If you’re a freelancer, you know that if you don’t work you don’t get paid. But if you work too much, you’ll lose your creative edge, get yourself sick and not be able to work at all. So how do you prevent burnout from happening? First, get to know what burnout is. Burnout is when you find yourself not wanting to go to work, you feel apathetic and constantly physically and emotionally exhausted and you want to hide your head in the sand until Sarah Palin says Obama is right. I’ve been close to burnout, but I’ve managed to pull myself out of it by recognizing the feelings of burnout and then fighting it off.
Here Are My Five Steps Of Burnout Prevention:
Say “No” And Setting Boundaries:
As freelancers it’s hard to say no to our clients, but if we say “no” to a rushed or new deadline or to a new client who may push your other client work to the side we’re saying “yes” to sanity and healthy work habits. Clients need to understand that we’re busy too and that we’re not always available. If you do find yourself wanting to overpromise to a client, tell that client you need to honor your previously stated deadline and tell your new client you can start work when you’re available. If you have trouble saying “no” because you’re afraid you need the work to generate income then you need to stockpile some savings and give yourself more economic wiggle room. You can also set boundaries through your office hours which should not include nights and weekends. It may be hard, but you don’t have to be instantly available to your clients, especially on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. If you’re always available and always working you’ll soon feel emotionally exhausted with nothing left to give anyone.
Try not to check email first thing in the morning. Instead, work on a tough client project, read or get your own work done. Then check your email in intervals throughout the day, making sure you’re not going over a stated time limit which could be a half hour or up to an hour. Don’t sleep with your iPhone and be able to turn off your phone at a given hour every night. It’s also OK not to answer every call, especially if you’re in the middle of a large project. Taking time to answer a call will not only distract you, but the experts say that a phone call can take away your creative energies for a least a half hour.
Take Time Off:
Be sure to schedule in vacation time or it won’t happen! Schedule your vacation when it’s a slow time for you so you won’t be worried about work while you’re hiking or building sand castles. It’s OK to take your laptop, but only check in once or twice a day so you can let your mind rest. As freelancers our mind is our main tool and if it doesn’t get sufficient rest, you can’t serve your clients. Another part of taking time off is trying not to schedule multiple deadlines all in the same week. Sometimes that’s beyond our control and when that’s the case, try to finish some projects early rather than jamming and cramming everything to the end. Also be sure to allow days where you don’t have anything planned so you can work uninterrupted.
Recharge without Guilt:
No one should make you feel guilty when you unplug the phone, take in a movie and/or read a book on a Sunday afternoon. Yes, you’re not working but you’re recharging and staying healthy. As freelancers, one of the best and worst parts of our job is our flexible hours. Yes, you can get up at 6am after going to bed at 2am, but doing so over a few weeks is never a good idea, and don’t tell me you think you’re a short sleeper—you’re probably not! Recharging can also involve getting out of the house for exercise, catching up with friends or staying away from your computer for a weekend.
Never underestimate the restorative power of sleep. If you have a pressing deadline and can’t sleep your normal 7-8 hours, try taking a nap and then getting up to finish work. I always have more creative energies with some sleep under my belt. And if you do feel burnout creeping in, sleeping combined with regular exercise will help you get over your hump.
If you want to freelance for the duration, you need to treat your job as if it has reasonable work hours. You can’t work the 100 hours a tax accountant does at the end of tax season for months at a time (believe I know this since my husband is one of those CPAs). Stop treating yourself as a slave. Stop feeling that the money will stop if you don’t take on additional work you can’t handle. Finally, stop thinking you have to work all of the time to be productive! Stop thinking you have to do it all by yourself—it’s perfectly OK to hire help or barter when you feel pressed to get everything done. Restore and refresh your mind so you can continue being your special creative you who’s always in demand!
What did I leave out? What are your suggestions for preventing burnout? Please share!