I don’t know about you, but when the first day of December arrives, I’m tired. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the holiday season as much as anyone else. I’m a big fan of festive cheer (and mince pies, and mulled gin, and tinsel, and advent calendars, and…) but there’s just so much to do, from:

  • preparing my business so that I can actually take some time off,
  • to finishing my client workload before I leave my desk on 22nd December,
  • to arranging all the non-work life stuff.

My energy levels are rock bottom. I desperately need a rest. And you know what? I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this. When you’re self-employed, especially if there’s just you in your business, maintaining your normal work routine can feel exhausting when you add on all of the preparations and expectations that come with this time of year.

So how do you survive December as a freelancer? Well, here’s how I do it.

Communicate (with actual people)

It’s easy to put your blinkers on and head down in the approach to the festive break. Sometimes it seems to be the only way to get anything done. But we can quickly begin to feel isolated and resentful. So in December, take off those blinkers, escape the confines of your mind, and talk to real, actual, human people.

First, don’t forget to tell your clients, suppliers, staff, co-workers, and anyone else involved in your business, about your plan for the month. That might be when you’ll be closed over the festive break or your capacity for work now and in January. My last 2023 day at my desk is 22nd December, and I won’t be back at work until 8th January 2024. That means that my workload has to be finished before my last day. Ideally, client work will be complete, edits done, and final copies emailed off by the 21st at the latest.

Second, if you’re not feeling jolly and festive, tell someone. That might be colleagues, freelance friends, non-work friends, or family. Don’t keep it to yourself. You might feel like you’re bringing everyone down by not being your sparkly, best self but if you’re feeling like this, it’s a fair bet that lots of other people are too.

Recognise the real musts and have-tos

If you’re anything like me, you’ve written up a monthly plan for:

  • the business content you want to create (for me that’s blog and social media posts),
  • your client workload to complete,
  • presents to buy,
  • family visits and catch-ups with friends,
  • and those darned admin tasks too.

But it’s easy to charge full-speed at your December to-do list and overwhelm yourself. If it’s all getting a bit much in the run-up to the holidays, why not step back and work out what the necessities are on your list.

Now, I’m not saying that your plan isn’t realistic or that you’re not capable of ticking every last item off your list. What I am saying is that if you find yourself struggling, stop and re-assess what absolutely has to be done this month, what can wait until January, and what can be tweaked. For instance, client workload is the least likely task to be moveable, but do you have to write twelve blog posts to promote your business in December? Will three work just as well? Equally, are there admin tasks that can wait until after Christmas Day? Instead of meeting up with three friends on three different days, can you meet up as a group and have just as lovely a time?

Write it all down

This has always been a massive brain-saver for me. I suffer from anxiety which means my thinking can often be scattered and yes, that can make me forgetful. I’ve learned to handle this by writing down all the things I have to do. For me, that comes in the form of a bullet journal, with a monthly plan that I can tick off or move to the next month.

Write down all the tasks to be done (both work and personal), all the purchases to make, and all the people to contact, then tick them off as you get them done/bought/contacted. Writing it all down will free up your brain and provide a little clarity in the festive onslaught. Plus, ticking off each task on your list is incredibly satisfying.

Don’t forget to enjoy it

As you do your best to organise everything to the ‘enth degree, you may forget to actually enjoy the whole thing. For most of us, it was easier when we were small children. We didn’t have dinners to cook. We didn’t have to worry about the cost of presents. We didn’t care whether Auntie Betty would get on with whoever she was sat next to at the festive table. We just opened our presents, ate the food given to us (mostly), and had a wonderful time.

So while you may have a dinner to cook, money to find for presents, and family squabbles to counter, don’t forget to take a little time for yourself too. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It could be as simple as insisting on some you-time to walk the dog while your other half looks after the kids and keeps Auntie Betty topped up with Malibu.

Do put your feet up

Yes, there is a humungous amount of stuff to do in the run-up to the holidays, both at work and at home. You may feel that you’re the only one who can do or arrange that ‘stuff’, but here’s a thought. You’ll be of no use to anyone – clients, friends, or family – if you make yourself ill. And I’m not just talking about having a rest over the festive break. Pace yourself over the entire month. That means:

  • making sure you have regular breaks from your desk or workstation during the day
  • taking at least 30 minutes for lunch (although an hour is much better)
  • not working beyond your normal hours
  • making sure you get a good night’s sleep every night
  • taking time to just ‘be’, for instance, walking the dog, brushing the cat, or reading a good book

This is your festive holiday as much as anyone else’s. Treat yourself with some kindness and good will. You deserve it.

If you'd like to share this blog post: