What I Learned From My First Unplugged Vacation In Two Years

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Relaxing in Blue Lagoon during my recent unplugged vacation in Iceland.

As a consultant or freelancer, there’s an incredible amount of freedom in terms of the where and when of your work. As a result, it’s often surprisingly hard to take a fully unplugged vacation. Many of us are only paid for time worked or results delivered, and because we can often take our work with us anywhere, it can be pretty hard to fully “get away,” even on a so-called getaway.

I’ve spent more than a few working vacations where I’m partly on vacation, and partly working. I actually really like working vacations. For instance, while on vacation in the Bay Area earlier this year, I was also able have a productive business meeting with a local client and as well as get other work done at the San Francisco office of my local Boulder coworking space, Impact Hub. I really enjoyed that trip, but even a semi-working vacation is a very different kind of experience than a fully unplugged vacation. There is some relaxation, but never the fully “off” feeling you get when you unplug completely.

This great New York Times article on the importance of vacation highlights research indicating that that even before we experience signs of fatigue, it’s important to take fully “off the grid vacations” to reset our brains. It turns out we’re biologically wired to take pauses from the constant influx of information, both work-related and otherwise. Many startups are starting to offer unplugged vacation as a perk, and some even make them mandatory in order to keep talent feeling fresh. (Source) This makes sense from a business perspective, as “several studies have shown that people who work overtime reach a point of diminishing returns.” (Source)

Last week, I took my first fully unplugged vacation in two years: a 6-day trip to Iceland. While soaking in geothermal hot springs, hiking mountains, visiting glaciers, volcanos and lagoons, spending quality time with my partner completely off email and iPhone, I put all of my energies towards two tasks: adventuring and relaxing. I came back feeling renewed and more ready to solve problems for my clients than I think I would have if I’d taken a semi-working vacation. Maybe it was placebo effect, but I really did feel a “brain rest” that’s been fueling me now that I’m back in Boulder.

The ‘net is littered with stories of Tim Ferris-types who’ve moved their business to paradise, or who are on a full-time global travel spree, all while maintaining a successful consultant business. As I mentioned before, that’s great if you want to constantly be half-working, half-vacationing. And garden variety semi-working vacations are still great. But for me, taking a week off in Iceland showed me that it’s really important to take unplugged vacations, even if you don’t feel you need them. Even though I didn’t feel “burnt out” before I left, I feel remarkably refreshed upon my return. In terms of the business that I usually take with me on trips? One of my clients had one of the best weeks ever in terms of visitor traffic and user acquisition while I was gone, in great part due to the content, social and ad setup I’d put in place the week prior to leaving. With ample planning, you can take a fully “off” vacation, and you can likely feel confident it’s going to make you happier and more productive upon your return.

If you’re thinking of taking an unplugged vacation, and can find a way to make it work, I really recommend it.

I’d be curious to hear in the comments if others prefer semi-working vacations, or those of the unplugged variety? 

Six Ways That Being An Independent Contractor Transforms You

I was drinking my coffee with almond milk and stevia this morning and was thinking about how I have changed a lot since becoming an independent marketing contractor several years ago. After chatting on the subject with some of my fellow independent contractor friends, I’ve confirmed that there are indeed some universal things that we all go through when we make the transition into being full-time freelance. Here’s a short list of ways that being an independent contractor transforms you:

1. You begin to think and exist in multiple time zones.

Working remotely and simultaneously thinking in various time zones.

At any given moment, I know what time it is in Palo Alto, Dallas, Calgary, New Delhi, Johannesburg, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and, of course, my hometown, Boulder. I cannot help this. After repeatedly coordinating with contractors and companies spanning multiple time zones and continents, your brain begins to automatically convert to various times even without consulting world clocks. I have discussed this phenomenon with various independent contractors with whom I’ve worked, and they have each had the same thing happen. You can’t shut it off, and you wouldn’t want to if you could, because it’s so useful.

2. You become more in tune with your natural rhythms.

morning13n-1-web

Are you a morning person? I am. I vaguely sensed this during my years when I was working in-house for companies and nonprofits, but now that I set my work schedule, I’ve discovered that I do some of my best work far before the 9am crowd sits down to get to it. I also get a second wind in the early evening. Instead of being forced to end my work at 6pm like I did before becoming an independent contractor, I can pick up where I left off for an hour or two when I feel my freshest. The result? I work primarily when I am totally focused and on, because I have the freedom to allow myself to take off when I need a break to grab a bite, hike a mountain, or go to the gym. Marie Forleo has a great post on the subject. Other contractor friends need to wait until the sun goes down to transition into high gear productivity.  Because I am committed to working when I naturally feel inclined to, clients benefit because they get my best work, all the time. It’s a win-win.

3. You form meaningful connections with people you’ve never met in-person.

Online friends

I have many clients and fellow independent contractor friends I’ve only ever “met” on Skype. I’ve shared the joys of a new puppy adopted by a graphic designer co-worker in South Africa via Go-To-Meeting; I’ve shared genuine laughs (and done great work!) with a website designer based in Calgary; I regularly talk about local events going on in the Bay Area with a client even though I haven’t lived there for several years. I worked with a client in Los Angeles and finally met most of the office team after several months working with them remotely. When the company flew me out to meet the team, it felt like I already knew everyone–because I did. Thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to work in the same office to share a deep respect for other human beings with whom you co-work. That’s a weird thing to explain to those who are used to only networking with in-person offices, but you learn how to work around it and genuinely connect with those you haven’t met face-to-face.

4. You learn to become very skilled at conveying what you do and why it’s valuable.

Value proposition is something independent contractors must convey

Every single successful independent contractor I know has had to learn how to convey the value of what they do with others on a frequent basis. Though I’m versed in digital marketing and showcasing the value of the solutions I deliver to clients, and most of my work comes from referrals, each of my successful graphic designer, UX/UI and developer friends have had to learn how to sell themselves and their work services. It’s another thing that comes with the turf. I like Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers blog post on the subject.

5. Your beliefs about retirement change.

Retirement

I believe in investing for retirement and planning for it in the traditional sense, but when you’re an independent contractor, life doesn’t feel like it’s leading up to an eventual goal of being able to retire to finally do what you want–that’s our reality, right now. It’s a powerful place to be in and one that changes you on a deep, and I’d dare say even spiritual, level. FastCompany’s recent article is a great long read on the subject.

6. You develop a great sense of self-reliance and also learn how and when to ask for help from others.

Getting help as an independent contractor

It can be daunting and somewhat unnerving to not rely on anyone else to take care of everything for your work concerns. As an independent contractor, you have to figure out how to set and keep a budget, do your taxes (and plan for them), find and purchase health insurance, host and maintain your portfolio and website, manage your billing and schedule and client relationships and tackle various other tasks most people in traditional work settings don’t have to think about. You learn how to manage each challenge, and when you have trouble, you learn that you can and must seek help and guidance from trusted sources and fellow contractors who’ve been through the ropes. With Freelancer’s Union and other free resources available online, it’s not too difficult to solve challenges. You just have to be willing to ask for help.

Closing Thoughts

This list isn’t exhaustive–I wanted to share a few ways my independent contractor colleagues and I have changed, and would love to hear others’ thoughts about this topic.

Are you an independent contractor or business that hires independent contractors? Have you noticed anything else that should be on this list? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Bidsketch Is A Freelancer’s Best Friend

The Kid Who Talked To Strangers During childhood, I got a reputation for talking to strangers. While I had responsible parents who would’ve never let me wander off with a random person offering candy from his vintage Volkswagen bus, they understood that their kid was pretty much guaranteed to strike up conversations with strangers. Once I even became pen pals over a several-year period with a girl my age who was kicking my seat in an airplane. Embarrassing but true story. . . ss-bidsketch-436x344

Social Media For Business I’ve realized that my natural tendency to strike up conversations with strangers and engage them about their ideas, interests and values translates really nicely to my day job of digital marketing. It turns out that you don’t have to be the coolest kid in the airplane to make friends or spread awareness about a company or product–it just takes some ingenuity and willingness to look like a weirdo inviting someone you’ve never met to engage (after asking them politely to stop kicking your seat). As a digital marketing contractor, I help startups leverage what’s amazing about them to get people interested and talking. Over time, I’ve found a need for a great way to present my offerings in a tight, cohesive, and elegant package. Enter: Bidsketch!

Bidsketch Bidsketch: Proposals Made Easy Bidsketch, recommended to me by one of my former SEO/online marketing guru clients (who knows EVERYTHING…literally, this guy rocks, you should check him out!) solved my need for great proposals, fast. I can template and save outlines of my service offerings, outline options for clients to parse through, and the best part is I can refer back to old proposals to revise them as I change and add more value to my services. It’s also really great that Bidsketch leaves space for users to outline some of the fine print that’s boring to put together but important for maintaining fair business relationships. I can specify retainer rates, additional options, and more. It’s a win-win for me and my clients as we’re determining what will work best for their business or nonprofit and what I can offer. Check out Bidsketch here: http://www.bidsketch.com