How to Manage Freelancing Stress and Burnout
Escaping the 9–5 Comes With Extreme Responsibilities
While the life of a freelancer appears to be really appealing to those who imagine a care-free, working from home lifestyle, there’s a lot more to being a freelancer than that. In fact, successfully escaping the 9–5 comes with its share of extreme responsibilities, stress, and, unfortunately, burnout.
I myself have been experiencing quite a bit of burnout recently. This is the reason that the last article I have posted on Medium was all the way back on May 23rd when, before, I was trying to maintain a routine of posting on Medium regularly every two days at most. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a break.
Today, I thought it would be helpful to discuss freelancer stress and burnout in a way that states that burnout is inevitable. What’s important is knowing how to navigate this inevitable occurrence in a way that doesn’t limit your ability to keep up with deadlines and do your best work.
Let’s face some of the hard truths about freelancing: many of us are working from home remotely, most of us work alone without co-workers to chat with or bounce ideas off of, nearly all of us have nobody to turn to when our work starts to get us down.
For these reasons, we are prone to experiencing stress and burnout in a way that is unique to a freelancing lifestyle. It’s easy for us to feel alone in our struggle. But I’m here to tell you that you are not. Here’s how to cope with burnout and stress as a freelancer.
The Struggles of the Freelancing Lifestyle
While the life of a freelancer looks appealing to most, a rosy depiction of escaping the 9–5 and working on your own terms, there’s much more to it than that.
While many people envy the freedom and flexibility that comes with the freelancing lifestyle, any freelancer will tell you that it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Rather, nothing can quite prepare you for the stress that comes with working independently.
Simply lacking the safety net of having a permanent full-time role within a company can be stressful enough for some people. Lacking a steady paycheck can be enough to make you want to tear your own hair out. The need to self-motivate yourself and get through all of the day’s tasks can feel overwhelming to most.
This is the hard reality of life as a full-time freelancer.
Aside from all of that, there will always be times where work feels scarce and you’ll feel anxious about determining where your next paycheck is coming from.
At the same time, there will be high-pressure periods of time when managing the amount of work and meeting deadlines will be stressful as well as exhausting.
Although all of these necessary truths of a freelancing lifestyle can be difficult to get used to, what can be even harder to get used to is the fact that we are operating in a constant state of the unknown. What’s coming next is never known for certain and this is something that you have to adjust to sooner rather than later as a full-time freelancer.
Despite all of this, if you have a passion for freelancing, you won’t be so easily willing to give up the flexibility and freedom allowed by full-time freelancing.
For this reason, it’s important that you know about a few practical ways that you can manage both the stress and the nature of the freelancing lifestyle. Let’s take a look at a few of those strategies next.
Know When to Say No
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If you’re anything like me, saying no isn’t something that really comes naturally. As a freelancer, you will feel inclined to always say yes to every little project.
After all, the more work you have the more money you will make. This makes it feel anything but natural to actually turn down work. The mindset created by the need to always have work coming in is the basis of most of the stress we experience as freelancers.
For this reason, it’s important that we develop a different mindset based on knowing when to say no.
It’s important that you create a realistic schedule, one that allows you to make room for the deadlines for projects you are committed to.
In order to avoid taking on too many jobs at once and adding to your stress level, you need to make sure that you not only schedule in your work hours but also schedule in time for exercise, social activities, and any other commitments. It is crucial that you not let your leisure time be compromised just so you can take on another project.
This will only be a disservice to yourself and the quality of your work overall. In your inability to meet so many deadlines at once, you are likely to experience extreme burnout.
Learn to say no!
Have Set Work Hours
Although freelancing is considered appealing because of the fact that you can work whenever and wherever you want, it can also be extremely useful to set work hours.
When I don’t do this as a freelancer myself, I find myself starting to feel guilty for doing anything besides work and this can lead to me skipping out on leisure time altogether.
At the same time, I might schedule in too much of everything else and fail to leave myself enough time to get all of my work done, leading to copious amounts of easily avoidable stress.
Take advantage of the fact that you can set your own hours rather than being a slave to this fact.
Think about when you are the most productive during the day and schedule a solid block of time in order to power through your work at that point.
While most people are most productive as soon as they wake up, every individual is different and some may work better during night hours. Determine which is best for you and set a solid schedule that you can rely on.
Setting a schedule is just as important as setting time for activities outside of work like socializing, for example, and if you have stuck to your schedule and completed your work you won’t find yourself feeling guilty and stressed when it comes time for leisurely activities.
Keep in mind that if something unexpected and urgent comes up and eats into all of your work hours you will need to find another solid block of time to complete your work.
This will help you to avoid falling behind and stressing out about not getting everything done as you should. This is a marvelous way to lessen the impact of the factors that contribute to freelancer’s burnout.
Always Focus on the Task At Hand
In high-pressure situations where you’re flooded with what can feel like thousands of different deadlines, the worst possible thing that you can do for yourself is to dwell on everything that you have yet to complete.
It is crucial that, in a fight against freelancer’s burnout, you keep your mind focused on what you are working on in the current moment as well as getting the most important tasks completed first.
While you may have no choice but to work into the night from one day to the next, try not to make this a regular occurrence.
At the end of the day, wasting your time worrying about all of the work you have to get done is time wasted. This adds no value to your work.
Focus on things one at a time and take a few breaths. When I find myself stressing out under the weight of everything that I have to get done, it’s helpful to remind myself that these high-pressure times won’t last forever. They will pass and I’ll have an easier time breathing again.
Don’t Forget to Schedule Breaks
While those operating under a 9–5 lifestyle consider their break times to be one of the best parts of their day working in an office, freelancers tend to forget the value of these all-important times of the day. If you’re anything like me, you tend to forget the importance of scheduling in breaks for yourself.
As someone who works from home, I like to restrict myself from my bedroom during the workday unless I’m taking a break. Although I’m working from home, I try to separate my personal life and my work life as well as I possibly can and this is why I like to stick to scheduled hours and will only work within my dedicated spot in the house.
This way, whenever I got to take a break, it actually feels as though I’m giving myself the much-needed break that I deserve because I’m relaxing in an area completely separate from my workstation.
If you are a freelancer that regularly finds yourself completing work in areas that should be intended for rest, such as your bedroom, you would do well to kick this habit as soon as possible. This is due to the fact that the lines can easily become blurred between work and everything else and this can have an overall negative impact on your productivity.
Determine which hours work best for you and your schedule and, rather than blowing through all of your work without rest to keep your mind fresh, schedule in some breaks.
This can be in the form of a one-hour lunch break, two-hour work slots with ten-minute breaks in between, or anything that works best for you personally. The beauty of freelancing is found in the fact that we have the power to take control of our schedules.
Just as we should set our own work hours based on when we are the most productive, we should also schedule break times to give our mind, body, and spirit the rest that they deserve.
This will not only keep you at the top of your game mentally and physically but will also help cut down on stress and freelancer’s burnout.
Allow Time for Your Passions and Hobbies
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Finally, another important strategy that I highly recommend for fighting freelancer’s stress and burnout is to find time for your passions and hobbies.
Doing something that you enjoy once every day will help enormously to drive stress out of your life. Not only does this give you something to look forward to each day but it offers you time to reflect on your day and take a much-needed rest from deadlines and projects.
Getting out and enjoying the day is a great way to combat the isolative nature of freelancing work, which can make it easier to fall into the pits of burnout and even depression.
Finding a hobby or passion that you enjoy can give you a reason to get out of the house and even provide new social connections.
Nearly anything can be considered a hobby. From painting to gardening to practicing yoga, there is something out there that you can enjoy and that can provide the perfect escape from the stress of deadlines and projects. Personally, I take time each day to do a little bit of reading.
Just yesterday, I decided to take my laptop and do some work by the pool where I could stop intermittently to take 15-minute breaks to swim some laps- something I really, really enjoy doing.
While it can feel difficult to put yourself first when you manage your work independently and have many people relying on you, using practices such as those I have outlined here makes it less likely that you will experience overwhelming exhaustion, stress, and eventually, burnout.
As important as it is to stay self-motivated and take on enough projects to get you by financially, it is equally important to take care of yourself.
After all, the key to success as a freelancer is staying at the top of your game and this is difficult to do if you allow yourself to work like crazy without pause.
Consider implementing a few of these strategies into your life to combat freelancer’s stress and burnout! It will pay off in ways you couldn’t have possibly imagined. In my mind, a happy freelancer is a successful freelancer.
Originally published on medium