Sooner or later, it happens. The brain shuts down and you can’t do anything – not literally of course. You’re still capable of doing stuff but you brain resists any attempt at doing any more work for which you expect to get paid. There are many lessons to learn as a new freelancer and attitudes you need to change, but dealing with burn-out when snowed under with work is one of them.
It begins with procrastination and ends in wasting time watching Netflix or playing video games all day when you have lots of work to do. For me, the last 18 months has been a relentless surge of clients. Not that I’m complaining, but the last October-December was the busiest and most stressful ever. At times, I came close to burn-out and simply stopping for a few weeks (not possible, but I did give myself a half day or full day off here and there). Thankfully, things are easing off now and I want to share with you how I cope with it.
Give Yourself a Cut-Off Time
As you’re not limited to the hours or days you work, the world is your oyster. This creates a problem of its own – you don’t know how and when to stop. While you love the flexibility of getting household chores sorted out and starting work at 1pm on some days, that doesn’t mean you must work through until 9pm to make up for it. No matter what hours you work, make sure you watch the clock. Your self-imposed flexitime should be about making shorter days when necessary. Your brain and body will thank you for those half days.
Say ‘No’ Unless You Really Can’t
Three days before Christmas, I received an email for urgent work from a semi-regular client asking if I could turn around two pieces of work in 48 hours. I was already at maximum capacity as it was Christmas week. I tried to fit them in but ultimately decided I could not. Had it been a client I’d never done work before it would have been a flat no but I wanted to try to accommodate a previous client. As tempting as the extra money is, sometimes you need the breathing space more than you need the extra cash especially during your hectic period.
Plan Your Week Ahead
Every Friday afternoon the last job I do is to look at my schedule for next week and tot up the number of expected work hours. Next week is 20 hours. This week was 22. Most of the last five months or so has been in excess of 25 hours. You will quickly learn what your capacity for a good week is and what you can realistically achieve. I feel that my capacity for a week where I can work at optimum performance is 25. More than that is “busy”. Less than 20 hours is “quiet”. If I’m already at 25, I won’t apply for more work and will refuse anything extra until the end of the week looms and I think I might be able to manage it. If it’s less than 20 I know I can either adjust the workload for the clients where I have flexible working arrangements or prod a few old contacts.
I am the biggest hypocrite going here because I don’t take the advice as often as I ought. Once I’ve established the habit of closing my laptop for my lunch hour, I slip right back out of it. It’s not healthy to do and I don’t recommend working through a lunch break in which you need to wind down. But Facebook creeps in and so does housework. Luckily, I run 2-3 times per week and I climb at the local centre about once every 2-3 weeks so I do disconnect during the day, I just wish I could stick to doing it more often. But don’t listen to me: take time off during the day.
Your weekends are your own. Don’t ever let a client coax you into doing “just one small job” on a Saturday. Everybody else gets time off and you need and deserve it as much as they do. Your home might be your workplace but you need to “do” weekends. That means meeting up with friends, going out for meals, spending time vegging out, gardening and anything else you would do if you were in a “normal” job. So, do your weekends and you will come back happier and more ready to go on Monday when you get to laugh at people on the commute in the driving rain and roaring wind.