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Top 7 Tips to Stop Freelancer Burnout

Written by on June 27, 2016

It all happens so quickly. You’ve got your clients lined up, you have a good idea of what you’re doing, you sit down at your computer and you get ready to work.

And then, nothing.

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It’s not that you can’t think of anything to do. You just can’t do it. You’ve lost your motivation.

And then you think about everything you need to do, how angry the clients will be, how much money you won’t make and how your bills aren’t getting any smaller, how many people are depending on you, and it all builds up even more.

You’ve reached the critical stage. You feel tired and sick and frustrated.

You’re burned out.

The four easy steps to complete burnout

Every freelancer experiences burnout at least once in their lives. Burnout rates among freelancers are sometimes higher than those at traditional, high-competitive jobs. One German survey showed that 65% of freelancers had burnout-related symptoms, compared to 43% of traditional employees.

It impacts different people in different ways. Some experience long bouts of fatigue, low motivation, feelings of emptiness and insomnia. Other people can even suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse, and marital and family problems.

Even though it’s expected for self-employed workers, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Getting into a rut happens to every person now and then in any kind of work, but if it’s staying around for a while, you should be careful.

So to help you out, here we’ll look at the 7 best tips to avoid burnout.

1. Get an office—or at least a door

Let’s look at regular workers: they go to the office at 9, they leave at 5, and once in a while they take work home in the busy periods.

For freelancers, your work life and your home life are the exact same thing, and that’s where the problem comes in. If you don’t have that separation, you are going to burn out sooner or later.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get a dedicated work space. It doesn’t have to be some fancy office in a high rise in the middle of downtown or a condo in the city center—it can even be a coworking space.

Any office will do.

To stop burnout, get a dedicated work space
My first dedicated work space.

It doesn’t even have to be an office outside your home.

Stephen King wrote his first two novels Carrie and Salem’s Lot in a laundry room in the trailer he and his wife lived in. Not exactly the best conditions, but he only required one thing—a door that he was willing and able to shut.

For your own mental sanity, you need to get an office, a room, heck, a toilet, just anything—literally anything—with a door.

This allows your mind to focus on the task at hand, and gives you a physical separation between what you consider your home space and what you consider your work space.

In fact, it’s been shown that one of the effects of rooms on your brain is that it can impact your memory, which is very important for focus.

And while you’re at it, get that TV out the way or maybe just cover it up. Turn your radio down to a low volume if you like music while you work, and move your phone far away if you’re just going to be on Facebook anyway.

Even better, if you want to increase your productivity while you’re in your new workspace, follow these tips for your new small office.

2. Set a work and life schedule, and stick to it

Freelancers know one thing: the more I work, the more money I get. Of course, that means the less I work, the less I can make and spend and live more comfortably with. They’re a logical bunch.

What that means is that they work irregular hours, and sometimes work long into what should be their personal time.

For your own good, you need to set a schedule—just like regular workers—of working hours and personal hours. And you must stick with it. There’s no getting around that.

This is the famous “work-life balance.”

Remember to set a schedule for your work and life

Set a schedule for no more than 10 hours—8 would be best—and block off those hours. Start at 9am like normal people, end at 5 or 6pm. If you’re a morning person, 6 to 3; night owls can do 11 to 8.

Don’t work before that, absolutely, and don’t work after that, absolutely.

Don’t even think about work. Don’t look at work. Don’t read emails about work. Don’t read about work-related topics and don’t even talk to people about work in any serious detail.

It will be hard at first to have these artificial time restrictions, but regular workers do it all the time and they’re happier because of it. And your brain and heart and health and family and friends will thank you for it because you’ll be a more relaxed person with enough time for them.

3. Be social

While we’re at it, you should probably get out of the house from time to time. Actually, put it on your work-life schedule. 9am-5pm, work. 7pm-10pm friends.

It can be tempting to fill up your personal time with a film or a good book or doing the gardening. But every once in a while you need to get out of your bunker and meet some people.

Social isolation is bad for your health and is one of the major factors that lead to burnout. You’ve mixed up your work-life so much, you can’t really find time for yourself. Once you do, you’re just too tired to go out and relax and socialize—probably because you can’t stop thinking about work—and so you just Netflix and chill.

Fight that urge.  Social interaction provides an amazing and crucial benefit not only for your mental well-being but also your physical health, so work it into your schedule.

Schedule revised--try to have more social activities in your scheduling

Another thing is to get yourself into a routine.

You don’t need to put on a suit and tie just to go to your home office to work, but you shouldn’t be doing it in your pajamas or underwear. Even though it’s very comfortable, you need to switch your brain into work mode.

This is also good because it lets you transition from one mode to the next, and when you’re done working, do that process in reverse or get yourself ready to go out.

Lastly, go ahead and plan yourself some actual vacation time with one condition—absolutely no work. It may not be popular in the US, but it’s important for your health.

It can be a short weekend trip to visit some friends or family or a week-long vacay on the beach, but don’t take your work with you. Let your clients know you’ll be “out of office” and disconnect as much as you can. Your brain will thank you for it.

4. Reduce your expenses

Freelancers work to get more money.

Profit = Revenue – Expenses, so one way to have more money left over at the end of the month for savings or big purchases is to increase your revenue.

That’s all fine and logical, but it means that you’ll need more work.

An alternative would be just to reduce your expenses, where possible. Many of our daily or monthly purchases can be reduced, altered, or delayed.

That laptop you’ve been using is a little old, yes (I write this on my 6-year old Asus), but it still works. You don’t really need the newest MacBook Pro with Retina display for $2500, do you? Or that cable subscription with 200+ channels that you never watch because of the Netflix and chill discussed earlier?

Before you make a purchase, ask yourself: what value does this bring, and what effort does it take to get it? If the value is lower than the effort, maybe consider whether you really need it.

Take a really good look at your expenses—and if you’re an organized freelancer, you’ll have your income and expenses written down meticulously—and look at what you can cut down or cut out completely. Ask yourself: what value does this bring, and what effort does it take to get it?

For example, new shoes may cost you a few hours or a day of work. If the value is lower than the effort—and if you can positively live without it—maybe reconsider whether you really need to make that purchase.

It’s also a good idea every once in a while to delegate tasks to others besides yourself. It doesn’t have to be a full, live human being, or those robots that will eventually kill us.

You can do it with online software, such as InvoiceBerry’s, which helps you track and manage your expenses.

5. Work on long-term goals

To avoid burnout, it's important to set long-term goals

After a few years of doing freelance work, you get into a groove. In fact, you wouldn’t be on the edge of burnout if you didn’t have your clients and standard way of doing things.

But somewhere there you need to find ways to increase the quality of your life. This doesn’t just mean money which, let’s be honest, is still quite important. This can mean increased knowledge and growth in your chosen profession.

If you’re doing the same thing day-in and day-out, you’ll begin to lose motivation, and the path forward will be predictable with the same twists and turns.

To maintain or improve your motivation, you need to change that path or get off of it completely.

Sit down and set yourself some bigger goals—not just to get more clients, but perhaps to get bigger and more important clients. Or pivoting to a bigger area, or focusing on a slightly different area, or expanding your business so that you’ll need to employ more people.

This kind of larger goal-setting will keep you focused on a bigger task and increase the motivation you may be lacking.

6. Set realistic goals

Freelancers work for themselves and by themselves. They know what they can possibly, theoretically do (if they could just get that contract!), and they know they can push themselves to do it.

The bad thing is, well, sometimes they push themselves too hard and end up promising results that are difficult or nearly impossible to produce on a regular basis.

You could probably write that blog post in an hour, if your focus levels are high, if you have no distractions, if you slept well the night before, if your child didn’t get sick, if you’ve researched enough, if the wi-fi isn’t acting up, if…if…if…

Under the best conditions, you may be able to do that and save the universe, but for most of our lives, the conditions are not optimal and freelancers need to get back to the real world.

Don't set goals that you can't accomplish

You’re in the land of the burnout because you’ve gone ahead and promised something that you know you probably can’t deliver, and now you’re stressed out and empty and getting more stressed and you want to kick yourself for it.

Don’t let it get that far. Give yourself enough time plus a day to get that project finished. Your clients will be fine with it, they’ll get better products, and you’ll get more satisfaction from your work.

7. Don’t be an Autonomous Slave—learn to say no

Autonomy is one of the leading reasons why people decide to begin freelancing in the first place. The idea that you’ll get to set your own schedule and don’t have to answer to a boss is very promising—and very misleading.

Studies have shown that self-employment in terms of autonomy had relatively few mental health benefits. In fact, for self-employed women, their health was actually worse than traditional workers in the same field and position.

This is probably due to the fact that with great autonomy comes great responsibility. There’s no one to tell you exactly what to do. You have to do it yourself and it all depends on you.

Another reason is that the autonomy you experience in freelancing can actually be offset by the feeling of servitude you feel to your client. If you’re just starting out, you know you’ll have to make your client happy, and you try to do it in any way possible.

You need to put your foot down once in a while and just learn to say no.

What can happen is that some clients will get a bit more authoritative and demanding and request things of you that they wouldn’t to any regular employee. That’s the bad on them.

What’s bad on you is that you accept that. You’ll need to put your foot down and just learn to say no.

They want you to write a blog, great, but also to choose the images, ok, and then to do the social media marketing, and then to write an extra paragraph or blurb, and more and more and more.

Just say no. Politely, but no, sorry. It’s extra work, and extra work will require extra time and extra money. When you do this, you’ll get a sense of authority back on your end, and it’ll also be great for your self-esteem.

So what you’re saying is…

When you work for yourself, it’s important to have boundaries, not only for yourself but also for your clients. It’s important to keep yourself sane, to take care of number one, and then to take care of your clients and make money.

There’s no reason to be burnt out doing what you love.

Got any other tips for freelancers to avoid burnouts? Let us know in the comments below!


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