I’m a freelancer and mother who banished burnout by scheduling my own summer Fridays just for me – here’s how I make the time

Alice Dubin
Alesandra Dubin.

  • Alesandra Dubin is a freelancer who ends work at noon every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
  • She frees the afternoons by setting earlier deadlines for herself and putting the effort in upfront.
  • This time to herself makes her a better professional and mother during the rest of the year.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I’m a proud mom to six-year-old twins and also a proud professional with a demanding, deadline-driven solo practice.

Most days – even when I’m not emerging tentatively from a pandemic like a thawing caveperson – it all just feels like a lot.

Indeed, like most working moms, I characterize myself as generally overcommitted and exhausted. But I have a strategy aimed at banishing burnout: I make my own summer Fridays.

For most of my career, I’ve wrapped up work around noon every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Up until a couple of years ago, this practice was conveniently built into my work life as an employee of various New York City-based media organizations, among which this type of structure is a common employer-sanctioned practice and a well-loved tradition among staff.

When I shifted to the full-time freelance lifestyle in 2019, it was entirely up to me to defend this sacred time from work and errand creep. But by now I’ve learned that doing so is a game-changer for my lifestyle and sense of self, so I create my boundaries.

In order to make it happen, I think of the summer as a whole, rather than looking at each week or day individually.

I get analytical about how much work and what type of work I want to take on in order to keep my summer Friday afternoons free.

Sure, work has a way of bottlenecking sometimes, and some deadlines don’t go as planned. But putting in the effort upfront – setting the intention, as I do – helps lay the groundwork that supports the structure I want.

I’m also an obsessive time manager, so I give myself – and stick to – artificial deadlines early enough that I avoid the potential for a Friday bottleneck.

In most cases, I assign myself deadlines only Monday through Thursday for the work requiring the most brainpower and time commitment – even if that means I’m delivering well ahead of a client’s drop-dead needs.

This, of course, is a good thing: It doesn’t just reduce my own stress on Fridays, but it also has the benefit of making me a favorite freelancer among my clients, and that general approach yields me more income over the course of the whole year (even if it occasionally might mean a bit less during a given week here or there in the summer).

If I’m in town, here’s what I might do on a summer Friday: Take myself to a solo matinee, get a massage, or go for a hike alone with my podcasts.

A post shared by Alesandra (Alice) Dubin (@alicedubin)

Here’s what I don’t do: Return stuff to Target, get a dental cleaning, or accidentally schedule a work meeting.

These few hours when my kids are in school and my husband is at work are reserved for joyful, indulgent, or contemplative activities – not to check stuff off a list. These 12 Friday afternoons provide my only time dedicated for this purpose in a typical year, and I believe they comprise a key pillar of my mental-health strategy.

Summer Fridays take the edge off the rest of the week. And they mean my kids get the best of me – not the smoke-breathing version of me who might be limping out of a week of meetings without having yet had a chance to regroup.

And summer Fridays are a mental-health boon throughout not just these weeks, but the whole year, too: It’s a cherished rhythm I look forward to and that makes me more productive, like a vacation already booked.

“By taking time exclusively for yourself and exclusively for the purpose of bringing pleasure, joy, and comfort into your life, [that’s] actually an act of radical self-compassion,” Leah Rockwell, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Rockwell Wellness, which specializes in therapy for burnout, told Insider.

The notion of radical self-compassion comes from a concept founded by Kristin Neff nearly 20 years ago.

“Yet for many overworked, overachieving women, it is an amazingly difficult concept to actually integrate into our daily lives,” Rockwell said. “While we might be the first person to rabidly advocate that a girlfriend should do whatever it takes to care for or prioritize herself, many of us cannot extend that same permission to ourselves.”

Rockwell said that by building that permission into my actual schedule, I’m showing myself (and others around me, too) that my emotional wellness is a priority for me. “Why not capitalize on how summer can fortify us?” she added.

Engaging in a relationship with what brings us joy is something that we witness our children do all day long, but we often deny it of ourselves as adults. “By structuring your summer weeks as you are, you’ve invited back into your life the bliss of summer that we often assume that adults just don’t have a right to, yet we inherently long for,” Rockwell said.

Podcast host and bestselling author Gretchen Rubin calls it “designing your summer.”

“You want there to be something special about summer,” she said. “If you don’t actually plan that out or at least be very intentional about it, it’s very easy for days to just slip by.”

Anyone can design their summer – not just people who make their own work hours or have lots of disposable income.

“It’s not about taking massive amounts of time off work,” Rubin said. Rather, it’s an attitude.

Habits and routines have the effect of speeding up time, whereas “time feels rich and slow when things are different,” Rubin said. (That’s why a three-day vacation can feel like a full chapter in our lives.) So to make our lives feel richer and more textured, we must make an effort to do something apart from our seasonally nonspecific routines.

And I need that distinction perhaps now more than ever given how the pandemic presented a seemingly endless stretch of days marked by the unrelenting sameness of staying at home.

As the world opens up again, I’m setting aside both time and headspace for novelty, for variety, for pleasurable personal challenges that stand to make time feel ever so slightly less ephemeral and much more vivid (all while actually fortifying my earning potential all year long).

Join me?

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