How to Avoid Freelancing Burnout

How to Avoid Freelancing BurnoutHere at Freelance Folder, we’ve talked a lot about freelancing burnout, from the warning signs of burnout to balancing freelancing with a full-time job without burning out.

In this post, I’d like to explore the many ways we can avoid burning out in the first place.

Work burnout is a physical, mental and psychological state of exhaustion. The name says a lot about what it feels like. When you’re burnt out, you feel like a lamp running out of fuel and, thus, burn out. When you’re burnt out, you don’t have the energy to keep going.

As you can imagine if you’ve never experienced it before, it’s no fun to experience freelancing burnout. It robs the joy and satisfaction out of doing your job, being with your loved ones… living your life.

But there’s more. To a freelancer, being burnt out may mean the quality of our work suffers. We’re not able to get as much done as we used to. It could lead to dissatisfied clients and a reduced income.

So it’s in our best interest–and that of our clients, family and friends–for us freelancers to avoid burnout.

Why Do We Get Freelancing Burnout Anyway?

Before we can avoid something, we first need to know what causes it in the first place–Overwork!

The most obvious cause of work burnout is overwork. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and Jill a dull girl.

We’re humans, not machines. We need to eat, rest, interact with others. We can’t work non-stop and have the same efficiency and freshness as when we started. It’s no wonder that being overworked leads to burnout.

However, work burnout may be caused by other, lesser known, factors, such as:

  • Misalignment of Work vs Values
  • Boredom
  • Lack of recognition
  • Negativity

It’s important that our values concerning work and life are aligned properly. Another funny thing about humans is we actually need to find value in what we do. No job, no matter how rewarding or prestigious, will be enjoyable if the person performing it thinks it’s worthless. If your work is not aligned with what you value in life, then you’re going to get burnt out. For example, when I was working in UNICEF, I was happy enough to be doing worthwhile work for the children of the world. I was well paid, was associated with a global brand, and my family enjoyed medical coverage. However, eventually, I experienced burnout because my heart was longing to be at home with my own children.

This can happen to freelancers as well. Maybe you’re freelancing in a field you’re not truly passionate about. Maybe you’d really rather be an employee. Either way, if there’s dissonance between what your heart wants and what your hands are doing, the result will be burnout.

Boredom causes burnout. The lack of variety and challenges in our daily lives can also be a cause of burnout. We can take a hint from our bones and muscles. When they’re used in the same way all the time, they get injured. Plus, they get stronger when stress is put on them. On the other hand, when they’re not used, then they get weak and wither away.

It’s the same thing with our intellect and skill. Doing the same activities day in and day out, never stretching ourselves through challenges, and being in a rut can lead to work burnout as well.

To freelancers, the temptation is strong to stick to what we know. It’s safe. Especially if you’re already happy with your income, why venture off to do something new, or seek other types of clients? But too much of this and ennui sets in.

Another common cause of work burnout is not receiving recognition and rewards for a job well done. Companies are aware of this, which is why most of them recognize employees with psychological and practical pats on the back.

As freelancers, we’re our own HR departments. There’s no one looking out for our emotional satisfaction other than ourselves. Clients may not always go out of their way to let us know we’ve done well. It’s up to us to recognize and reward ourselves, so we can stay motivated.

Negative people seem to suffer from burnout more. Studies on work burnout have found that certain personality types are more susceptible to burnout than others. More specifically, people who tend to be negative all the time also tend to experience job burnout more than those who are optimistic and positive. If your mental script is always made up of lines like, “I always get the short end of the stick,” “I’m not good enough,” or “Life is hard; deal with it,” then psychological fatigue is a natural consequence.

Freelancers with a negative mindset can easily burnout when they experience the usual challenges of freelancing: lack of clients, demanding deadlines, unreasonable clients, and isolation.

Now that we know the main causes of freelancing burnout, we can figure out ways to avoid burning out.

Nip the causes of burnout at the bud, and you’re more likely to avert freelancing burnout. In the following sections I’ll share some tips to help you avoid freelancing burnout.

Take Care of Yourself

Avoid exhaustion, not just of your body, but also of your mind and emotions. Get enough rest. Take vacations. Exercise regularly. Eat well. Spend time with people you love and whose company you enjoy.

You know the drill. Now do it.

Clarify Your Values

You’d expect it would be easy for people to know exactly what they want, but you’ll be surprised how clueless we can sometimes be. Many of us are still trying to live up to the should’s and must’s we’ve learned from our families and society. What are your must-dos and should-haves? Are they truly essential for your happiness? What are you really passionate about? What lights your fire? What legacy do you want to leave for your children and the world?

When you know what’s important to you, then you can design a life that encompasses those things. For instance, my children and husband are important to me. That means I can’t work all day and night. When they come home from school and work, I want to be available to them. That’s when I shut down my home office. Sure, this means limiting the number of clients I work with and, consequently, my income. But if there’s anything I’ve learned after 16 years of motherhood, it’s that children need our presence more than material stuff (assuming, of course, that their basic physical needs are already met).

Infuse Variety and Challenge into Your Work

Sure, even freelancers have a daily grind. But aim for some variety now and then. It can be as simple as changing your work environment. For example, I always work in my home office. But occasionally, I’ll move to the family room, my bed or even the front porch. I haven’t tried working in a coffee shop (I worry about WiFi security), but I just might, one of these days.

More drastic ways to add variety to your work include learning new skills and offering new services to your clients. Review the services you currently offer. Which ones don’t have any takers? Drop those and experiment with a new service offering. Or venture into a different market. Experiment with a different marketing strategy and see how it works compared to what you currently do. Change things up a little and keep things interesting.

Be Your Own Cheerleader

Take charge of your mental health, by being your own number one fan. Keep track of your successes and celebrate them. Reward yourself after completing a project and getting glowing feedback from your clients.

You don’t have to spend lots of money or time to do this. It can be as simple as getting a pedicure or buying that book you’ve been eying. Or even giving yourself Friday afternoon off to do whatever you please.

Also very important is to make sure you’re getting the respect you deserve. Work only with clients you like, and those who value you and respect you. Don’t take abuse from anyone–not even yourself. What’s the number one way freelancers abuse themselves? By charging too little! Charge what you’re worth. Or at least move closer to it.

Adopt a Positive Mindset

Since I began working for myself, I’ve learned that mindset is big. It’s even more important than how talented you are. Yes, there, I’ve said it. I’ve seen tons of talented people who never get recognized or achieve success, just because of their mindset.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen people who aren’t quite as talented or remarkable, but they’ve made it big simply because of their mindset. If you think you’re one of those people who have a negative attitude and are therefore more prone to burnout, then work on adopting a more positive outlook on life. I’m not big on the Law of Attraction, but if that’s what works for you, then go for it.

What helps me overcome my negativity is my faith. A simple way to overcome negativity is to end each day by listing everything you’re grateful for on that day. Can’t think of anything to be thankful for? Be grateful that you can see, hear and walk. We often take for granted the most basic things. But can you imagine if you were blind, hearing-impaired or couldn’t walk?

If you’re feeling down on your life, try to visit the nearest shelter for homeless people. Or, if you live in a big city, just walk around and be grateful you’re not one of those people who live on the streets or have to beg to buy a cup of coffee. I grew up in a developing country, where families live on garbage dumps and survive on one pot of rice every day (if at all). Pets in North America live much more comfortably than the poor in the Philippines do. So even though my life can be challenging at times, I know I have no right to complain.

Say Goodbye to Burnout

As you can see, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent freelancing burnout–much more than the usual advice to get plenty of rest and not get overworked.

What are you doing to avoid freelancing burnout? Share your takeaways in the comments below.

Image by khandu.rahul


  1. says

    Very inspring post, Lexi. And I totally agree about the mindset – whenever destructive, negative thoughts pop into my head, I made it a point to acknowledge them and then replace them with positive ones. And never work with clients who abuse you! I made that mistake and was miserable for a month.

  2. says

    I’ve found in the past that the of projects that really drain me are ones that don’t feel gratifying (chasing your tail while a committee changes its mind repeatedly, projects that you’ve advised against but the client wants anyway, creating endless variations of the same creative for use in different formats).

    Sometimes volunteering your services for a small business, charity, etc. that you really care about can turn that all around. You have a lot more control, no budget to worry about, and you feel good about what you’re doing.

  3. says

    Great advice for reviewing your career path, personal needs and business goals.

    In 1995, after 17 years as an independent designer, I hit a wall and was experiencing burnout. For all those years I had been taking on every design project that came my way – I thought that was what designer were expected to do. In discussing my situation with my sister, the owner of an ad agency and PR firm at the time, she said, “Why aren’t you doing what you enjoy most?” When I gave her a blank stare, she added, “Logo design.”

    It was a major “wake up” instant for me and I realized that often we need to give ourselves permission to do what we really want to be doing. These days, in presentations to business organizations, design groups and others I often make the statement, “It’s your business and you get to set the rules.” I always see stunned looks on the faces of audience members as they experience a similar “light bulb” moment.

    For me, part of my mindset change was adopting a “work less, charge more” policy/attitude. One of the immediate changes I made was to establish Monday through Thursday office hours of 8:00 to 5:00. My office is closed on Fridays and it is a day I allow myself to do as I please. Hey, it’s my business and I get to set the rules!

    • says

      I experienced burnout last December and I’m still coming out of it, but a big change for me was letting a long time client go. My mindset suddenly changed. I too changed my work hours to mon-Thursday and I’m closed on Fridays except if it’s a direct media booking. I go to the library and work for a few hours on my own writing, then have lunch ith my husband. Small changes and focusing on what you really want to do makes a huge difference!

      • Ryan Domm-Thomas says

        That is such a great idea to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work. And the lunch date with the hubby really must be a nice bonus too! Thanks so much for sharing Rachel.

  4. says

    For me, I really try to find ways to leverage my time and make more out of every project so that I do not have feel like I’m constantly working. So to remedy burnout and boredom I have started to create my own products. Since I am a freelance writer I decided to start creating PLR. This way I can sell my articles over and over again. I also just created a PLR membership site so that I could create recurring income.

  5. says

    Thanks for this important post, Lexi. As a freelancer who was also a full-time caregiver for my Dad for three years, I can vouch for everything you say. Burnout can happen even when we love what we’re doing (I loved my father more than anything.)

    When we’re working hard at an isolated task (like writing), it can be essential to find a group of colleagues who offer moral support. Writing groups (and caregivers’ support groups) can save our lives. Colleagues can become a source of external encouragement, praise, and reality-testing–so we don’t always have to do those things for ourselves.

  6. says

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone!

    @Lisa – Kudos for starting your own income-generating project.

    @Freya Shipley – My hat’s off to you for being your Dad’s caregiver. Not every parent is as blessed to have their own kin caring for them.

    Let’s keep taking care of our most precious resource — ourselves!

  7. says

    Burnout, the logical flip-side to the drive that makes every freelancer succeed.

    I like what you said about factors that lead to dissatisfaction and burnout. Avoiding these factors is supposed to be one of the benefits of freelancing. For the love of humanity, people, if you’re going to give up all the benefits of working for someone else, the one thing you had better give yourself is job satisfaction!

    I recently blogged my 4 tips for keeping balance in your freelance life. My tips are, in short, get a dog/kid, hang a bird feeder, find a non-desk hobby, and meet people IRL. You have given me the idea for one more:
    ask for feedback. It’s one way to find recognition.

    Me, I recently bought a tiara to reward myself on a job well done. Now I am sure to be presentable when the client unexpectedly Skypes me.

  8. says

    I was very nearly burned out last fall from taking on too much work from a major client. I made it one of my goals this year to replace that client’s work so I wouldn’t be so dependent on them and have to take EVERYTHING just to make money.

    Six weeks ago I got a part-time job that does just that. Consistent income and hours, and no more tidal waves! I’m not sure this will be good in the long run — it has its plusses and minuses. But I love knowing there’s a paycheck coming every two weeks, but I still have time and energy to run my freelance business.

  9. says

    I am near a burn out. This post has given new life to my writing spirit. I guess I’ll do some running for a while then meet up with friends and chat with them over a cup of my favorite frappe. I hope when I get back I’ll be all better again. Oh, how I hate it when burn out strikes. :(

    Thanks Lexi!

  10. says

    Great post. I think one of the hardest things I struggle with as a freelancer is staying positive, which is either caused by overworking, isolation or a lack of recognition. When things are going well and I can set my own hours, have more creative control, etc. freelancing is fantastic, but that has to be tempered with the bad side, just like in an other job. For me though, the good points outweigh the bad, it’s just a question of reminding myself of that when times are hard.

  11. Hammad Siddiqui says

    Its true that finding a new job or switching career can be very challenging. In my opinion, if someone adapts a logical process, things become eaiser. I guess most important thing is to find your potential. The artile is an excellent piece. My suggestions are

  12. says

    Agree that mindset is HUGE! Often the best and brightest work for someone else their entire life because they don’t adopt the mindset to go out on their own.

  13. says

    If you have to churn through a ton of work to make enough to survive and that can be pretty dispiriting..You may also be doing work you have no real interest in and that can sap your enthusiasm..Burnout is a serious issue for entrepreneurial writers. Burnout can cause some real damage to your health your head and your business and unfortunately some to the damage is done before youre even really aware..Heres what burnout looks like .Work burnout is a physical mental and psychological state of exhaustion.


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