Professional assistants work hard. Often very hard.
VAs may have to serve many clients with different business needs. PAs and EAs may be serving several executives daily – and be expected to give each one their 100 per cent focus.
When work is running at what feels like 120 miles an hour, every holiday is welcome. It’s important to have time to rest and relax. It’s good to have opportunities to travel, enjoy some sunshine or explore new places.
However, taking a vacation is a bit trickier for the self-employed assistant.
Employees are entitled to several weeks’ paid holiday every year. And they have the advantage of having colleagues who can help take care of things in their absence.
For the self-employed, freelance and business-owning assistant, there are clients to consider. So, what’s one to do?
Here are 7 Tips for ensuring a vacation really does mean time off the clock.
Tip #1: Plan Ahead
When self-employed or the boss of your own company, you get to choose what a holiday means for you.
Will you take a break yet also keep one eye on work and tasks? Or will you take a proper holiday, whether at home or abroad?
Whatever you choose, make sure you book time out from work in your calendar. Do it, whether you take just a couple of weeks a year or four and more.
If you put it in the calendar at the start of each year, you’ll know you have a vacation or breaks to look forward to. And there’s flexibility to move things around if you want (but aim to avoid cancelling holiday time because of work pressures. Which defeats the object).
When you know your holiday dates you can work around them.
In the four to six weeks before a break starts, plan to get a little extra work done before that deadline. It saves that horrible feeling of panic and pressure 48 hours before your well-earned holiday begins.
Tools such as online calendars or project management apps can help you to plan and keep on track with tasks. Make use of all that Microsoft Office and 365 give you.
You can also plan what tasks will be required after your return, to save fretting about it when you should be relaxing.
Tip #2: Notify Clients
The savvy assistant will ensure that the right people are informed and prepared for when they will be away.
Employees may have colleagues they can hand over work to whilst they are away. Planning that well in advance, and ensuring people know what needs to be done in your absence, makes sense and demonstrates professionalism.
For the freelancer or business owner, communicating with clients at least several weeks in advance is sound practice.
You can reassure them about what will be completed before your break. You can let them know the plan for when you return.
A simple autoresponder note added to your email system will remind people who get in touch that you’re away.
Tip #3: Use Automation
A simple way to reduce the likelihood of work taking over from a virtual assistant’s holiday is to use automation.
The more tasks you can automate, the more time you will save.
For example, many social media posts can be scheduled. There are tools and apps for that. Email marketing software, from MailerLite to Active Campaign, allows you to schedule a string of newsletters or marketing messages for when you are away.
Not everything can be automated, of course, but every little helps.
And automation is not just for holidays. It can be used all year round for greater efficiency and to free up more time each month.
Tip #4: Hire a VA
One option the savvy assistant could consider is hiring another VA to take over their work whilst away.
Sub-contracting in this way might be particularly attractive if you are planning to be away for a fortnight or longer. It means clients receive continuous service and will feel well cared for.
Whilst there are advantages, there are downsides to weigh up before deciding to outsource.
You’ll probably want to find an assistant who does similar work for similar clients. Unless you know somebody, that could take time.
Another VA might need some training or guidance, to ensure they are up to speed on what’s expected and can carry out required tasks.
And, of course, if you’re hiring someone they will need to be paid. This cuts into your income.
It’s all a question of balance and what will create the best outcome.
As your business grows, you may find you want to build a team of assistants. Your first recruit might well be someone who has successfully covered a past holiday.
Tip #5: Be More Productive
This is not just a vacation tip. It’s good advice throughout the year.
The more productive and efficient you are, the easier it is going to be for you to take holidays – and enjoy them.
Some assistants muddle by, completing tasks either with a bit of a struggle or taking way too long. They often know there’s a better, quicker way yet do nothing about it.
The savvy assistant understands the value of knowledge and training. If they can learn a way to save 30 minutes a day, it will save them two and a half hours every week. That’s a gift of more than 100 hours a year.
That’s the equivalent of a fortnight’s holiday.
It’s why I encourage professional assistants to get training. It allows them to do more for less. The range of courses and programs available includes my Essential Office for the Savvy Assistant.
When you know how to do tasks with confidence and ease, it lightens the load. It means you can get things done ahead of time and not worry about last-minute deadlines.
Tip #6: Make a Wishlist
This tip ties in with booking out time in your calendar for holidays.
When you begin thinking about holidays, they are more likely to happen. You can dream. You can visualise yourself on the beach, in the countryside, on the hills, by the coast or soaking up a laid-back city atmosphere.
Start making a list of places you would like to go. Then pick one for the year. If there’s a longer or more expensive trip in mind, you can begin to plan and save for it.
Tip #7: Switch Off
When so many professional assistants are under pressure every week they work, this is easier said than done.
If you’ve decided a holiday is a holiday, the first thing to do is stick to that.
Think about whether you really need to take your laptop. If you’re taking your smartphone with you, consider switching it off – at least for most of each day. And avoid the temptation to check emails (or worse, respond to them).
A holiday is meant to be about rest and relaxation. You’ve earned time for yourself, without daily interruptions.
Ways to help switch off include enjoying the beach; swimming in a pool or the sea; walking through the countryside or along the coast; reading a book; meditation or gentle yoga; taking a siesta or watching the world go by.
How good are you at setting aside time for holidays? Where do you love to go on holiday? And do you ever give yourself permission to fully relax?
Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. I am thrilled to share that I made it to the Grand Finals of The VA Voice Awards – the deadline runs until 30th April so there is still time if you wish to vote for me.