Everything You Need To Know To Avoid Burnout as a Freelancer

It’s hard for freelance writers to turn down work, but too much stress can impact your health and productivity. Read on for tips to avoid burnout as a freelancer.

Freelancing comes with plenty of perks: You can choose your projects, set your own hours and work wherever you like. Yet the same flexibility that makes freelance writing an attractive career can put you at the risk of burnout if your workload and stress levels get away from you.

Burnout is more than the normal fatigue that comes with pushing yourself during a busy week and needing extra rest. Caused by prolonged stress that impacts the entire body, burnout is an emotional and physical exhaustion that won’t go away. It’s become so prevalent among workers that the World Health Organization now considers it a syndrome.

Let’s take a look at what this occupational phenomenon looks like for writers and how to avoid burnout as a freelancer so you can build a satisfying, thriving career.

What Is Writer Burnout?

A little stress or exhaustion is normal. Maybe you’ve taken on too many projects and are racing to meet deadlines. Or perhaps you’re struggling to meet the demands of a particularly difficult client. Occasional stress is a part of life, and most people bounce back and move on.

Burnout, however, occurs when the stress is so unrelenting you feel physical and mentally drained. Our bodies are built to handle pressure once in a while, but chronic stress impacts everything from the muscles and heart to the digestive, endocrine and nervous systems.

Why Freelancers Are Susceptible to Burnout

All workers are susceptible to burnout, but according to a study by IPSE, two in five freelancers report high levels of stress. It’s common for writers to feel obligated to be available around the clock — there’s no one to fill in when you need a day off, and dropping the ball can mean losing a valuable client.

Freelance writers can find it difficult to:

  • Turn down projects. Freelancing is unpredictable, making it challenging to say no when work is offered.
  • Establish a work-life balance. It takes effort to set clear boundaries when you don’t physically go into an office.
  • Take time off. When you’re paid by the word or project, downtime can seem like lost income.
  • Connect professionally with coworkers and colleagues. Writers often work in isolation without a network of support.

What Writer Burnout Looks Like

The World Health Organization characterizes burnout as follows:

Constant Feelings of Exhaustion

It’s normal to feel tired if you’ve stayed up late to meet a deadline or pitch in on a project. But if extra sleep doesn’t make you feel better and the exhaustion persists, you may be experiencing burnout.

Feeling Detached From Work

Sometimes, you might take on a job you don’t love just for the pay cheque, but if you’re consistently going through the motions, something else may be at play. When you’re burned out, you’re no longer energized by the writing process and take little satisfaction from your work.

Reduced Productivity

Writer’s block is normal, but if you’re easily distracted, lacking motivation or struggling to put words down on the page, burnout could be affecting the quality of your work. You may need to take time off to refresh your creative energies if your normally sparkling prose feels stuck or forced.

How To Avoid Burnout as a Freelancer

Fortunately, freelancers have more control over their workload and environment than most employees. Use the following tips to make sure your brain and body have regular opportunities to recover from work stress. When you’re at your best, you’re more creative, productive and engaged.

1. Create a Distinct Workspace

One of the biggest challenges for freelancers is to keep work life separate from personal activities. It’s hard to put aside thoughts of looming deadlines when you work in the same chair you’re trying to relax in or your client briefs are in plain view on the table beside you.

The best option is a designated office that you can close the door to or at least a desk in the corner of a room. Even if you’re short on space and write on your sofa, try to carve out a distinct work area — for example, use a table you can fold up when you clock out. Put away your notebooks and laptop in a cupboard, stop responding to email and signal to your mind the workday is done.

2. Manage Your Projects

Freelancing is notorious for being feast or famine. We’ve all had those days when projects are scarce and the bank account is low. That’s why it’s tempting to accept writing assignments when they’re offered, even if your plate is already overflowing. But if you continuously say yes to projects without a second thought, you run the risk of never taking a break.

As a freelancer, judge the amount of writing you can reasonably complete. Allow yourself time off or suggest alternate deadlines that fit your schedule. You can also expand your skills and marketability so there’s a steady flow of writing opportunities available when you need them.

3. Work Smarter

The easiest way to spend less time writing is to work smarter. Multitasking is a no-no — when it’s time to write, write. Don’t stop mid-blog post to make a dentist appointment, throw in a load of laundry or answer a text message. You’re interrupting your flow and stretching yourself thin.

If staying focused is a challenge, try the Pomodoro technique and work on a single task in blocks of time followed by short breaks. During a work block, tune out all distractions and concentrate on completing the set task before the timer goes off. This approach is great for writers who get easily distracted by the ping of notifications — most messages can wait until the work block is finished for a response.

Working smarter also means reducing interruptions. If you share your home with people who like to pop in any time, make your work hours clear and ask them to wait until you’re done.

4. Take Regular Breaks During the Day

It may seem like a good use of time to power through as much writing as you can, but regular breaks are important for refreshing your brain. Instead of working while gulping down a sandwich, take a real lunch break and walk around the block. Schedule your coffee breaks as if you were in an office. And don’t scroll social media during your break. Get up and stretch, walk on the treadmill or do something away from the screen.

5. Connect With Others

Freelancers tend to be more isolated than those in office environments. You may not be able to chat around the water cooler or spontaneously grab lunch with the coworker in the next cubicle, but you can make an effort to connect with others during the workday. Schedule coffee with a friend or call family members to check in.

It’s also helpful to make professional connections. Join writers groups and local business associations. If you’re able, consider a shared workspace with other freelance consultants.

6. Manage Your Finances

One of the biggest reasons freelancers push themselves so hard is to take advantage of work when it’s plentiful. A sound financial plan can go a long way toward relieving some of the stress that comes with the unpredictability of working as a consultant.

Yes, budgeting may be boring, but it’s essential. Build in savings for those slow times so you can better manage your workload.

7. Book That Vacation Time

While eight out of 10 freelancers want to take more days off than they currently do, it’s not always easy to book the time and get away. According to the above-mentioned IPSE study, 62% of freelancers worry they’re letting clients down if they go on holidays, and 60% are concerned about not having work in the future as a result.

While you want to be responsive and available to clients, it’s not realistic to work nonstop — in fact, 63% of those surveyed say taking time off improves their work performance. Budget for your vacation (see #6 above!) and let clients know ahead of time you’ll be away so they can plan around your holiday. You may also be able to complete some work before you go.

And when you’re away? Well, 58% of freelancers still check work-related email, and 30% work while on vacation. Check email first thing in the morning if you have to, but to thoroughly recharge, aim to disconnect from work completely.

8. Do Things You Love

While retiring to the sofa to binge-watch your favourite show seems like the ideal way to unwind — it requires very little effort, after all — finding engaging things to do in your time off is even better for keeping stress and burnout at bay.

According to Yale professor Laurie Santos, immersing yourself in an activity you love can put you into the flow and keep you present and involved. Try cooking, learning a new language or mastering a new sport to spark passion and energize yourself outside of work.

9. Practice Self-Care

Self-care is the easiest way to avoid writer burnout. Be mindful of how you’re feeling on a daily basis. Exercise regularly or practice meditation to relieve stress. You can’t be at your best if you start getting worn down.

Here’s What To Do If You Feel Burned Out

Despite our best efforts to manage stress, we can still hit the wall and burn out. If you’re feeling the effects of chronic stress, take steps to restore your well-being.

Figure Out Why You’re Burned Out

Are you taking on too many projects? Do you need to do something invigorating or restorative outside of work? Determine the source of your stress and take steps to remedy it.

Get Back to the Basics

When you’re rushing to meet deadlines, it’s easy to skip meals, drink too much coffee and sit at your desk all day. Prioritize your needs. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Exercise.

Take a Break

Cut back on your work commitments. If you’re severely burned out, a weekend won’t be enough for you to fully recover. It’s going to take some time for your physical and mental health to get back to normal.

Reach Out to Family and Friends

Connect with family and friends and let them know how you’re feeling. It’s natural to want to withdraw when you’re exhausted, but support is important. Make some fun plans together and do something you’ve always wanted to try.

Seek Professional Help

Burnout is specifically linked to work conditions, though it can affect other parts of your life and increase the risk of depression. Speak to your doctor or a health care professional if you’re having trouble getting things back on track.

Pursue a Writing Career With Crowd Content

At Crowd Content, you can access thousands of remote writing assignments in a variety of industries. Pick the ones you want to work on, set your own schedule and enjoy consistent income with twice-weekly payouts. And you’re not working alone — our supportive community includes content managers and editors ready to help build your skills. Find your next freelance writing job at Crowd Content today.

 

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With a BA in special education/elementary education, Kat is finishing up her coursework for an M.Ed. in instructional design. She places a high value on integrity in her writing and academic career, offering that integrity to clients on Crowd Content as well as other sites and private clients.

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