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How to Avoid Burnout as a Freelancer

There are a whole bunch of compelling reasons people are flocking to freelancing. It offers flexibility, autonomy, and a self-made lifestyle that most 9-5s don’t offer. You can set your own schedule, choose your rates, and decide what kind of work you take on and what you say no to.

As awesome as it is, the freelancing lifestyle poses a lot of challenges too. Greater autonomy requires greater self-discipline (and setting your own schedule can be tough). No boss means no benefits. And being solo-dolo means you’re the one responsible for everything. Yes, everything.

When freelancers first start out, they often have a tough time managing their client work and operating the business side. Figuring out pricing and workload can be tough too. The overwhelm of figuring it all out can lead to taking on too much work at once and losing track of your days while you stress over unrealistic deadlines. (Cue diving headfirst into avoidant mode by compulsively editing your logo in Canva for an hour while you watch the clock tick. Oh, just us? K.)

Too much work and not enough time or focus is a recipe for burnout. When you don’t have balance, your whole being suffers, and so does your work. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some freelancer-backed tips on how to avoid burnout, from setting boundaries to taking vacay.

When you don't have balance, your whole being suffers, and so does your work.

1. Spend time scoping out your work.

Some of us think we’re really good at estimating how long tasks will take us to complete. Some of us don’t estimate at all (screaming emoji). Some of us tend to think we’re speedier than we actually are.

And most of us don’t actually account for the proofreading, the research, the Google troubleshooting rabbit holes, or the mental blocks that take up precious time. So when you’re planning out your next project, be sure to spend some time realistically scoping out your tasks and then add some additional cushion. If you think it’s going to take you 30 min, give yourself an hr. Give yourself room for creative thinking without being rushed to deliver.

2. Give yourself room on your deadlines.

That leads us to the next biggie: Be generous with your ETAs. It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver to your clients. If the date you’re typing up is sending a shiver down your spine, it’s probably too soon. If you’re scrambling to move other commitments around so you can make the deadline you set for yourself, it’s definitely too soon. Give yourself a break. And if a client asks for an unreasonable deadline, push back.

3. Book time for yourself.

Building healthy habits into each workday ensures you’re doing the big and little things for yourself that keep you healthy and happy. And when you’re thriving, so is your work. Try adding events to your calendar for you-time. Schedule a walk. Carve out time to read or listen to your favorite podcast. Pick up the phone to chat with a friend rather than clocking another 30 minutes. Plan your work days around your meals and workouts rather than the other way around.

4. Keep tabs on your moods.

Watching out for common signs of burnout can help you get ahead of a total meltdown. If you’re experiencing more stress and irritability than usual, you’re having trouble sleeping, or you’re having nightmares about projects and clients, you may be pushing too hard. As difficult as it is to step back when you’re on a roll, it’s the best thing for you (and your loved ones). Take a beat to rest and identify what’s causing you stress or anxiety. Just checking in with yourself regularly can make a huge difference.

5. Take a vacation already!

When you don’t have paid vacation time and sick leave, the idea of taking time off can be scary. You’re the only person steering this ship. Will it crash when you step away? Answer: Probably not. Unless you’re doing life-saving work, chances are, you can stand to take a few days off for yourself. We’re all human, and we need time to rest and recharge, especially when we’re wearing multiple hats and supporting ourselves financially. If you have the means, be sure to take the time you need.

We know how tough it can be to prioritize yourself when you have a million and one tasks to cross off your list, both professionally and personally. But the best way to keep your business afloat is to nourish the person running it (You!). Once you understand how to avoid burnout as an entrepreneur, you can put the self-care practices into place that will support you for many years to come. So open up that calendar app and schedule the massage. You earned it.


About the AuthorSamantha is co-founder of Harlow. Previously she was a marketing and demand gen freelancer. She enjoys traveling, connecting with new people, spending time with her dog Karl, and throwing back an extra dirty martini every now and then.

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