Freelancing can be great but it can also be pretty hard. Work slowly starts taking up too much of your time – you find you don’t have time to spend with friends and family, you forget about your hobbies, etc. We associate burnout with the corporate world but it is also something that affects freelancers. Here’s what you can do about it.
Freelancing is pretty exciting. You get the flexibility to work from anywhere. You can choose your schedule. And you get the freedom to pick the kind of work you want. No-fuss, no muss.
But what’s the other side of the coin?
While all these benefits are great, you can’t expect them to stave off the associated stress. Freelancing has its fair share of difficulties, and as a freelancer, you may feel bogged down by them. Be it the lack of enough opportunities or too many of them, freelancer burnout is inevitable.
What Is Freelancer Burnout?
Burnout is when you feel exhausted or unsatisfied with the demands of your work. So, if you are struggling to make your freelance business a success, or in case it already is a success, but you still find it difficult to carry on? Well, you’ve got a classic case of suffering from burnout.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
The term “burnout” was first officially mentioned by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974 in a psychology-related paper. According to Freudenberger, burnout came with symptoms like exhaustion resulting from work’s excessive demands and physical symptoms, including headaches, closed thinking, quickness to anger, and sleeplessness.
Causes of Freelancer Burnout
Being overloaded and overbooked with work is one of the prime causes why freelancers feel burned out. Other reasons may include:
- Unreasonable deadlines – To win new clients or to hold onto existing ones, freelancers may often commit to deadlines that aren’t feasible. And the less time you have to complete your work, the more likely you are to experience burnout.
- Isolation – Freelancing is a tough job. Working without a team means you miss a psychological buffer against stress.
- Avoiding delegation – If you are someone who doesn’t like to delegate work to others, you will soon be exhausted trying to do everything on your own. While you may want to perform your core job yourself, by not outsourcing the less important tasks, you suffer a toll on your mental and physical health.
Am I suffering from burnout? – Burnout symptoms
Burnout is difficult to diagnose. But it isn’t impossible to realize when you are going through this psychological condition.
Here are some common signs and symptoms of burnout:
- Work aversion: A telltale sign of burnout is avoiding or postponing your work assignments. Over time, you may grow cynical about the freelance routine and may start to hate what you once loved the most.
- Reduced productivity: Even if you are not averting work, a significant decrease in your productivity may hint at an underlying cause which could very well be burnout, especially if you find it challenging to concentrate better on work either due to overload or stagnation.
- Mood swings: If you find yourself feeling quite agitated or start getting irritated quickly, or are showing sudden spurts of anger or aggression, then it could imply that you are suffering from burnout.
- Physical symptoms: Burnout and stress can do more damage to your overall well-being than what you can imagine. If those headaches, backaches, neckaches, stomachaches, or indigestion seem recurring, or if you constantly feel drained, you may have burned out.
Burnout treatment: What to do if you experience Burnout?
As a freelance writer, I have found that my work involves not just mental or creative labor but emotional labor as well.
From finding new clients and invoicing existing ones to managing all the workload on my own (without having somebody to share a cup of coffee with or brainstorm an exciting blog topic), everything falls on my shoulders – and rightly so. After all, this is what I have deliberately chosen for myself.
But at times I feel that the struggles of freelancing outweigh its perks. Instances when payments get stalled, or when an unforeseen ‘personal commitment’ pops up and disturbs my planned schedule, I feel burned out. And it is disturbing to say the least.
Is this something you find yourself being able to relate to? If you are a freelancer who loves writing or designing and developing websites/software programs, you may have felt a similar level of stress at least once in your career.
Every freelancer requires some headspace to get over the burnout.
Tips to stop burnout from happening (or how to get over it)
1. Choose your work wisely
If you are overloaded with work, ask yourself: “Do I have time to take on a new project? Am I mentally prepared to put that much more on my plate?”.
If you are not sure, leave that client or project. You can consider increasing your freelance rates instead. This will help you get rid of low paying jobs so you can then concentrate on higher-paying clients with a lesser amount of work. Also, learn the art of saying no to the work you don’t want to take up. This will free your time for the work you actually love doing.
Isolation often brings stress. To beat the blues, go out and socialize. Meet your friends once a week or find a group of pseudo-co-workers with whom you can bounce ideas off.
Schedule this time in your working week and stay dedicated to it. You should always find a moment for yourself and your loved ones.
3. Seek support
If you are a designer, then outsource your copyrighting work to a writer. If you are a writer, then hire a proofreader to take off some load.
The idea is to delegate and get assistance wherever you can. Every freelancer should focus on what they do best and delegate all tasks that don’t add much value to their business.
If needed, you can even consult a therapist who can help you strike the right balance without hampering your professional and personal life.
4. Indulge in self-care
Consider taking a break from work. You can schedule regular breaks to reduce your workload or can even fuel your creativity by going on a vacation. Eat healthy, exercise, and meditate. To combat burnout, take care of your body and mind.
5. Control expenses
Not having a steady income is often one of the main sources of stress for freelancers. You aim to earn as much as possible but sometimes the next project is not in the pipeline yet.
You can’t always control your income but you can reduce your expenses to improve your liquidity. Cook more at home, cancel all services you’re not using (online tools, Netflix, gym, etc.)
6. Ask for deposits or upfront payment
To reduce the anxiety of not being paid by your next client, you can ask your clients for upfront payments. Getting paid 100% upfront is pretty improbably but look at asking for a fixed sum deposit for work done.
Burn that burnout – You’ve got this!
Dear freelancers, you can always take on more work to make more income. But keep in mind – it is much more worthwhile if you enjoy what you do. We hope the tips mentioned above help you keep your tasks in balance, and don’t let your passion turn into a monotonous job.
Enjoy the freedom of freelancing. You deserve it!