How To Balance Freelancing With A Full-Time Job Without Burning Out

It is possible to effectively balance your full-time job with freelancing – without going insane or burning out. I do it, and in this post, I’ll tell you how you can, too. Many of us begin freelancing while we are still employed in full-time jobs.

Here are some requirements and tips for staying sane while working the 9-5 and freelancing on the side.

  • Get help from others
  • Calculate your total work and billable hours
  • Become an efficiency ninja
  • Take care of yourself
  • Write blog posts in advance
  • Keep your two jobs separated
  • Take mini vacations

Get Help From Others

If you’re single, this might be tough, but there’s no way I could do what I do if it wasn’t for my wife. I take freelancing very seriously as a business, and she helps me run that business so I have time to work. She handles the bills, the accounts, and the paperwork.

She will help me manage regular recurring services for clients, and she’s learning new skills so that we can branch out into more various Internet-based income streams. I make plenty of money to feed and support my family, but I can take the time required to do that because of all the work she does. If the people in your life are understanding and capable, they can help you out.

If your earnings justify it, you could hire a virtual assistant to perform routine chores and tasks for you. Even if this puts a squeeze on your profits, freeing up the time and preventing the hassle of doing everything yourself can put you in a position to earn more than you could alone.

This will eventually increase your profitability and give you more financial room.

Calculate Your Total Work And Billable Hours

You need to know exactly how many billable hours you have to spend freelancing every month. Otherwise, you are in danger of accepting more work than you can handle, which can lead to nasty problems such as missed deadlines and dissatisfied clients who want their money back.

Number of available freelancing hours each month – number of hours per month running the business = total billable hours.

If your services are sold as packages or bundles, rather than hourly, you should still know how many hours it would take to complete the tasks in your packages.

For example, let’s say a logo design package usually takes 8 hours, and you have a total of 60 available billable hours in a month. That means you could design about 7 logos a month. If you have several services that take different amounts of time, keep a running total of how many of your available hours you’ve already booked, so that when faced with a new project, you will know if you can accept it or not. If you don’t have enough time left in your monthly hours, you will need to turn down the work or schedule it for next month if the client isn’t in a hurry (but take their money now, to reserve a slot!).

Make sure you leave time to spend with your friends and family and run household errands. Be sure to subtract the number of hours you spend building and maintaining your freelance business. In other words, this needs to include only billable hours. Why? the time needed for other activities is fairly constant.

You can’t just accept everything that comes your way without knowing whether or not you have the time to do it.

Many freelancers have a starvation complex when it comes to accepting new work: they take everything, no matter what, because they never know when the clients and the money will dry up. But you see, understanding your client/work load can help you choose which clients to accept. You can be choosier. You can choose to work with clients that are going to make your portfolio look great to future clients (always be thinking ahead, right?). You can choose clients that you know you’re going to get along with easily.

Become An Efficiency Ninja

When you are working full-time and freelancing, you have very little extra time for anything but that which is important. That’s why when calculating client/work loads above, I said to leave time for family and friends. When I get home from the 9-5 job, I spend time with my family before settling into my home office to work on my business. Because of this you need some tools:

  • Feed reader that lets you star or favorite items for later reading
  • Email that allows for rules-based automation
  • Client information database
  • Task management that can be integrated with email and calendar
  • Idea capture/management tools (make good use of your commute if you have one)
  • Invoicing with templating/recurring capabilities
  • Accounting/budgeting
  • Software to do your work (know it well and use keyboard shortcuts)

Take Care Of Yourself

If you’re working the number of hours it takes to work full-time and freelance, you’ve simply got to take care of your health. You need stamina and clarity. Getting sick means now you can’t work two jobs, not just one. This is especially true for those of us no longer in our 20s. I will admit this is the area in which I need the most improvement. In spite of my own shortcomings, here are some tips that aren’t too hard to implement:

  • Keep off the junk food
  • Don’t overdo the caffeine
  • Go easy on the alcohol
  • Get your energy from healthier food and vitamins (especially B vitamins)
  • Consume less sugar
  • Drink plenty of water (or better yet, green tea)
  • Take breaks and stretch and go for a short, brisk walk (especially pay attention to your “mouse arm” to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome) or check in with your kids
  • It’s worth spending the money to have a nice monitor (or two) and an ergonomic chair
  • Get adequate rest and even take short naps to recharge so you can do your best in the later part of the day
  • None of this should be construed as medical advice–if you’re not sure about something, consult your doctor

Write Blog Posts In Advance

Many freelancers use the WordPress blogging system for their sites, because blogs are a great way to market your business and because of all the additional functionality available to the WordPress platform. In WordPress, you can set the publish date of posts into the future.

Take advantage of this by writing posts in advance. I write all my posts over the weekend and set them to publish throughout the next week. This has the added benefit of batching my writing tasks so I can get into a groove and be really productive. If something with a client suddenly blows up and you need to spend all your time dealing with it, it’s nice to know your main marketing efforts won’t suffer in the meantime.

Keep Your Two Jobs Separated

You will be tempted to work on freelancing tasks during your 9-5 job. This is not a good idea, and could lead to trouble on the job. You’re not being paid by the company to work on your own freelance projects during work hours!

Your boss would have every right to be upset with you if you were caught. Don’t use your company email address for your freelancing work. If you’re lucky enough to work someplace where the word “break” actually means something, checking emails or feeds related to your freelance work shouldn’t present too much of a problem.

Take Mini Vacations

You have to pace yourself or you’ll burn out. Think marathon, not sprint. If you work a full-time job and you get vacation days, consider only taking a few at any one time, spaced throughout the year, instead of two weeks at once. I like to add extra vacation days onto holidays or weekends.

The point here, though, is to make sure that you do not use your vacation time to do freelance work. If you don’t give yourself a real break once in a while, you will burn out, my friend, and it won’t be pretty. If vacation days aren’t a luxury you have on your job, you still need to take breaks in your freelancing for the same reason. I do get vacation days, but even so, I can only stand to come home and then work another 4 or 5 hours for so many days in a row! Sometimes I want to dine out with my wife or spend more time with my family–maybe even watch a little television.

You Can Achieve A Balance Between Job And Freelancing

You can achieve a balance between a full-time job and freelancing. You don’t have to burn yourself out. Just remember these basic points:

  • Nobody can do everything alone–get help from somebody, somehow
  • Know how much work you can realistically do in a month, and don’t exceed that
  • Get and use the tools you need to work efficiently, because time is precious
  • Take care of your health so that you have more energy and clarity for tackling freelance projects
  • Write blog posts in advance to give yourself breathing room throughout the week and in case of client emergencies
  • Don’t get caught working on freelance stuff at your full-time job, or you’ll be completely solo a little faster than you wanted
  • Take mini vacations in order to recharge and stay sane–think marathon, not sprint

Got any tips of your own for maintaining the balance between a full-time job and freelancing? Let’s hear ‘em in the comments!

Michael

******

About the author: Michael Martine is a blog consultant and coach for freelancers. He is also the creator of Gateway Blogging, a new way to do business blogging that gets you more clients.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great article, Michael! As someone who is also balancing a full time job with freelancing, you’ve got some great advice. I’m averaging at least 60 hours a week now… with a husband and two year old, so it is VERY difficult, lol.

    My best tip is to try to work when everyone else is sleeping (especially the kids if you have them). It’s tough, but I’m up at 4am most mornings to get in some work time before my daughter is up and I have to work my day job, too. I am lucky enough to work at home w/ flexible hours for my full-time job, too, which helps me balance work/family better than I could if I worked straight 9-5.

    Of course, on the other end of the spectrum – I’m often up very late, too. And my sleep does suffer greatly (average 4-5 hours a night lately).

    That’s where I need to really pay attention to the “Take care of yourself” info. Something I admit that I’ve put last in the pecking order of things to do.

    Definitely great information on calculating your time and billable hours. Not to jinx things, but I’ve just started seeing an increase in freelance work over the last month, or so, and I can see where scheduling is VERY important. I’m handling things just fine at the moment, but it could get rough if I don’t properly estimate how long projects will take, and schedule them accordingly.

    Anyway, thanks for the great article! I always love reading posts from other people juggling both a full-time and freelance career. Makes me feel not quite as alone. ;)

  2. says

    Excellent post, Michael. This is exactly how you have to do it. It’s especially important to take those mini-vacations, even if it’s just half a day sitting back and watching TV. Otherwise you start to resent the whole situation and your work on both sides suffers.

  3. says

    Nice article by the author. When you come to calculation for time period, you may calculate approximate time to that job. You cannot calculate exact time period. B’se some time it will take more or less time that you planned. Isn’t it? Even though as author said it is recommended :)

  4. says

    Great post…these tips are sure to come in handy soon. I’m going to be going back to school with a grad assitantship position…but still want to keep up my freelancing! five classes a week + 20 hours of my grad assistantship work won’t leave me much time, so I better be efficient. Thanks!

  5. says

    Even though your wrote this post from the standpoint of having a job on the side, I found many great tips for being a full time freelancer myself.

    My biggest problem is the health aspect. Sitting down all day and not getting out enough has taken some toll. It is my priority in the near future to get back on track with my fitness levels.

  6. says

    Very useful article. Keeping the jobs seperated works the other way around as well, don’t be tempted to do dayjob work in freelance hours too. Especially if you work in a place where ‘break’ doesn’t mean a thing ;)

    I really need to work on blocking and planning time to do freelance work. Not only is necessary to do this for the reasons you provided, but also to know how much time is left to do other side projects (like renovation projects of the house).

  7. says

    Keeping the work separated in subject area can help, too. I try to take on outside projects that let me explore things I might not see in my day job, and it makes the evenings a lot more fun (not to mention, it gives me more valuable experience).

  8. says

    Lot of great comments, everyone! I’d like to touch on a few things some of you have mentioned.

    When it comes to calculating how much work you can do in a month, you are likely to overestimate this, rather than underestimate it, so err on the conservative side. In my own example, this means I can work about 3 hours a night maximum.

    Taking proper care of your health and body is super-important. The irony of this post was as I was writing it, I had the super-flu (which is trying to stage a comeback). Over the past few months, I had been making a concerted effort to eat better and to take breaks, but people get the flu anyway. I like to take play breaks with my granddaughter (which usually consist of running around the house with my arms outstretched pretending to be an airplane!).

    Depending on where you work, you may have signed a non-compete form and/or a non-disclosure agreement. I have signed a non-compete, for example, which means that I cannot freelance doing the same thing that I do for my full-time job. I cannot compete with my own employer. Good thing they’re not blog consultants. ;)

  9. says

    Excellent post, Michael! I moonlighted for about 2 years. Worked nights and weekends while holding a full-time, quota-carrying sales job. I know the pain all too well.

    To you point of keeping track of your available hours, I developed an extremely helpful spreadsheet that allowed me to not only track my available hours, but also visually see how the projects were spread out on a calendar. That way, I could tell when I would have the bandwidth to start a new project and when I could promise a draft by.

    I treated my schedule somewhat like a production plant schedule. There are only so many hours available in the week (capacity). So I planned accordingly.

    Something else that helped me was that I always (and I still do this) added 20% to every project time estimate. That gave me a cushion in case it took longer than anticipated or if an emergency came up (we all get ill sometimes).

    Sure, you’ll decrease your capacity this way. But you don’t want to be running full throttle every day. Everyone needs a cushion.

  10. says

    Although I am no longer having a full time job, I must say that the tips here are extremely helpful even for myself (a WAHM). Planning and being productive and efficient helps me to make sure that I can get all my tasks done, on top of being a parent to my young kids!

    Thanks for sharing,
    Evelyn

  11. says

    Great tips here Michael.
    I find juggling a day job, freelancing and social life a constant challenge so I will be sure to follow your advice. I think the biggest lesson I have learned is not to say yes to every single job that comes my way, pick the jobs you want to do. I freelance because I enjoy the creative freedom and don’t want it to feel like a chore.

  12. says

    Thank you for reinforcing most of what I believed was right!

    “You can’t just accept everything that comes your way without knowing whether or not you have the time to do it.”

    I think that makes a lot of sense, especially for beginner like me. I’m trying to kick off a web design freelancing service, and getting the best of the tips here!

    Thanks Mike and Jonathan!

  13. says

    All good advice. I am dating a medical resident, so it’s nice that my freelance work is a bit more flexible than his work hours. Of course, since he’s working 80 hour weeks, it’s tempting for me to do the same when he’s not around.

    Still, what some people don’t realize about writing is that longer hours don’t necessarily equal more output or higher quality. In fact, after a point, your quality and productivity will start to diminish. I generally write in blocks of 2 or 3 hours at a time for this reason.

  14. says

    @ Ed – there’s an old programmer’s joke that says when you’re done with the first 90%, it’s time to start the next 90%! It’s quite amazing how poor we are at estimating task durations.

    @ Evelyn – I’m glad you found them useful for your situation, even though it’s different than that of a full-timer/freelancer.

    @ Nathski and Zakman – Exactly! Otherwise, there’s no more “free” in freelancing, is there? You’re just a new kind of wage slave. :( Also, being picky builds a better portfolio/client list! :)

    @ Susan – So true! We have “peak times” when we should be doing our main work, and then other activities at other times when we’re not our best.

  15. says

    You don’t need to have a full-time job and be freelancing to find these tips useful. I am a full-time freelance editor and indexer, but I am also a full-time mommy to an infant who stays home with me. These tips are great for me too!

  16. says

    I also do have a day job and while freelancing and I do forget some of the stuffs like being attentive to diet and some exercise.

    But what if in some cases such as the client needs you for emergency situations?

    There was once when my client accidentally deleted files and the back-up/restoration system was not yet implemented, he rushed to me to restore it since it’s very urgent and not attending to it would be a great loss of his potential sales.

    Any suggestions regarding such case?

  17. says

    Great article Michael! I juggle a full time job with freelance writing and a 5-year old.. must remember to take those power naps and mini vacations.. i do get burnt out sometimes :P

  18. says

    Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I to find It truly useful & it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

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  23. Mosh says

    In my own experience freelancing whilst working a full-time job, I burned out and crashed in 10 months… And you’re right, it’s not pretty!

    The problem for me was working in Asia, it seemed to be the norm to have ridiculous hours. I worked on average 9-9pm, and when there’s pitching to do, my colleagues and I frequently stay overnight in office, and continue work the next day.

    Needless to say, by the time I get home (if I even do get home), I’m completely knackered and a mug of coffee just keeps me awake till adrenaline takes over. Even weekends were taken up by work. All these whilst I adjusted and acclimatized to a new country. But I always thought if others could do it, I could too! Wished I had read this post then!

    10 months later I broke down and became a mess. Not only lost jobs I was working on, but lost a good chunk of my health as well.

    I hope everyone here never underestimate the importance of rest and the ability to slow down!

    • Ryan Domm-Thomas says

      Working, both freelance and fulltime, can be a blessing and a curse and we really appreciate you sharing your experience. You are right though, realizing that taking care of yourself is probably one of the most important things and is too often forgotten in our pursuits.

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