How to take a personal day when you work for yourself

One of the craziest things about being your own boss is that, if you're anything like me, you probably swing wildly between being the world's coolest boss ("Sure, you can take Friday off. You know what? Go ahead and take Thursday afternoon too if you want.") and a Devil Wears Prada-style boss from hell ("What do you mean you only met your goals? You know we don't accept anything less than exceeding every single goal we set. Get back under your desk in the fetal position until you learn to be better than perfect!")

Just me?

And my bipolar boss issues are never more unpredictable than when I need to take a personal day. Sometimes, I'll just be a little tired and somehow justify spending the rest of the day on the couch reading celebrity gossip. Other days? I'll have a full-blown fever and still try to get a full workday in. 

It's a tough line to walk, so I've tried to establish some guidelines for myself.

How to take a personal day when you work for yourself

1. Be flexible 

Sometimes you're just not feeling all that motivated. You look at your daily to-do list, see something that takes way too much energy for how you're feeling and since you can't do what you'd planned to do, you write off the whole day completely.

Take me for example. I batch my tasks, so Monday is one of my client work days. A couple weeks ago, I had an emotionally rough week that turned into an even rougher weekend, so when Monday rolled around, I just didn't feel up to dealing with client work. It's important to me to give my best to my clients and I simply didn't have anything more to give that day.

So what did I do instead?

Nothing. Not a damn thing. I sat around the entire day, procrastinating from client work, eating popcorn and being grumpy. You know, like an adult.

Which it ridiculous. Just because I couldn't do the work I'd planned to do, it doesn't mean I couldn't do anything. It didn't have to be all or nothing. Because, let's face it:

At the end of the day, the small thing you did do is better than the big thing you didn't do.

So the next time I’m feeling under the weather, I want to be more flexible about my task list. If I’m not in the physical or emotional state to write, maybe I can do admin instead. Or get through a few emails. Or spend the day planning or learning, instead of forcing myself to create. 

As entrepreneurs, we always have a million things we could be doing. If you really can’t handle doing one task, look at your to-do list, pick the one you’re most capable of doing and get to work.

2. Be honest

Listen, there will definitely be days you seriously can’t work. You’re sick. Your kid is sick. There’s shit going on in your life that is taking up all of your emotional energy. 

And that’s fine. By all means, don’t work if you can’t.

But just be honest with yourself about whether or not you can. Because it’s so easy to convince yourself that you can’t work, when in reality, it’s just that you don’t want to. Maybe you’re just feeling lazy. Or you’re in a bad mood. Or you’re tired. Or you're just really f---ing sad. It's especially hard when you work by yourself from home and have no outside accountability.

It’s too easy to let yourself off the hook simply because you don’t feel like working. 

Which is exactly what I did on that useless, grumpy Monday. Sure, I wasn't feeling all that great, but I wasn’t incapacitated. There’s no reason I couldn’t have gotten something done.

So yes, be easy on yourself when you really need it, but be honest with yourself as well.

3. Be compassionate

That said, some days, you really just can’t do it. Whether you’re physically incapacitated or emotionally destroyed (which is often worse), some days, work simply isn’t the priority.

And that’s completely fine. No, that’s better than fine: it’s essential.

Because no matter how much we love what we do for a living, it shouldn’t take precedence over our well-being. Your physical and emotional health, your work-life balance, your relationships-- all of those are so much more important than your work.

Because let’s be real: if you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your clients. If you’re suffering, your work will suffer.

You simply can’t work well unless you’re also treating yourself well.

So for the love of god, be kind to yourself. You’re not a machine. Let yourself take a break when you need it. Give yourself the time you need to heal. And I'm not just talking about when you're sick: emotional wounds usually need even more care than physical ones. 

Take care of yourself. Your work-- and your well-being-- depends on it.

4. Be empowered

Whether you’re physically sick or emotionally depleted, chances are, your state is likely to change throughout the day-- and your capacity to work (or not) will too.

Going back to that Monday, I was pretty much a wreck all day. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, feeling angry at the world and simply couldn't deal with life-- let alone work.

But here’s the thing: as the day went on, I started to feel a little better. I mean, I wasn’t skipping around my apartment or anything, but by about 5:00pm, I was sick of feeling angry and sorry for myself, and needed a distraction.

And that’s when I told myself, “Today isn’t over yet.”

I learned that concept from an article by Alexandra Franzen that honestly changed my life. Just because you spend the majority of your day one way, it doesn’t mean you have to finish it that way. 5:00pm is not too late to change the course of the day.

So that’s what I did. I realized that laying on my couch mindlessly eating carbs wasn’t going to make me feel any better, so I stopped. I got up, put on some workout clothes, found some aggressive music on Spotify (early Nine Inch Nails is my aggro workout go-to) and spent the next 45 minutes physically exhausting myself with an intense, pissed-off, tear-ridden kickboxing routine. 

And you know what? It worked. I felt so much better afterwards.

So much so that I even had the energy to get a little work done. I only responded to a few emails, but it was one thing I was able to check off my to-do list, which made me feel even better.

And that was the biggest thing I learned from that hellish day:

No matter what’s going on in your life, you get to decide how you react to it. 

Because you can’t control when you or your family gets sick. You can't control when someone in your life dies. You can’t control when your life blows up and it feels like everything you know and trust is crumbling around you. You can’t even control how motivated you're going to feel about working.

But you can control how you react. 

Some days, the best reaction is to give yourself the day off. Other days, the best reaction might be to play it by ear and see how you feel. Other days, you might decide that the best course of action is to suck it up and get to work.

Only you know what’s best for you. And only you can decide to give yourself what you need. 

There’s no wrong choice, as long as the choice is yours. 

How do you know when to take a personal day?
And how do you stay motivated to work when you really don't want to?
Let's hear it in the comments!