do my skills suffer, I also tend to become very, very cranky.

    This doesn’t mean that I never take a day off but I make sure that it’s never more than two or three days at a time.

    I don’t do vacation well anyway so practicing or writing a few hours and doing something vacation-y in the afternoons works really well for me.

    Susanne  |  July 21st, 2010 at 3:31 am

  • Although I am not a freelancer I must admit I still feel the need to check e-mail and take care of things during a vacation.
    But I have read that people who manage to take a true break a disconnect from work, are able to recharge and be more productive upon their return… don’t you think that’s true?

    FrenchNad  |  July 26th, 2010 at 7:06 pm

  • I own my own business, and I think I’m very good at unplugging. My husband and I work together from home, so having good work/personal boundaries is vital to our health, both individually and relationally.

    We begin work whenever we get up in the morning (usually early) but stop right at 5. We often work ahead a little and then take a Friday or a Monday to go backpacking or camping for the weekend, as we’ve done for the past 2 weekends. During winter, we’ll work a Saturday so that we can go snowboarding on a Tuesday.

    To me, that’s the benefit of being an entrepreneur: setting your own schedule. That freedom and flexibility is part of what drew me to start my business, and will be such a blessing when we have our first baby in January. I realize that not many people can take advantage of that freedom, which makes me cherish it all the more!

    Rachel Heath  |  July 27th, 2010 at 4:21 pm

  • This summer I did 1-1/2 weeks in Europe. Bus tour and much walking through cities, very little time to do work even if so inclined; and I don’t have an international Blackberry. So it truly was vacation, and it was glorious. Of course once I returned to the States, I turned it on 1st thing after catching a little sleep. Can’t be away *too* long. :)

    Mich  |  July 28th, 2010 at 9:45 am