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This week I got to talking with a fellow freelancer about the strange blend of life and work we have. We both agreed that it’s almost impossible to figure out how much time you spend working since only some of it feels like work.

Instead of knowing that I’m on the clock from the minute I leave my house in the morning to the minute I return, I spend most of my waking hours thinking about my “work”. Yet within that time I have tremendous flexibility. I can run errands, read a book, spend time with my son, or walk my dog without anyone but me asking whether that’s a good use of my time. And for me, that’s the very best part of working for myself.

But even when you love your work, you can still get burned out, especially when you’re the whole company from the CEO to the cleaning crew. And unlike a typical corporate environment, you can’t just put an out of office message up on your email and hit the beach!

...Or can you?

There’s a pervasive myth in our community that if you miss an email or a phone call, your business will somehow disintegrate before your very eyes. It’s an idea that has many solo professionals glued to their smartphone, unable to step away from their business for a day, let alone a week. And that myth has robbed us of the opportunity to rest, to recharge, and to boost our own creativity by taking a break.

Science tells us that taking small breaks makes us more focused and more creative. We also know that sitting all day is terrible for the mind and body. And that’s great news for most of us, because without a boss and a designated cube, most people who work for themselves do move around more, take more breaks, and generally work more flexibly.

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But when it comes to vacations we are not nearly so good at taking real time away from our work because, let’s face it, no one is minding the store when we’re not there. And yet, those longer breaks where we can really get away are just as important. So how do you do it?

  1. Communicate with Clients – Unless you are right in the midst of a critical project with a client, you can usually be away for a week or even more as long as you let your clients know you’ll be out of town. The trick here is planning a break in your workload. The further ahead you can look, and the more notice you can give your customers, the easier it is to prepare them for an absence.

  2. Have a Backup – If the type of work you do means that you need to be on call or responsive on short notice, buddy up with someone who does what you do. Cover them for their vacations and they can return the favor.

  3. Setup an Auto-Response – Use your email system to setup an auto-response that lets people know you’re away. Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re on vacation, be clear that you take breaks because it’s good for you and good for your clients. If they absolutely need someone, refer them to your backup, but otherwise whatever it is will usually wait at least a week.

  4. Pre-Write Content for Blogs and Social Media – Vacations don’t have to mean you are silent on social media (although you could be and the sun would still come up the next morning). Schedule posts and use social media tools to make sure you are still putting out great content. You can also use this time to do a “best of” your blog and bring some old but great content back up into the light!

  5. **Clear Your Desk **– Make sure everything is up to date before you go so you don’t have any surprises when you get back. That means paying the bills, balancing your business accounts, sending out invoices, and making sure all of your paperwork is done.

  6. Bring a Different Phone – No matter how much you tell yourself you won’t answer the phone while you’re on vacation, if you have it with you, and it rings, and the caller ID has a client’s name on it, you’re going to look at it, and you’ll probably answer the call. Have an emergency phone with you if you really want to be in touch, but the best way to take a break is to truly disconnect. That goes for personal email and social media as well. You’ll be surprised at how much time you realize exists in every day when you’re not drinking from the fire hose of information.

  7. Breathe – When you’ve worked hard to build up a book of paying clients and a steady stream of income, walking away from it can feel stressful. You might even questions whether you really need this time off. But take a deep breath and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.

What did I miss? Have ideas on how (or where) to take a great vacation when you work for yourself? Share your favorite vacation idea in the comments or head over to the Work Life Balance Hive to see how other freelancers are doing it!

Katy Tynan is an expert on how work is changing. She is the author of Free Agent: The Independent Professional’s Guide to Self-Employment Success. She blogs at www.indieworking.com.