If you’re like me, you both love and curse a huge influx of work. Being self-employed is an adventure and freelancers are always looking toward the next job, next new client or new lead. We freelancers work hard—often into the night, on weekends and in between meals and the other necessary parts of life.
My first year as a freelancer produced practically no income. Requiring a lot of fancy dancing, using up savings, doing other freelance work and unfortunately relying on credit cards. It’s hard to break in because there is so much to do and only you to do it. You must market, sell and then do the work. Then you must collect for the work you have done— and sometimes the checks arrive late and sometimes the checks don’t arrive at all.
In my second year as a freelancer, I hit the mother lode. Out of the blue a friend and fellow freelancer contacted me and asked if I could help her with an ongoing contract she has with a legal service. At about the same time, another colleague contacted me to write for a start-up web design company. Overnight, I had more work than I could handle. It was exciting and scary. Exciting because of the potential of regular, good-paying work. Scary because I had to learn a lot in a short space of time, meet deadlines and write in several fields I wasn’t personally knowledgeable about. Necessity is the mother of invention and I managed to ride the learning curve, meet the deadlines and get the work done. And I became pretty good at it. But…
What day is it?
The fast and constant workflow was never-ending. I certainly didn’t want to turn the faucet off, because I wanted the work. But I also realized that I needed to do laundry, buy groceries and occasionally take my dog for a walk. As my dirty house, unwashed dishes and uncaptured dust bunnies crowded around me, I couldn’t remember the last time I had a day off. While adrenaline and the profound desire to succeed drove me and enabled me to get the work done and to a high standard, I knew I couldn’t go on in this mode forever. So, I had to figure out how to maintain the workflow but prevent the certain fate of burnout.
The small things make a difference
While I couldn’t just walk away and take a break, I did find small ways to give myself a break without stopping the flow. Most of them quite simple, but ever so helpful:
I started to schedule my day, not just the work but personal things like laundry and grocery shopping.
- I made an arbitrary decision that my computer was turned off at 8 p.m. no matter what. It’s good for human eyes to look at something other than a computer screen.
- I made a point of calling a friend every other day. Not for any particular reason other than speaking to another human being. Freelancing, especially freelance writing is very solitary and it’s easy to lose touch with the outside world.
- When I needed break but didn’t want to stop the writing flow I switched to a creative piece—a story, a poem, a limerick. When you’re burning your brain exclusively with non-fiction writing you can lose something. Switching to the right brain side of things actually helped me when I later returned to freelance work.
- Laughing is also good for those of burned out brain. Mindless comedies, stupid jokes, funny pictures of cats, whatever tickles your funny bone can help pop you out of your head for a while.
- Sleeping a few extra hours didn’t hurt either.
Keep yourself in fighting shape
We freelancers get used to doing it all ourselves, sitting in front of computers for 16 hours at a stretch and just muscling through all that needs to get done. But honestly, that type of strategy can lead to total burn-out and even more serious problems so don’t forget to:
- Exercise and eat right
- Drink lots of water
- Organize during down times
- Develop files that help you become more efficient
- Make time for family and friends
After all, the reason we are in this freelancer life is so we can do what we want right?
How about you? What do you do for writer’s burn out? Let me know in the comments below.