It will come as no surprise that it is super hard to take vacations as a self-employed person or freelancer. I’ve read a few different posts on taking breaks and traveling and working/ not working (and another).
This post is not so focused on the scheduling of vacation time, but on the logistics of letting people know you’re going to be gone in advance and while you’re actually away. I’ve found that while the scheduling is hard, I can slap some dates up as big do not schedule blocks on my calendar, but the best scheduling will ultimately fail if the dates aren’t well communicated to everyone involved, especially with web projects where schedules are often in flux.
There are three messages I use for scheduled out of office time, as far as notifying clients and setting clear expectations:
- Advance warning messages that let people know what to expect ahead of time
- Pre-emptive emails shortly beforehand
- Auto-responder messages during the actual vacation
Advance Warning Messages – Email
Since a lot of my projects end up with shifting schedules due to changes during the design phase, it’s really important to me that I’m clear as far in advance as possible with everyone about my schedule so they know how changes on their end will impact the overall project.
I let all my current contacts know about upcoming vacation time in advance by adding a footer to all my email messages under my regular signature that notes the dates of my vacation and sets some initial expectations about availability during that window. I typically put these notices up as many as 8-10 weeks in advance, so that people have plenty of notice, and they often read something like this:
Heads up: Zoe will be out of the office from 5/1-5/6 and on 6/15, and will be checking email very infrequently during that window. Please keep this in mind as you consider upcoming scheduling and communication needs.
It’s informal (as are most of my communications), but specific. It sets the expectation that I won’t be on email much at all and lets everyone know that they should think about this dates as they think about what they might want or need from me.
Note that I sometimes include single days – those are usually days where I have pre-planned, extended family commitments and want to have the flexibility to be completely away from email all day.
Advance Warning Messages – Website
In addition to the reminder in my email footer, I put up a notice on the contact page of my website, right at the top of the form, telling people when I’ll be away. This one I don’t put up quite as far in advance – maybe a few days to a week, depending on when I want to stop answering new inquiries before my vacation:
These notices are intended to allow me to focus my time right before vacation on active/ existing clients and projects while setting clear expectations on turnaround for people submitting inquiries via the website form.
Tip: Give yourself buffer days
When I write these messages, I usually add at least a half day (preferably a full day, maybe even two) on each end of the vacation as a buffer. On the front end, this lets me tie up loose ends before I go, and on the back end it gives me time to catch up with email and decompress from travel. (Side note: why are vacations so tiring?)
Pre-emptive Strike Just Before Leaving
As the vacation time gets closer, typically in the week or two leading up to it, I make sure to start including references to the time away in the body of my emails where appropriate. For example, if I get a new request from someone, I’ll make sure to mention that I’m scheduling around upcoming vacation time, and I include the dates. Something like:
Thanks for sending that copy for your about page! When do you think you’ll be finished with the text for the workshops page? I don’t want to rush you but as you know I’ll be on vacation for most of next week, so if it’s not going to be ready in the next day or so we’ll have to push back the rest of the content work until after I’m back on the 25th.
I also try to email everyone I’ve got an open project with just before leaving with one final personal reminder, especially if I want to remind them of action steps for their project they can tackle while I’m gone.
While You’re Away Auto-Responder
Finally, most people know to put up an auto-responder while they’re actually gone. I tend to be conservative with these, since they can be kind of annoying.
I’m fortunate to have someone working for me who can keep tabs on the general inbox, so I don’t use an auto-responder for that email address. She scans for messages from people who email directly and so may have missed the other messages and reminders, letting them know that I’m away and when to expect a response. (And, best thing ever, she prepares a handy overview of what came in, including notes on which messages to prioritize, for when I get back.)
For my individual inbox that she doesn’t have access to, I do put up an auto-responder like this one from my recent trip to visit family in Seattle:
This is an automated reminder that I’m away from email on a family
vacation from 8/21-8/28. I am consciously limiting my email time while
I’m away, so please expect that I likely will not get back to you
until I’m back in the office at the end of the week of 8/26.
If you have an urgent request that absolutely cannot wait, please
email my business assistant, Brianne, at firstname.lastname@example.org and
she’ll be able to help you out and get in touch with me if necessary.
Otherwise, have a wonderful week and I’ll be in touch when I’m back!
Thanks for your understanding and patience,
Why all this trouble?
You may be wondering about this epic post just about vacation messaging – is it really worth all this trouble? I would say it is absolutely worth it – the result is a much more pleasant, work-free vacation, happier clients, and a cleaner inbox when you get back.
There’s nothing quite like coming back to a bunch of “I hope you had a great vacation” and “No need to take a look until you get back” emails and an extra day to go through them, and only pre-planning and clear advance messaging puts you in that place.