Do you ever feel stressed by your workload? Are you thinking business 24/7, unable to disconnect? Has freelancing taken complete control over your life? Do you have so much going on that you feel paralyzed?
Being a freelancer is a lot of hard work and it’s not uncommon to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Unfortunately for you, being a freelancer requires you to actually be able to work all the time, otherwise, there’s no income.
I’ve experienced major burnouts were catching up, getting back on track and actually earn a living has been incredibly hard, but it has also taught me some valuable lessons that have helped me cope with the stressful environment freelancing can be at times and thereby preventing a complete burnout from happening again.
Today I’ll give you my best and most simple advice on how to maintain a healthy freelance career and avoid burnout.
Plan your way out of the multitask hell
Whereas normal employees have a pretty easy day going just doing the things they’ve been hired to do, you as a freelancer don’t have that easy a schedule. Being a freelancer is taking both the role of the employee and the employer. You need to do the work required to bring in money, but you also got a business to run with all the responsibilities that come along with it.
With so many things to do it’s easy to get overwhelmed and get caught in what I like to call the multitasking hell.
One second you might be working for a client when you get an email with an invoice that’s overdue which makes you go online to pay it, but as you’re about to pay that invoice another client calls you to talk about his new project, which you need to take notes for so you minimise all your browser windows to open a note-taking program. You take your notes and when the call is done you skim through some previous notes from another job you’re doing and you spot something that you quickly need to follow up on…. You know the drill right? Add in some social media and web browsing and you’re destined to get burned out.
The problem with this multitasking hell is that you don’t really get anything done. You might actually work for 8-10 hours, but the combined efficient output of those hours might only be 2-4 hours.
The cost of multitasking hell
According to Gerald M. Weinberg’s popular book: Quality Software Management: System Thinking, he proposed a rule of thumb describing the loss of effective working time when switching between tasks.
Now, try to think about all the different tasks you work on, on a daily basis and imagine all the time you waste just on switching between different tasks, taking client calls, answering emails…
Try to make a simple math example and calculate the time you loose on a monthly basis and imagine spending all that time doing something else as making more money or spending more time with your family.
Let’s get into how you can optimize your work and business to create more freedom.
- Only check emails 1-2 per day and not in-between other assignments. I check my e-mails before I start my day and by the end of the day where I follow up on tasks if needed.
- Create a voicemail and turn off your phone. I get that this may not work in certain niches or that you might feel strange about doing this, but having random phone calls during the day will destroy your productivity and always catch you off guard. When I take on clients I tell them that to stay super productive I’m not taking any “not super duper important calls”. If it’s really serious they can call me on my Skype number but I will charge them extra for that and so far no one has complained. If a new potential client calls me they will go to voicemail where they’ll be asked to leave a message or send me an email and I’ll get back to them asap. If there’s a call I need to respond to, I’ll do this as the very first thing the next day before starting anything else.
- Use a calendar and block out focused time to work on single projects at a time. Sometimes you’ll have assignment overlapping, especially when starting out with, but as you get used to planning out your time you’ll quickly learn to make it work. What’s important is that you block out as much time as you can for each task so that it doesn’t have to be split up between other tasks or days if not necessary. Here’s an example of my calendar.
- Update your calendar every evening. As you will hopefully get new clients on board all the time you will have to update your calendar. I do this every evening so I know exactly what I’ll be working on the next day. It normally doesn’t even take 5 minutes.
- Block out time to do all the business things. Unfortunately, we do need to keep up with accounting, invoices, marketing and so on. As with everything else I block time for this. Some things I block time for each week whereas accounting/bookkeeping, for example, is only blocked in once a month in my case.
The obvious 3 golden rules
I can’t write a post on dealing with freelancing stress and burn out without touching on this subject so please bear with me.
As you might have guessed it’s our good old friends: Sleep, eat and exercise.
I’m not an expert in health nor do I pretend to be. But as you are well aware of there are some serious benefits to eating healthy, exercising daily and getting a good nights sleep.
Instead of preaching about something I’m not an expert or perfect in, I’ll tell you what I do:
- I sleep a minimum of 7 hours. I personally don’t function at all if I don’t sleep at least seven hours. Sometimes I end up working till late in the night but if I don’t have any clock-sensitive assignments for the next day, I’ll sleep for 7 hours at least and just start my day later.
- I try to stay off sugar as much as possible. I always get so tired after having eaten a big junk meal or having had a lot of sugar. Therefore I try to maintain as constant a blood sugar level as possible to have energy all through the day.
- I’m not a veggie or meat person and I really do love pizza, burger, candy and cake. But as mentioned above, this will destroy my productive day, so I’m doing my best to eat as healthy as I possibly can. My breakfast is usually yogurt with fruits and for lunch, I’ll eat a veggie/chicken salad. Luckily my wife’s working from home as well so she’ll cook me something nice to eat most days.
- In regards to exercising, I used to go to the gym ideally every day as I am a guy who needs daily routines and not an every-second-day routine to make it work. Since I started traveling the world, going to the gym hasn’t been my go-to choice. Instead, I chose to follow a few exercises from The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. (Mainly some kettlebell swings, hip flexors and the stomach exercising that makes you look like a vomiting cat.)
- Meditation… It’s not a part of the 3 golden rules but most of the freelancers I’ve meet while traveling around the world has been meditating and they swear by it. Science is also loving meditation so I’m trying to do this for 10 minutes a day and so far I like it.
Remember you’re an employee in your own business
Being a freelancer you are constantly either working or thinking work. It’s just so hard not to be as you have so much weight and responsibility lies on your shoulders.
Yes, freelancing may give you a flexible schedule and more time off most other people, but
all employees need to unwind at some point and you are no different. You are an employee in your own company and you need to unwind. Both for your own sake, but for your family as well. They deserve some unconditioned attention from you, more than what you give them during a regular working day.
I know it’s stressful to leave work behind to just relax for a week or two, but remember that all your clients are taking time off as well. What you need to do is to plan ahead and prepare yourself to be offline for an entire week.
This is how I notify my clients and prepare for an offline vacation:
- I notify the relevant clients a month in advance as a bare minimum. With that timeframe, they are able to send over work they might need me to do for the time I’m offline and I will be able to get it done before taking time off.
- I set up an autoresponder and voicemail saying: 1) that I’m on vacation & 2) Which date I’ll be back in the office and that I’ll get in touch with them the same day as I’m back.
- I make sure to save ahead of time if needed. In my case I’ll be able to push most of that one week’s vacation in between the three previous week’s which doesn’t change the income I get by the end of the month, but if losing one week of income is a concern for you, just save up a few months in advance so you have enough saved up to cover that one week.
- If I need to send invoices or something similar that needs to arrive on a certain date in someone’s mailbox I will use Boomerang to schedule these emails.
Notice that your vacation doesn’t have to be a trip to Mexico or a romantic getaway to Paris. It just needs to be a no-working five-seven day off period. Don’t even think about checking your inbox on your phone!
I hope you can use some of these tips on avoiding a burnout. If you’ve used any of these or have some other tips to share I’d love to continue the conversation with you down below in the comment area.