If you work fulltime as a freelancer, and especially if you are first starting out, the odds are you will at some point suffer from freelance burnout. Freelancing can be very stressful work, with a deadline always approaching, having an article that always needs finished. Most freelancers place themselves last on the list of “things-to-do”, and this inevitably leads to burnout. So, how to you identify the signs of approaching burnout, and how do you prevent it?
Too Many Projects
If you keep repeatedly thinking, “I have too many projects to do,” than you are on the slope heading towards burnout. Having too many projects will lead to stress, lack of sleep, and excess junk food consumption, which will begin to physically wear you body down. When you body begins to suffer the effects of your work, you mind will follow suit, and once that happens, you have entered the realm of freelance burnout.
Prevent this form of burnout by keeping a log of all your current running projects, when they are do, and the approximate amount of time you think it will take to complete them. When offered another project, consult your log and be sure that you have ample time to complete the project, and still get some sleep, too.
To Difficult of Projects
Most people don’t realize this, but if you take on a project that is too difficult, it can lead to freelance burnout. By too difficult, I mean a project where you must do a considerable amount of work, a considerable amount of research, or a large amount of something else that proves difficult to you. For example, agreeing to research and check the facts in a 25 page science thesis. You have to do much research on things you may not know, and you are constantly worried that you will miss something. You begin to stress about how long you are spending on this one project, about whether or not you are doing it correctly. This form of burnout starts mentally, and will later begin to affect you physically.
To prevent this kind of burnout, identify what kinds of projects/requirements are the most mentally exhausting/demanding/frustrating, and try to avoid them. If you find having to do a large amount of research as frustrating, avoid taking on projects that require you to research. This will keep your work flowing smoothly, and your stress level down.
Too Much Self-Demand
Are you worried about your portfolio, or progressing your career? If so, the odds are you’re writing a considerable amount of articles/projects, non-stop. This is similar to the first item in this list, expect these articles are ones you demand of yourself. You constantly push yourself to write more, write better, and/or write faster. This eventually leads to total burnout, and you will likely develop a dread, or even hatred, for writing.
Pushing ones self is not a bad thing, if done correctly. When done correctly, this frame of mind can bring one into a new form of self-discipline that otherwise would never happen. The key is to do this in small spurts and plan ahead. Decide two or three weeks ahead of time that for X days, you will write Z number of articles, everyday. After you have accomplished this, take a break for a day, and then assume your normal writing habits for a couple of weeks. This will keep you disciplined whilst also avoiding freelance burnout.
If you suspect that you are already suffering from freelance burnout, here are some tips to recover:
Take a break. Just stop everything. If you go one more step, you will have a nervous breakdown and throw everything out the window. In this case, it is best to just stop for a day or two and take a breather.
Cancel unnecessary projects. If a project is not needed for financial reasons, it is still a few weeks from deadline, and you won’t miss it, cancel it. You don’t want to do this too often, however, less you receive a reputation as someone who frequently drops projects.
If you have projects you must finish, break them into chunks. Set a mini-goal, and after you meet that mini-goal, give yourself a reward. 10 minutes to read a book, a piece of chocolate, the satisfaction of burning an old article-whatever works. These are all things that have worked for myself or someone else I know of. If you have tried all of these and still suffer from burnout, you may need to take a much longer break. If that doesn’t work, perhaps its time to find another career.