A gift covered in brown wrapping paper and red ribbon sits in the forefront while a blurred Christmas tree rests in the background.

Give the Gift of Boundaries: Navigating Work in the Holiday Season

Written by Liz Warwick; copy edited by Annette Gingrich

The holiday season has arrived, and if you believe the media, people now spend their days buying presents, baking up delicious goodies, and listening to carols on repeat.

Missing from that picture is any mention of work, especially any last-minute calls from a client or boss asking you to tackle (or finish up) a project that requires working right up to, or even through, the holidays.

Dealing with eleventh-hour requests, at the holidays or anytime, starts long before the call comes. We all need to know our boundaries. Some people are willing to work 14 hours at a stretch to complete a job. Others aren’t. Those boundaries may change depending on the season and an editor’s time of life. But everyone needs them.

Editor Lynn Slobogian is very clear on her boundaries: she works a four-day week and doesn’t respond to clients during her days away. Lynn communicates these boundaries to her clients from the beginning of the relationship. If she is going to be away at other times, Lynn explains, “I let them know well in advance.”

Clear communication builds the foundation for a successful client-editor partnership. “It’s about relationship building and trust,” she says.

Lynn adds that editors also need to trust themselves and the value of their work when they establish their boundaries. “You have to trust that the right clients will come along,” she says, which can be hard during dry spells.

Rushing to say yes to last-minute projects can be especially tempting in the early years of a career when you’re trying to build up a roster of clients. When I first started freelance editing, I said yes to most assignments, no matter how tight the timeline. The light-bulb moment came as I toiled away during a long-desired family vacation to Quebec City. As my kids played in the pool—and I hunched over my laptop—I started asking myself some questions. Why was I doing this to myself? Hadn’t I chosen a freelance career for the freedom it offered?

As well, I had begun to notice that some clients who came looking for last-minute assistance balked at paying a rush fee. Worse yet, they would receive the work and go silent. Getting paid involved calls and threatening emails. There was no relationship building going on.

So gradually, I began refusing assignments that didn’t pass the decency test, which meant I only dealt with clients who wanted to work with me even when I said no to certain assignments. They were willing to pay more if they needed my services at the last minute.

None of this was easy, nor did the change occur overnight. It takes confidence, often gained through experience, and trust to create good boundaries. Having at least a small emergency fund in the bank can also make a difference. So there is no shame if you accept the work as offered because you need the money. You may decide to accept but negotiate for a higher rush fee. You may ask if part of the work can be pushed to a later date. Or you may decline without regret, trusting that other work will be forthcoming.

However, the decision should be based on your boundaries and a respect for yourself. It may not be on the holiday song list, but you might want to go listen to Aretha Franklin belting out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me.” Because when it comes to last-minute requests for work, we editors all need to know, trust, and respect our own time and the valuable work we do.

Liz Warwick is an editor and writer who specializes in education and training. After living in Montreal for two decades, she recently moved to Vancouver’s West End, where she can now take walks along the seawall.

Annette Gingrich is currently working toward an editing certificate with SFU. Hailing from Ontario, she fell in love with Vancouver while on tour with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. With a ranging professional background, Annette looks forward to the next (final?) chapter as an editor, proofreader, and writer.

Image by Canva

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