In the course of your career, whether you’re a freelancer or traditional employee, you’re going to feel burned out. It’s a fact of life, exacerbated by the stresses of daily survival, social commitments and a capitalist society. Freelancers, however, have a special vulnerability to burnout. Burnout can stem from isolation, over-committing to too much work or obsessing over whether you’re running any aspect of your business correctly.
The bad news is that there isn’t one single adaptable solution to alleviating freelancer burnout. The good news is, while burnout may be inevitable, there are ways you can lessen its effects on your life and in some cases, avoid it all together. Below are eight tips geared to freelancers on how to avoid getting burned out.
1. Don’t Over-Commit
As mentioned above, over-committing to work is the downfall of many freelancers. The fear of saying “no” turns into a mania of saying “yes,” often booking jobs that may overlap, pay substandard fees or simply not fit your skill set. As your own boss, you have direct control over the type and number of jobs you take.
Even more important, however, is the responsibility you have to yourself to accept only as much work as you can comfortably handle. Learn to say “no” and establish boundaries. When considering a job, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have time to do this job adequately based on my other current commitments?
- Do I feel qualified for this job?
- Do I want to do this job?
- Do I really need the money?
These questions help you focus on projects you actually like, which typically leads to less burnout. And if taking the job will force you to shortchange other commitments, it’s definitely not worth your time.
2. Take Care of Yourself
For some, this is and will be the hardest thing to do. It’s easy to sit at your desk for ten hours a day surfing the internet and doing work. It’s hard to get up, take a walk, cook a healthy meal or enjoy fresh air, but all of these things are necessary.
As the sole proprietor of your organization, if you’re not feeling well, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, you won’t be as productive as you could be, which means you’ll lose money. You might be able to live off of cheese balls and soda for a little while, but doing so will eventually catch up to you and affect your work.
Join a gym, purchase equipment for home, take a cooking class. Do things that will force you to treat yourself better and keep yourself healthy. Remember, you don’t get paid sick days, so do things that will help you avoid getting sick altogether.
3. Treat Your Social Commitments as You Would a Paying Gig
Sometimes canceling on meeting a friend for coffee in order to complete a project is easy. They’re your friend, and they’ll understand, right? They might, but you’re missing the point. Cutting yourself off from your social circle or family is a sure way to burn out, especially mentally and emotionally.
If you can spare the hour or so for a coffee break, take it. If you are up against a deadline and need to work, then reschedule it. Maintaining your friendships is just as important to your health as a jog around the block.
4. Prioritize Your Workday
You have lots to do, but some tasks are more important than others. Checking your email or reading through the latest news of the day might be the perfect thing to do in the morning while you’re enjoying your first cup of coffee and waking up. It might be best to schedule your work for mid-morning when you’re fully awake. Take your list of tasks and order them based on importance. It will help you keep your sanity.
5. If You Travel, Make It Easier on Yourself
If you travel frequently, consider making the process easier by investing in a few travel necessities. For example, if you fly short trips, pack as light as possible and get a nice carry-on bag that can fit in the overhead bin. Make sure it can roll smoothly and hold up under the rigors of air travel.
If you mostly drive, consider your vehicle. Is it big enough for what you need? Does it get good gas mileage over long distances? In the long run, a newer car with a higher efficiency rating will pay for itself in lower gas costs and maintenance.
Also, try to keep up with your exercise routines as much as you can on the road. Find a hotel with an adequate gym or make sure your gym membership allows you to work out in other locations. Try to get up and go to sleep as close to your normal times as possible so that you don’t get overly fatigued. And of course, drink a lot of water. Dehydration is no one’s friend, especially for travelers.
6. Ask for Help
Chances are, you can’t do everything yourself. If you have a spouse, enlist his or her help for household tasks, cooking meals or childcare. If you find yourself saddled with a lot of work, look for others you can outsource this work to.
You might know a few other friends who freelance and would like the extra work, or maybe even a few friends who have full-time jobs, but would be willing to earn a little extra cash. While you may want to do everything on your own, don’t underestimate the value of sending up a flare and getting a little aid.
7. Know Your Strengths
Freelance accountants likely don’t have a hard time maintaining the books or filing taxes. But if you’re a graphic designer, you might find those two tasks challenging. Maybe you find marketing, networking or website design akin to watching paint dry. The beauty of today’s interconnected world is that you don’t have to do these tasks yourself; you can hire an expert to help.
Accounting tools like QuickBooks Self-Employed (QBSE) is one way to keep all of your expenses in one place, mark them as personal or business expenses and track the amount of taxes you’ll owe at the end of the year.
If you struggle to make sense of websites and design, do-it-yourself sites like Squarespace or WordPress are great resources for putting together a functional and professional looking online site. If keeping track of your jobs or client correspondence is hard for you, online solutions like Basecamp and Smartsheet can help you keep all of that information in one place.
On a personal note, I signed up for QBSE and found it extremely easy to use. I really appreciate the fact that I can divvy up some of my shared personal and business expenses, such as internet access, so that part of it is counted toward my home office deduction on a monthly basis. Additionally, having an estimate readily available of the amount of income tax I’ll owe come April 15th really helps me to determine if I’m saving enough. They also have the functionality to set up quarterly tax estimates as well. As a full disclosure, I paid full price for QuickBooks Self-Employed and received no discount for this assessment.
The point is, if you need help, ask for it.
8. Set Freelance Goals and Ways to Reach Them
As a freelancer, you determine your earning potential and career trajectory. While your initial goal might have been to not work for someone else, your longer-term goals should evolve as your business grows. Look at setting goals that can help you grow as a professional. Do you want to acquire a new skill? Increase your rates or client base? Set achievable goals and layout the necessary strategies to reach them. Doing so helps keep you from feeling as though you’re just working in circles.
Burnout can be detrimental to your career and your personal health. By following the tips listed above, you should be able to avoid or reduce your level of burnout. If all else fails, here’s another solution: take a break. Not just for an hour or so, but maybe a day or two. Stay local, or take a vacation or road trip. The important thing is to step away from your desk, computer or phone, and give yourself room to breathe.
Looking for even more ways to be the best you that you can be? Read our article on how to be a better freelancer.