Contract Work: What Happens When There’s Gap?

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After a few weeks of radio silence, I’m back!

The expression deer in headlights has been on my mind lately. Have you heard this expression? I think almost everyone are familiar with it. Have you ever been in a position where you’ve felt you’re the said deer? Paralyzed by a situation, unsure what you’re next move is? This doesn’t have to be a negative situation.

For the past little while, I’ve been locked by indecision: Path A or Path B? Maybe there’s a hidden path C? Options are a funny thing. We all want options when we feel trapped. When luckily presented with several good options, we can get paralyzed with choice. Thus it’s been for me: take a much needed break from work and delay savings goal timeline or continue working and stay on course for savings goals.

Decision Made: Taking a Sabbatical

I’m taking a step away from contract work and taking the summer off! Or at least that’s the current plan. I’ve talked about in detail about being paralyzed by indecision previously and now discovered a way to assuage any guilt of delaying savings goal. I would not actively end my contract. However there was a mid year project review underway. This is normal and happens every year. As there is a degree of uncertainty where things will fall, my contract is being naturally lapsed for now.

Thus hidden path C emerged out of the blue. I did nothing one way or the other to influence the outcome. I stand on the precipice of taking the leap into summer vacation! How often can we say we’re lucky enough to get that?!
I’m taking this week to get away and relax before making a final decision. But at this time, I think I won’t actively look for work until beginning of August with an aim to find something late August or September. I’m open to discussing a role if anything comes up but won’t actively seek it out.

Let’s Tackle the Biggest Elephant In the Room: No Income

Usually one of the biggest anxieties when first going into contract work is the risk of having a period of time without income. Depending on a whole bunch of factors, industry, geographical area, economy, just to name a few, it may take a few months or longer to land your next contract. This isn’t altogether different from being an entrepreneur, owning your own business or any industry where your work is project based (IT, film, etc).

The key here is knowing the difference between full time and contract work and planning for them. You SHOULD expect a gap of income will happen at some point, even if it never does. Either before you get your first contract or as soon as you get your first one, setting up savings to carry you through is a necessary priority. This is where having a good handle on your finances, frugality and ability to save will carry you through.

The entire reason I’m able to consider taking the summer off and not stressing over searching for a contract right away, is because we live below our means and I’ve spent the past few years while creating a buffer for this eventual period of no income. For me it’s a matter of perspective. When income is sporadic, you need to plan for filling in the low points. In the end, your base salary you need for the year averages out.

You Should Have a Plan

Whether you’re time off is part of plan you’ve constructed, or a sudden gap in contracts come up, you should have a plan. It doesn’t have to be terribly detailed but have some broad strokes in mind.

Will you look for work right away? If that’s what you decide, here are some things to consider:

  • Look for options to get a change of scenery for a few hours a week while doing anything associated to your job search. Be it a library, coffee shop, patio, doesn’t matter.
  • Make a quick plan every morning of what you’re looking to do. It should be realistic so that you don’t feel like you’re not getting everything done.
  • Decide when you’ll start and stop your job search activities with half an hour grace period at each end. The grace period will let your wrap things up if you’re on a role and in the middle of something or have a slower start if needed.
  • Start and stop your job search as planned. No exceptions except if an employer calls.
  • Set time aside a few times a week to do something fun. You need balance in your life, including when job searching. Otherwise you’ll burn out.
  • If possible, don’t rush it and wait for something that’s a good fit. Yes it’s contract work but it can turn into a year or more if it’s going well. If you need income, take what you can get. It’s less stressful searching for your next contract while you have income.

Taking a break and not looking for you next contract right away?

Length of Time Off

Determine how long you’ll take a break and when you’ll start looking. For this you’ll  need to know on average how long you need to find a contract in your industry and how long your savings will sustain you. Obviously, you should have extra buffer where your savings can sustain you if it takes a little longer than average time to get your next contract. Also, remember you may not have income coming in until a month after you start.

Planning Your Time

Based on what I’ve learned from my first sabbatical, it’s important to have a loose idea how you want to spend your time. Do you want to travel? Catch up with family? Whatever it is, you’ll want to have something planned or projects to do. It’s not to say that you need to project manage all your time off. Deciding you’re going to spend the summer at a cottage, gardening and reading books in the shade on the beach IS A PLAN.

Sometimes it’s great to have wide open time with no set plans. Not even broad strokes. If you choose this though, beware it may be uncomfortable for some time as you try to figure out what to do with yourself. It’s a great learning experience and you will eventually fall into a groove naturally. It can be unnerving in the beginning though. Especially as most of us will be coming from having most of our day structured and a routine to rely on.

With All That Said, What’s My Plan?!

I’m not overthinking things but I am a fan of loose plans. I’ve found that time will pass either way and all paths lead somewhere. So I’m setting general goals and letting time decide how it evolves: health, spending time with family & friends, returning to hobbies (painting and leatherwork)that lapsed with lack of time and gardening. I may even take a workshop or two to further a creative pursuit.

This way when I actively pursue my next contract, I’ll be recharged, gotten to immerse in hobbies I love and indulge in extra time with family and friends.

Have you ever taken a sabbatical? Or maybe you plan to in the future?

0 Replies to “Contract Work: What Happens When There’s Gap?”

  1. Hooray you’re back!! And the summer off sounds like a fabulous choice. The whole point of saving and living below your means is to have options to make the best decision for you, without having to include money as the very first factor.

    1. Totally agree! Mostly it’s nice not to feel all stressed out about paying the bills for something that was going to occur at some point. When it happened was an incredibly convenient time of year. That’s a stroke of luck

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