Though the end of the year is a happy time to gather with friends and family, it also puts additional stress on work and life boundaries. Or to put it not-so-politely: personal and professional demands double. Not only are you determining travel and holiday plans, but clients have deadlines to meet, budgets to spend and start to require more of your time.

Since many freelancers already have blurred lines in terms of schedule and communication with those who pay their bills, it can be difficult to find a happy medium. Even so, to maintain your sense of self, find peace and actually savor precious time with those near and dear, setting limits is essential.

Here, how to protect your mental state and reserve time in your calendar for joy this holiday season by setting holiday boundaries:

How freelancers can set boundaries during the holiday season: Act like your time matters — and your clients will too.

Act like your time matters — and your clients will too.

Setting boundaries as a freelancer sometimes feels like a misstep. After all, building a lucrative career means working day-in and day-out to secure your database of opportunities. Sometimes, this makes even seasoned hustlers feel pressure to be always on, always responding and always filing away deadlines 24/27.

“Freelancers gain clients when they demonstrate flexibility and provide a quality service. If they don’t respond quickly to a client need, then there is another hungry freelancer ready to jump in and grab the opportunity,” describes industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert, Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D.

Not only is this true but it happens plenty, especially in the chaos of EOY benchmarkers. However, this isn’t always a bad situation, since it helps freelancers weed through the type of clients they want on their roster — and which ones merely bring bad energy. In any type of business setting, respect creates respect. And when you illustrate, professionally, that your time matters and you can’t always jump when they say jump, a strategic client will value your self-confidence.

The trick is to always provide context and solutions. You may email something like:

Thank you for reaching out. I’m excited to be considered for this opportunity, however, I am fully booked until TK date. I’d be happy to discuss working together at that time, and can send over an outline and contract in the meantime. Let me know.

This sends the message that you’re in demand, and you want to give ample time to every contract you take on. “Even though it may not always feel like it, that balance helps you to maintain and retain strong freelancer-client relationships,” Hakim adds.

Remember a “no” is not a never.

No matter the season, the middle of the month is stressful for many freelancers since they’re in the thick of their workload, and yet, need to start reaching out for next month’s bread and butter. This makes saying “no” counterintuitive, according to Hakim, who says this two-letter word is scary for many moonlighters. But hey, since you’re a wordsmith, think of the definition of this phrase vs. “never.”

When you turn down an additional assignment or negotiate to a later date that works better with your schedule, you aren’t turning away the gig forever. Rather, you’re delaying the “yes.”

By repositioning your thinking, you can build up more courage to stick to your boundaries and not take on more than you can handle. Or, having such a hectic workload that you can’t find time to disconnect for the holidays.

Setting holiday boundaries makes you a better freelancer.

Setting holiday boundaries makes you a better freelancer.

Picture this: You work through Thanksgiving, only pausing to inhale a meal your family kindly prepared. You don’t take the annual Black Friday shopping trip with your siblings. You return home for the holidays, but you hole up in your childhood bedroom while those you love the most chat, laugh — and yep, argue — downstairs.

The new year rolls around, and you’re exhausted. So, your work starts to suffer. You lose your creativity bone. You lack the energy to push forward.

When freelancers don’t take a ‘pause’, they quickly burn out. Hakim says this is dangerous territory since those who work for themselves rarely have to answer to any “boss,” making self-motivation essential.

When you start to set boundaries, remember it’s not only smart for your personal relationships but your emotional happiness, too.

Schedule holiday fun!

And by schedule, we really do mean planning it out. Put it in your calendar, make it a non-negotiable and keep yourself accountable. “Just like you schedule time for client work, schedule time to do things that bring you relaxation and happiness,” Hakim suggests. “Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself or for spending time with family and loved ones.”

This means blocking off an hour to see a friend for coffee, an evening to have dinner with your family or even a much-needed candlelight yoga session. If a client comes and tries to wiggle into the hour you’ve allotted, let them know you’re not available, and propose another time.

Freelancers shouldn't fear the out-of-office or voicemail.

Don’t fear the out-of-office or voicemail.

There’s a reason out-of-offices are a practice across all industries and professions. They allow us to log out of our email and dial into our lies. Hakim suggests having an auto-responder for after-hours and one specific for the holidays.

As you write these, Hakim says to focus on being clear, upfront and reasonable. “Most people will wait for your response without issue. Those who have a solid deadline will either call you or go elsewhere,” she continues. “If you happen to see the email and choose to respond sooner than the next day, then the client sees that as an extra bonus. Remember that you must take care of yourself so that you may help others.”

What might this look like? Hakim provides this example for after-hours:

Thanks for your email. I am in the office weekdays from TK until TK EST. If your message is delivered after hours, I will be sure to reply when I am back in the office the following day. If this is an urgent matter, please call me at 123-456-7890 and I will respond as quickly as possible.

And for the holidays:

Thank you for your email. I’m away from email from TK date to TK date to celebrate TK holiday. I will respond to all inquiries on TK date. Looking forward to connecting soon!