How to avoid and deal with burnouts

Being a fulltime freelancer can sometimes get difficult and stressful. When you are expected to consistently meet deadlines and provide great results it can become challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance which in turn can easily lead to a burnout.

The most recent and the nastiest burnout I’ve had was around Christmas of 2020. Just a month earlier things were going great, I’ve had just enough work to fill my week while still being able to completely forget about work on weekends. Deadlines were met and clients were happy.

I thought I’ve finally made it after 5 years of freelancing full time – I’ve achieved the perfect work-life balance. Sadly, it didn’t last long. As there was more work coming in I found myself working some days until early morning while also working all weekends. I thought it’s just temporary, I’ll get through it and take it easy once I’m finished with all this work. After just a month I realized I’ve burned out big time, I couldn’t force myself to do any work. Not even couple hours. Client emails and slack messages kept piling up, deadlines were missed and there’s nothing I could do about it. It only took a week for most of my clients to move on after years of working together. It was unfortunate but it allowed me to take some time off to think and reinvent myself. Below I’ll explain how I dealt with this burnout and what you can do to avoid it.

1. Separate your workspace from your rest space

Working from home is a dream of many people working in the office. There’s no need to put on a clean shirt and commute to work everyday. All commuting you have to do is from your bed to your office chair. But in reality if you’re working from home, your home becomes your office where you spend up to 24 hours a day.

That’s one of the reasons why co-working spaces are so popular these days, instead of working from home a lot of freelancers choose to pay for a space where they can work. They are paying to work, but why? Because it allows them to separate work from home.

To avoid the feeling of living in the office you need to separate your workspace just so you can leave it at the end of the day. Once your workday is done your personal time begins. The time to spend with your friends and family, time to relax and unwind. Don’t check your Slack messages or emails. Forget about work until the next day.

2. Schedule your day

As a freelancer it’s important to create a schedule and stick to it. Otherwise some days you’ll find you haven’t done anything while other days you’ll be working all day and most of the night just to catch up on your work. Having a schedule allows you to plan your week and have a healthy work-life balance.

Schedule your time with small breaks throughout the day so you don’t get exhausted quickly. Do not stare at your screen for hours on end, it’s never good for your mental and physical health. Split your workday into ABCD quadrant. A items are most important tasks, do those first then take a break. Continue with B – important but less urgent tasks, take another break and move onto C tasks – less important tasks that have little to no consequences whether you do them or not. Learn more about Brian Tracy’s ABC time management method here and here. It’s one of the best time-management skills you can learn.

Here’s what my schedule currently looks like:

A tasks: 7:00 – 12:00

Working on current tasks and projects. Strictly billable work. During this time I don’t check emails, reply to messages or allow any other distractions.

B tasks: 14:00 – 17:00

Replying to messages and emails, looking for new projects, discovery calls. Usually important but non-billable work.

C tasks: 18:00 – 19:00

Writing blog posts, learning new or brushing up on old skills, reading articles and books related to my work. Not important tasks that have little or no consequences whether I do them or not. I only do those if I still have the energy at the end of the day.

3. Exercise

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Dedicate some time each week to working out, whether it’s running, going to the gym or doing yoga. Also remember that sitting all day staring at your laptop can do a lot of damage over time, make sure to take frequent breaks to stretch your legs and rest your eyes.

4. Set yourself as away, literally

It’s important to disconnect from the “always online” world every now and then. No electronics, no emails, no messages and notifications. It can be a life changing experience once you try it. Try to remember the last time you spent a day without picking up your phone at least once, has it been a decade yet?

Camping or hiking is a great way to spend the day offline and take a break from work and technology. Reunite with the nature, remember what fresh air actually smells like. If you’re not into nature try to spend a day at home reading or playing table games with your friends and family. Find a new hobby. Go to a local meetup. The goal is not to use any electronic devices and internet one day a week.

Conclusion

Doing the above helped me deal with the biggest burnout I’ve had so far, fall in love with my work again, continue growing professionally, be consistently productive and find a healthy work-life balance. Know any other ways to avoid burnouts? Let me know in the comments section!

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