Avoiding Freelancer Burnout
You began your freelance business with such high hopes (and off the charts enthusiasm). Finally, you were doing what you loved with no boss breathing down your neck. You savored the freedom of writing your own schedule and setting your own salary.
Then you hit the wall.
Suddenly it seems like you are just slogging away and getting nowhere. You write the same paragraph multiple times and it still feels awkward. Some days you dread turning on your computer because of the mountain of work facing you.
You’re tired, frustrated, and feel like a failure because your production is almost at a standstill. You’re not a failure though, you’re just burned out.
Freelancer burnout is very real and if left unchecked, it can derail your business in no time flat. We talked to some of our Writer Access freelance superstars to find out how they deal with burnout. Here’s what they had to say.
Set Aside YOU Time
One of the most common complaints among people who work from home, freelancers included, is that they stop taking time for themselves. Instead, they dive into their work and get buried in it until it consumed them. Taking some time for yourself is integral to surviving a freelance life and avoiding burnout. Sharon, David, and Michelle have incorporated this habit into their daily lives.
“I make time for activities that restore me. Guided meditation is what helps me the most, but I also take time to exercise, take naps, go outside, and spend time with loved ones.”
“To avoid getting burned out, I commit to at least one hour a day of ‘me time,’ no matter what. It’s a part of my schedule, just like anything else, and I make sure it gets done. Even an hour can really help me reset, recharge, and take a break so I can keep providing quality work for clients.”
Set Boundaries and Pace Yourself
When you are working from home, boundaries can get very blurry. Most clients are awesome, but some can make unreasonable demands, leading to your work consuming your entire day (and sometimes night). Freelancing is not about being chained to your desk (or phone or computer) 24/7, so you need to set clear boundaries and stick to them. Rachel P, Rachel K, Michelle, and Vickie have found ways to set boundaries and keep things in perspective.
“I remember that I’M the boss, not the client. Work only bleeds into every corner of the day if you let it and don’t set boundaries for both clients and you. That means putting your profiles and email on vacation mode when you need a breather and leaving your laptop at home if you ARE on vacation!”
“The key to avoiding burnout is learning when to say ‘no.’ When you get offered a job, ask yourself, ‘does it pay enough, or have the potential to bring in more work?’ If not, it may not be worthwhile to spend your time on the job instead of spending time with family or relaxing.”
“I find it impossible to ignore chores and errands while I work from home, so I cut myself some slack in that department. If I need to grocery shop in the middle of the day, I do it. However, that can quickly lead to burnout if I let it get out of control, so I don’t allow myself to work past 7 or 8 pm (I’ a night owl so this is still plenty of time before bed). Knowing that I have a “punch out” time helps me stay focused and get the job one, even if my long day is broken up by a few chores.”
“Freelance writing is like driving fast and furious with the pedal to the metal, but sometimes you have to let off the gas and just glide at your normal speed.”
Manage Your Time Wisely
If you are like many people who chose the freelance life, having more time to do your own thing and having a flexible schedule is very appealing. If you aren’t careful though, that ole clock can get away from you and you can find yourself working longer, harder hours than if you worked a 9 to 5 – and for less pay. Time management is absolutely essential for freelancing as well as for avoiding freelancer burnout. Kaylen, Scott, and Marla have developed their own systems for good time management. They agreed to share them with you.
“It’s important to manage my time well. I’m not always good at it but carving out dedicated time for work without distractions helps keep me from taking twice as long to complete tasks. When I manage my time poorly, I end up working all day long to get the same amount done which leads to burnout a lot faster.”
“Working non-stop is exhausting. Take one set day each week off – no writing, no emails, no ideation, just reset. P.S. WA has an availability feature to show clients what your day off is.”
“Don’t write every day. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, even when it comes to your passion for writing. Set aside one day a week that is dedicated to play, rest, or cleaning the house.”
Adjust Your Focus
Focus refers to both attitude and specialization. Each of these has its place in freelancing and in keeping you motivated. Take a look at the tips that Tammy, Curtis, and Joseph share and see how you can make some adjustments that will keep you from becoming overwhelmed with work.
“After about 15 years of writing and no way to predict how much work I get from day to day, I’ve experienced burnout more than once. To me, it’s a matter of giving myself a pep talk to get through it. Picturing the outcome of a job well done. Once it’s over, I reach out to clients working on projects in a somewhat different area.”
“As a retired senior, freelance writing gives me a reason to put my trousers on every day. When writing jobs come at me in trickles and floods, I cope with the trickles by recharging my writing batteries with reading and exercise. When the flood comes, I avoid burnout by ignoring the backlog and concentrating on what’s due next.”
“One of my strategies for avoiding burnout is specialization. There are lots of things I could write about with enough research, but the extra time needed for learning about the topic lowers my hourly earning rate and thus increases the hours I need to work to make what I need to make. By narrowing my focus to only those fields that I can write well in with minimal research, I write more quickly and save my sanity.”
Carve Out Some Family Time
Spending time with family and friends allows us to stay connected and grounded. We remember what’s really important. Unfortunately, when you get sucked into the freelancing vortex those are some of the first things to fall to the wayside. Here, Brandy and Stephanie explain how they carve out time for family as a way of avoiding freelancer burnout.
Brandy W (I cannot find this person’s profile link)
“I have found the best way to prevent burnout is to promise my kids at least one fun or lazy day every week. I remind myself that no amount of money can ever replace the time I have with them. If I even consider working on that day, I have my husband to back me up and hold me accountable.”
“I have a tendency to get hyper-focused and throw myself into my work. As you can guess, this is a fast road to burnout. I had to learn to walk away and put some space between myself and my work. I have to remind myself that I am not my work; it is just a part of my life but not my whole life. I step away and spend time with my husband. Sometimes we just sit and talk, other times we get in the car and go for a ride. I also spend time with my sons, daughter, and grandson. Additionally, I do not do any work from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday and we fellowship with friends over dinner. Making those connections help me reset and I can return to my work feeling refreshed and ready to write.
Choose Your Projects Wisely
When you’re going through a dry season it might be tempting to take on any project that comes along. These freelancers know, though, that this is a recipe for disaster. Don’t be afraid to say “Pass” and look for better pay or better terms. Take a page from Jared’s, Catrina’s, and Angela’s books to avoid burnout.
“Possess the courage to choose the freelancing opportunities you accept carefully. Doing so may seem counterproductive when the current system is set up to reward the production of quantity over quality, but those who follow this advice will ultimately see improvements in their lives, writing, and paychecks.”
“Burnout can easily be avoided with variety, in my experience. Choosing new projects, finding better-paying clients and focusing on taking time to write on topics you enjoy versus topics that pay the bills is essential, even if it means taking a pay cut for a week or two.”
“I tend to try and do every job offered or get so caught up in the actual search for work that I’m easily overwhelmed. I’ve had to learn to create limits on what tasks I’ll take on and be a better steward of my time. I also try to have a variety of options so that I don’t get bored or burned out.”
Switch Things Up
Sometimes you just gotta shake things up a bit. When you do the same thing over and over it becomes monotonous. Yeah, it gets boring, but there’s more to it than that. Most people tend to zone out and that’s when mistakes happen. Jean, Julie, and Chelsea tell us how to keep it fresh by switching your schedule, changing your worksite, or varying your work.
“I have two ways to avoid burnout. The first is to diversify your writing. Maybe you’re writing about a veterinarian one minute, then writing ad copy or polishing a speech the next. The second piece of advice is don’t be afraid to take a break. Sometimes we just need to pause and refresh!”
“The struggle is real when it comes to burnout. As a freelancer, I take advantage of the fact that I can work from anywhere. For me, the best way to avoid burnout is to change up my work environment.”
“After freelancing for eight years, I have certainly experienced burnout especially if I’ve been writing similar content for several weeks or months. To recharge, I’ll look for work in a different industry or a different asset type. This helps me stay fresh and prevents me from writing the same sentence over and over again.”
Keep Your Perspective
One disgruntled client can put a damper on your whole day – if you let them. Maintaining your perspective makes a huge difference and helps keep your attitude positive. Andrew very candidly tells us of his burnout struggles and how he overcomes them is a major, inspiring way.
“The problem with burnout is how it feeds itself. One problematic client leads to frustration which presents in writing style, leading to appropriate criticism from other clients. Fortunately, every time I reach the breaking point and question if I want to continue writing professionally, a really great client adds bonus pay and a message to the in-house Writer Access staff about how I went beyond “Exceeds Expectations” and the defeatism cycle is broken.”
To My Dear Freelancing Brothers and Sisters
Working is great and there isn’t a better way (in my opinion anyway) to do that than freelancing. Just like anything else though, letting your freelance business run unbridled and without boundaries will eventually cause you to crash and burn – burn out.
As a freelancer you’ll have good days, not so good days, and days when you want to toss your computer out the window and move to a remote area where there’s no cell service at all. On those tough days all you can do is hang in there and don’t let your emotions dictate your actions. Stick with what you know, count to ten, walk the dog, hug your child, whatever it takes to mentally reset.
Or maybe you need to just unplug for a day. Whatever work.
In the midst of it all though, there’s still that “thing,” that special something that you get as a freelancer. Yes, there’s freedom. Sure, you set your own schedule. But it’s so much more than that. If the freelancer life has chosen you, then you’re a pretty special person. Embrace that, Dawn sure has. I think she’s said what we all feel (on the good days anyway), don’t you?
“What burned me out was the 9-5. Being a freelancer is bliss. Breathe…Discipline…Enjoy Your Freedom…The Freelancer’s Life.”
Stephanie M.’s works with businesses to create web content that leaps off the page (or screen) to inform, educate, and engage, leading to social sharing, conversion, and return visits. She does it all: blog posts, articles, social media management, website content, press releases – you get the idea. Her work as an analyst/disaster response specialist with FEMA in Washington, D.C. gave her a unique insight into disaster prep, response, and recovery. She helped individuals and businesses recovering from major disasters (including hurricanes Katrina and Sandy), as well as provided educational material for disaster prep.