Written by Tom Ewer on 29 April 2014
All other things being equal, freelancers are more likely to suffer from work burnout than salaried workers with regular hours. Not only is running your business more stressful but it can also be very tempting to work long days and take few days off, all of which can eventually push you to breaking point.
Burnout can manifest itself as an inability to concentrate, lowered productivity, increased procrastination, dissatisfaction with your work and more seriously as physical and mental health problems that could have a lasting effect.
Freelancer burnout is a common problem but it's not inevitable. As with any job, the key is to maintain a healthy balance between work and home life. With that in mind, in this post I have listed ten tips you can apply to your own life in order to avoid freelancer burnout.
1. Learn to Say No
Taking on too much work is one of the biggest causes of freelance burnout. If you take on more work than you can comfortably handle, you'll end up working longer hours, taking fewer days off and not allowing yourself enough time to recuperate in-between work sessions.
Learn to recognise your limitations and say no to projects if you already have enough on your plate. Overworking yourself will inevitably lead to poor quality work, missed deadlines, stress and unhealthy work habits.
2. Take Care of Your Body
A healthy mind needs a healthy body behind it, so don't fuel up on junk food and energy drinks unless you want to feel terrible at the end of your working day. A healthy diet of mainly fresh and unprocessed foods will give you more energy and help you to be more productive.
It's also important to get sufficient exercise (I'd recommend some kind of movement every day) and plenty of sleep. If you feel tired and lethargic when you're sitting down to work, you'll be running down your already depleted energy levels. A good night's sleep and a 30-minute walk each day can do wonders for both your productivity and your mental health.
3. Try a Change of Scenery
Staring at the same four walls day in and day out is enough to make anyone feel crazy. If you work from home, you don't have the physical distinction between work and home life that web designers who work in a studio or office benefit from.
If you can feel cabin fever creeping in, pack up your laptop and go and work in your library, a coffee shop or local co-working space for a few hours. This not only gets you out of the house but can also help inspire your creativity and give you new ideas.
4. Set Reasonable Working Hours
Flexibility is one of freelancing's biggest advantages but it can also work against you if you don't set reasonable limits to your working hours. As a freelancer you don't have to work 9-5, but it's sensible to have set start and finish times to allow yourself to switch off from work at the end of the day.
5. Take Regular Days Off and Plan Holidays
Neglecting to take days off is another big problem for many freelancers. As there's always more work to do, many people feel guilt at taking days off work and end up working nearly every day.
You're just as entitled to a break as any other worker so take weekends off, or at least one day a week, and make sure you have a minimum 24 hours of pure rest and relaxation with your friends and family.
Longer breaks are also important. While it can be tricky to take a holiday from your freelance business, remember that you're working to live and not the other way around. See our previous article for tips on how to take a holiday from freelancing without losing your clients.
6. Take on Passion Projects
All work and no play leads to burned out freelancers. Many web designers start their career with great enthusiasm and creativity and gradually become more and more jaded and downtrodden with every boring corporate freelance gig they take on.
Inject a bit of fun back into your freelance career by doing a project for the pure fun of it every now and again.
7. Ditch Problem Clients
Bad clients are bad news all round and if you don't keep them in check, they'll gradually suck the life out of you and your business. If you find that all your time is taken up with clients that need chasing for payment, constantly request free revisions or are never happy with anything you do, politely fire them and move on.
8. Delegate and Outsource
Trying to do everything yourself can easily lead to you feeling stressed and overworked. As soon as possible in your career, try to outsource some lower value tasks to other people. Hiring a virtual assistant to deal with your customer support and emails can free up a lot of time and reduce your stress levels.
If you're getting more work than you can handle comfortably, it's also worth considering bringing on another designer and sharing your workload.
9. Build a Support Network
Freelancing can be a lonely career choice and without colleagues to vent workplace frustrations to, it's easy to become stressed and even depressed about work. There are many websites set up to provide advice and support to freelancers (the UKWDA is a good one to start with!) and if possibly, try to find some contacts in your local area that you can meet up with in person too. A problem shared is a problem halved.
10. Learn to Relax
Some people cope with stress better than others but everyone can benefit from learning some basic relaxation techniques. Yoga, meditation and walking are all great stress relievers and you should try to build some kind of relaxing activity into your daily routine.
Take Action Before You Burn Out
The tips we've covered above may seem like common sense but it's amazing how many freelancers don't follow them and end up frustrated and stressed with their work. Invest in a little extra time for some self-care now and you'll save yourself countless hours later. What do you do to avoid freelance burnout?