14+ Ways to Escape Freelance Burnout

Between working alone and the stresses of dealing with problem clients and not having a steady income, freelancers are at a high risk for burnout.

Burnout is that awful feeling that you just can’t go on with your work any longer. You’re exhausted–mentally, emotionally, and physically.

It’s a serious problem. When you’re burnt out your motivation may be gone. Your creativity may suffer. Your health may even be affected. And your clients will definitely notice a difference.

If you depend on freelancing for a living, you can’t afford to let yourself burn out. But you may not know how to avoid it.

Here are over fourteen tips to keep you from burning out as a freelancer.

Don’t Let Burnout Happen to You

If you take the right precautions, you can avoid freelancer burnout. Here are some important steps to take if you want to escape freelance burnout:

  1. Don’t overcommit. Overcommitment leads to overwork. Unfortunately, freelancers often take on more work than they can handle–either because they don’t know how to estimate their projects accurately or because they aren’t charging enough for their services. Make sure that your rates are high enough so that you don’t have to work extra hours just to make ends meet.
  2. Take the time to learn new things. If you’re like me, you love to learn new things. Taking a class or reading a book energizes me and keeps my ideas fresh and relevant. By working learning into your schedule, not only do you relieve stress–you may also find yourself with a new marketable skill.
  3. Dump difficult clients. Do you have a client who demands much more work than they pay for or who is overly critical? Working with such clients can greatly increase your stress level and ultimately lead to freelancer burnout. In most cases, keeping a persistently difficult client is not worth the effort. Fire your bad client before the stress of working with them affects the rest of your business.
  4. Build up your nonwork relationships. Everyone needs some balance in their life, and that includes supportive nonwork relationships. But freelancers often neglect these relationships while they are building up their business. Don’t make this mistake. Take the time nurture your positive nonwork relationships.
  5. Protect your health. As a freelancer, your health is one of your most important assets. If you’re not feeling good, you’ll likely have trouble with everything else as well. Protect your health by eating right, exercising, getting enough rest, and making sure to get all of the regular recommended checkups.
  6. Get help if you need it. Whether it’s outsourcing routine tasks or bringing in an expert to help you with an area you don’t really know (like accounting), there are times when you are better off hiring someone to help you. Sadly, many freelancers try to do everything themselves.
  7. Take some time off. If you are starting to experience some of the symptoms of burnout, it may be time for a vacation. Schedule a few work-free days. If possible, go out of town and do something fun. Even if you have to stay at home, don’t be tempted to go back into the office and work. Instead, do something relaxing.
  8. Don’t take rejection personally. Whether you’re turned down for a project you really wanted or you’re facing critical feedback from a client, odds are that you face a lot of rejection as a freelancer. If you’re not careful, this rejection can get to you and contribute to burnout. Don’t let it. Remember that rejection is more of a reflection on the client or prospect than it is on you.
  9. Set healthy limits for your work. How many hours a day do you work? How many days a week do you work? Sadly, some freelancers are always at work. Even when they step out of their offices, they are on call by mobile phone. This is not the best way to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal time. Set a reasonable limit for your work hours and you will start to feel better.
  10. Get out of the house. Like many freelancers, you probably work from a home office. This can be so convenient–no commute, no dressing up to go to work, and so on. However, if you spend too much time without leaving the house you can actually add to your stress and isolation. Make a point to get out of the house several times a week, even if it’s only to work at the local coffee shop.
  11. Plan for contingencies. Financial pressure is another factor that contributes to freelancer stress and ultimately to freelancer burnout. You can minimize this pressure by building and maintaining an emergency fund. That way, if something unexpected goes wrong, at least you have a little security based on your savings.
  12. Adopt a positive outlook. Do you expect things to go wrong most of the time? We often get what we expect. If you have a negative attitude, it will affect your freelancing work. Clients and prospects can sense when you are being negative and subconsciously respond accordingly. Stay positive by surrounding yourself with uplifting things and people.
  13. Pursue your passion. Freelancers who are passionate about what they do rarely suffer from burnout. That’s because their work doesn’t feel like work to them. Even if you can’t make a living (because of limited demand) doing what you are passionate about, make sure to work your passion into your life somehow. You can pursue your passion through a hobby or as a volunteer.
  14. Set goals and prioritize accordingly. You are more likely to feel as though you are making some progress if you are working towards some goals. So, set some goals for your freelancing business and then prioritize your workload to meet those goals. Monitor your progress regularly and celebrate when you reach a milestone.
  15. Try something new. If nothing else seems to work, it may be time for you to move on to something totally different. If you’ve been pursuing one particular type of freelancing, ask yourself if you have the skills or knowledge to freelance in a different field. In extreme cases, it might be time to move from freelancing to a different type of work in order to protect your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Your Turn

Have you ever suffered from burnout? How did you overcome it?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by Marcus Vegas

Comments

  1. says

    A nicely well-timed post here. I’m about to take a long weekend to visit a friend in France to take a well-deserved break from freelance life. A digital detox with no phone and no laptop so I can get a few days of sitting about and reading and everyone just leaves me alone!

    All the advice you gave was spot-on; especially dumping bad clients. I’ve dropped a few over the years and discovered that you don’t have to take on every project or client – some of them can be really detrimental to your business and your state of mind.

    The one thing I have learned that you haven’t covered is that sometimes you just fall out of love with freelancing for a short while. It’s not that you’re bored or want to change what you do, it just seems to naturally comes in waves like that and my interest returns if I go with the flow and not stress about it. The first time it happened I panicked; I thought I’d chosen the wrong career and was really worried. I thought I’d burned out whereas actually it was just the natural ebb and flow of freelancing that nobody had told me about!

    God I can’t wait for my break though…

  2. says

    Joanne Munro–Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad the post was helpful.

    Enjoy your vacation. And you’re right about moving in and out of freelancing–people do it all the time.

    Best wishes to you. :)

  3. says

    Getting out of the house is a great idea, but not very appealing in the UK at the moment! Roll on the summer when working for yourself suddenly takes on a whole new appeal! :)

  4. says

    Great tips in the article.

    Yes, I’ve burned out on freelancing. This was years ago, but it taught me an important lesson: never take a gig if it’s a long project, and you have doubts about it.

    The project was a book. The editor was new, and didn’t understand the area. (It was quite techy.) He was no help at all.

    Instead of giving back the advance when I realized I HATED the project, I struggled with it for months. I ended up having surgery — I’m sure that the stress brought on the medical emergency.

    Although I completed the project, it taught me that if my intuition was saying NO about a project, pay attention. :-)

    Angela

  5. says

    Great list Laura. For me, it works to check on my goals regulary. If what I’m doing isn’t going to get me there, probably time to take it off my list before I reach the burnout stage.

    I think it’s also good to be working on something entirely different on the side like personal projects to keep the creativity going.

  6. says

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  7. Richy says

    Thanks, I really needed to read something like this, feeling like I am on course for a head explosion – I worked out my hours last week at 74 hours..

    I think the biggest problem is over commitment. Having regular clients who have come to expect quick delivery, I find some weeks can go quiet and then from out of the blue, many projects land at the same time.

    So yes, vacation sounds good,,,

    • Ginnie MacPherson says

      I can definitely relate to this article, thanks for posting.!

      This helps to see that I’m not the only one with these freelance issues, part of the gig and not to self-blame for living such a weird solo life consumed by:

      “Is this design looking good?, it’s taking forever to get right, loosing profit. When to make time to earn new skills? Shoot this client needs something I haven’t learned to do. What new skills are coming up now in web design? Can’t keep up! Oh no, have to update my software! Oh darn why did I bid too low? Oh no, my own branding is way past a face lift. Where to get time for that? Gotta get paid so I can pay that bill. shoot another bill for something. Why do i keep bidding too low? Dang I made a mistake and have to fix it for free. Taking forever. Eeeks, car’s too old to give a decent impression, Client will think I’m not any good. Must maintain composure! Must keep going, get through it. Dang insomnia, I’m a zombie. Coffee, more coffee!! Hey were did all my friendships go?”

      Yup, I think I’m in burn-out mode right now!! But there is the joy of design and pleasing the client. Now that can be a lovely rush! : ) And doing something you generally love to do…

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