For the majority of folks, the holidays are for rest and relaxation as it’s the one time of year most people get a break from school and work. Yet, for small business owners, that’s not quite the case. In fact, November through December is often the busiest season for these entrepreneurs. Many depend on sales made during these months, leading them to work long hours during the holidays. But this can lead to serious health consequences. One study found that individuals who work over 61 hours a week have an increased risk of developing high systolic blood pressure.
By establishing some boundaries however, it is possible to create a good work-life balance during the most festive time of the year. Here's how three small business owners tackle their busy schedules during the holidays so they can enjoy the season with their loved ones.
Why setting boundaries is so important
There are a ton of advantages to being your own boss, but the one downside is that your workload can oftentimes feel like it’s never ending. Whether it’s responding to emails, posting seasonal deals to your social media channels, or shipping out products, work can pile up – especially during busy seasons.
By setting boundaries during the holidays, you’re not only developing a healthier relationship to work, but are also giving yourself some necessary downtime. Simply put, individuals who work 24/7 have a much higher risk of developing burnout. This can result in several consequences, including no longer feeling fulfilled by your job, which leads to poor performance and impacts the quality of your work. Other symptoms include fatigue, stress, insomnia, and in severe cases, some people even develop anxiety and depression.
This can be a tricky subject as most business owners feel a strong obligation to work around the clock and ensure that their customers and employees are taken care of. But once you take a step back, you’ll often find that you’re more productive and happier.
At least that’s what happened when freelance writer Kat Boogard switched from working four days a week to three in order to spend more time with her kids. While the transition did require boundaries, Kat says it’s been more of a mental shift than anything else.
“Somebody asked me if my three-day workweek was more of a mindset shift than a system-building exercise, and I think that’s a great way to describe it,” she said in her newsletter.
While cutting back on work means that she can no longer do all of the things she used to, the writer believes it’s been a fair trade off. Not only has she been able to be more selective and strategic about the projects she now takes on, but she’s no longer putting pressure on herself to constantly be on the go. Most importantly, this switch has allowed her to have more family time.
“My kids and I potted some flowers and are caring for them. We take weekly trips to the library or playground … Will I earn as much as I did last year? Nope. Probably not even close,” Kat said. “But at the end of the day, it’s all the other stuff that feels way more like “success”—even if the number on my profit and loss statement is smaller.”
Even if you’re not looking to have a three day work week like Kat, her mindframe on scaling back with work can be useful for any entrepreneurs wanting to dedicate more time to themselves and their families, especially during the holiday season.
How these small business owners approach work during the holidays
These three entrepreneurs tackle work during the holidays differently, but they’ve each implemented some kind of boundary into their schedules to ensure that they don’t overload themselves.
Implementing a strict schedule
A single mom and a team of one, Assie Khoussa is used to working 24/7 on her small business Eizzy Baby. When it’s the holidays, however, she establishes clear boundaries with work so she can ensure her son doesn’t miss out on any of the festivities.
“The holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for me. Not only are there several sales, promotions, and new product launches happening within my business, my schedule is just as busy,” Assie said.
“As a single mom, It is important that my son does not miss a single holiday experience from thanksgiving dinner to wrapping and opening gifts. To make sure I am as productive as possible, I make sure that I am fully scheduling my days,” she said. “From 9 am - 4 pm, I focus on my business and work. Once I pick up my son from school at 5 pm, my attention shifts to family time, we laugh, play, eat and work on the things he needs.”
The entrepreneur has found that without this structure, she tends to gravitate towards working more.
“I try to be very strict with this schedule because it allows me to prioritize and focus on what is important. Once [my son] is in bed, then I have the flexibility to work on whatever I need, whether it is self-care or opening up my laptop to edit content. I am the queen of going with the flow, but I've noticed that when things are not scheduled or prioritized, That's when I drop the ball the most.”
Assie acknowledges that creating boundaries as an entrepreneur is hard, but she credits her discipline, especially when it comes to her son.
“The strict boundaries really come from having the discipline to shut your computer or phone off,” she said. “For me, dropping the ball when it comes to my son sucks and because of that, I use the time allotted to really focus on him. My advice would be to build discipline and realize what's important during [the holidays].”
Being selective with work events
Sisters Kelly and Anna opened up their small business Arctic Haven Studio in 2021, and sell hand-crafted paper art inspired by the Alaskan wilderness. Still early in their journey, the duo work during the holidays to grow their customer base.
“As a small business still trying to gain a foothold in the industry, we take advantage of every viable opportunity we have. During the holidays, we participate in several local holiday markets to reach customers individually and concentrate sales. The holiday markets themselves require a lot of hands-on work from ourselves and our family members who help us create, set up, and maintain the booth space, all for a two-day show, at most,” they said.
Fortunately, these events are closely tied to the holiday season and are a great way for the entrepreneurs to meet their customers in person, making it feel less like work and more like community building.
“These events require energy and preparation, but they are festive and a great way to interact with potential customers. We listened to customer feedback we received last year and created a holiday card since notecards are our primary product line, and they have been well received this season.”
Still, Anna and Kelly don’t say yes to every opportunity during the holidays, and instead are selective about which events they choose to attend so they don’t overwork themselves.
“While we do not take time off from the business during the holidays, we are able to regulate our workload by choosing the holiday events we participate in and how much marketing we want to send out prior to the season. Each season we learn new ways to fulfill customer interests and ways to prep better for the upcoming year.”
Closing up the business for the holidays
As a content creator who operates her tarot reading business through her Twitter account, Ashani has more flexible hours than the typical entrepreneur. But that doesn’t mean the creator hasn’t had issues with burnout. In the past, she’s worked through the holidays and didn’t have clear boundaries with her followers.
“I remember, back in the day when I would not carve out [vacation time], I’d be like, “oh, my goodness. Why are people hitting me up on Christmas?’ But now, it's as simple as just closing my readings to be quite honest … I'm blessed to have that function and work for myself. I don't have to go ask anyone if I can put in PTO or anything like that. I get to create my own schedule.”
But Ashani only implemented these boundaries after learning from her first couple years running her business.
“A lot of people have their own business because they want more flexibility. But I remember thinking like, ‘this is not more flexible. I'm overwhelmed with having to do the [reading] services, and run the business, and also schedule myself in.’ But, it’s gotten so much easier [to take time off] over the years.”
She sometimes still deals with the struggle of feeling like she’s not working enough, and empathizes with other business owners who have a hard time taking time off.
“Sometimes [closing my readings] creates additional pressure. Because, of course, the holidays are the time where people are wanting to spend money and buy gifts. And so, you want to be making more money. And I've definitely had to work up to the point. Years ago, it was much more of a struggle, knowing when I should be working more, or working less,” she said.
Rather than focusing on holiday sales, Ashani now prioritizes a good work-life balance.
“A lot of things are in demand during the holidays, and people are super busy. But I try to take this time to relax and spend it with family and friends, and just do little things for myself,” she said. “So vacation time isn't as much of a priority for me as just simply maintaining that balance between work and play. And seeing the people that I love, of course.”
At Buffer, we also close down the company for an entire week at the end of the year to ensure everyone on our team has the opportunity for some self-care time.
We hope these examples from other small business owners have inspired you to carve out time for yourself this holiday season. Remember, giving yourself a break is healthy and the end of the year is the perfect time to recharge and reflect.
If you’re interested in creating more boundaries with work right now, there are a ton of productivity habits you can incorporate into your schedule to free up some time. We recommend creating a content and social media calendar to have an organized view of all of your work. Batch-creating content is also an efficient way to get more use out of your time.
One of the best ways to ensure you’re present during the holidays is to schedule your social media posts ahead of time — and we can help with that! Get started with Buffer for free today to schedule your content, analyze the performance of your posts, and engage with your followers!