Being a freelancer can be taxing. Whether you’re getting caught up in work for clients, or figuring out how to get even better at what you do, it’s not uncommon for freelancer burnout to set in. This is especially true during this time of year, when *everything* seems to be go-go-go!
It’s important to make a plan for breaks. Not just vacations or taking the weekend off (although that’s super important, too!), but also smaller breaks throughout your work day.
Your brain needs to rest between tasks. And if you fail to give your brain those breaks, you’ll find yourself barreling down Freelancer Burnout Highway in no time. (Don’t believe me? Ask the pros.)
But if you’re used to constantly moving from one task to the next, it can be hard to figure out how to structure your day to include breaks. So, here are some tips for you, taken from my own experience.
1. Schedule Mini-Breaks on Your Digital Calendar
If your calendar includes a reminder to take a break, you’re far more likely to actually take it. So, schedule some time to breathe!
If you’re a pen-and-paper kind of person, I want to encourage you to take this one online. Your digital calendar can send you a reminder to take a break at the appointed time.
Personally, I schedule three, 10-minute periods to take a break throughout my day. As a bonus tip, try lining these breaks up with the times when your energy naturally dips. (Track your time for a few weeks to discover your personal rhythms. You’ll probably find a pattern for the most productive parts of your days.)
I don’t recommend using these breaks to scroll Instagram or check email. Instead, take time away from your desk! Here’s what my mini-break usually looks like:
- 45-second plank
- 25 push-ups
- 25 squats
What you do with these 10 minutes is less important than where you do it. Getting out of your chair and away from your computer is the most important part. Give your brain a true break from the work you’re doing.
Here are a few other activities to consider:
- Reading (not for work!)
- Listening to music (not multitasking)
- Calling a friend
- Walking around the block
- Snuggling with a pet
The list is endless. Just make sure you take time away from work throughout the day so you can avoid freelancer burnout.
2. Establish a Routine for Your Workday
Many people use their commute into work as their transition into their workday. But… freelancers don’t typically have a commute to rely on.
And yet, it’s still important to have some kind of routine to get you into work mode when you sit down at your desk. Routines keep us grounded and productive, and help us avoid freelancer burnout.
Whatever routine you come up with for yourself, make sure you incorporate some elements of self-care. Do one or two things you enjoy, so you can enter your workday feeling energized and ready to take on your day!
I have found a way to incorporate a little commute into my own routine on Mondays and Fridays. I get up a bit earlier, and head out to a local coffee shop for my morning caffeine. I take a walk around the block and then spend about half an hour reading the paper before sitting down at my desk.
On the other days, I make my own coffee and listen to a podcast while I “travel” around my house getting ready. Then I take a look at the to-do list I prepared the day before, and figure out my priorities for my workday.
3. Don’t Let Your Routine Become a Rut
As important as routines are for our happiness, variety is the spice of life! Remember that you don’t have to go through the exact same motions every day—after all, you’re not a robot!
When I’m anticipating a particularly challenging day, I make sure to give myself an extra dose of self-care. You may think that the busier you are, the less time you have to “waste” on self-care. But instead, you’ll be able to tackle those mentally taxing days more easily if you take a few more minutes to make sure your needs are met.
Another way to shake up your routine is to occasionally go out to lunch (or bring it home). I like to do this on Wednesdays.
Lastly, I like to have different beverages available. Throughout the day, I change things up between hot (coffee or tea) and cold (ice water), which refreshes my daily routine and gives me something to look forward to.
Maybe you’re like me and you feel like you have to leap into action as soon as a client emails, texts, messages, or sends any notification whatsoever. If so, this tip might be the hardest to follow. But it’s also one of the best ways to avoid freelancer burnout.
It’s time to de-condition ourselves from the impulse to immediately respond to every ding, beep, or buzz.
Instead of making yourself available to all the channels all the time, schedule specific times to check and respond to your notifications.
Just like with the brain breaks I mentioned earlier, you can schedule reminders on your digital calendar to check in. For myself, I’m trying to unplug for most of the day so I can do focused work. I check my notifications and emails only three times each day: when I first get to work, at around lunchtime, and lastly at around 4 p.m.
Other than that, my settings are configured so all communication platforms and apps are shut down. I put my phone in a different room so it won’t distract me (although I turn the volume up so I won’t miss important calls).
Does this feel too radical to you? At the very least, set a hard-and-fast time when you STOP working for the day. If your work time ends up bleeding into your regular life, you’ll be heading for freelancer burnout quickly.
Take care of yourself and set a regular “shut down” time. And make sure you’re getting as much sleep as you need.
5. Saying “No” to Too Much Work is Saying “No” to Freelancer Burnout
It is so hard to do, but one of the most effective ways to take care of ourselves is to learn when to say “no.”
Maybe you have too much work on your plate and you need to say no to an additional project. Or perhaps a client is asking you to deliver work faster than reasonable. Or maybe they are trying to push some other boundary.
Whatever the specific issue is, the key is that you need to say “no” sometimes in order to avoid freelancer burnout.
What’s the last thing you’d choose to do for fun? For me, it’s grocery shopping. So if I end up thinking I’d rather go to the grocery store than take on a particular project, that’s how I know I need to say “no.”
Some of these self-care tips might feel like they’re slowing your progress. However, that’s only short-term thinking. In the long run each of these five tips will actually increase your productivity and give you the energy you need to succeed.
And that energy is the real antidote to freelancer burnout.
Your turn! How do you build self-care into your routine?