Your Three-Step Blast-Away to Avoiding Freelancer Burnout

People who work on the web commonly run their own business. All of it. They work on projects, they do their own customer service, their own customer management, their marketing and networking, their project scheduling, admin and bookkeeping. They have to stay on top of everything.

The funny thing is that when you look at the list of your weekly tasks on paper, it seems like you should be able to get everything done. You have the hours available to you. You have the resources and you certainly have the skills.

So how do you keep winding up working until 3 am to make up for lost time? Why are you still feeling completely overwhelmed by everything you have to do when it seems like you should have enough time to do it without freaking out – or burning out?

Most often, bad habits are the culprit. Sloppy work habits are far more detrimental than many freelancers realize, and they’re keeping you from rocking out everything you should be able to get done in a day. Use this Three-Step Blast-Away to get rid of those bad habits for good – and stop feeling so overwhelmed.

Step One: Show you’re Serious

A common issue web workers face is that we’re not quite yet at the point of having our career choices respected as much as “real jobs”. Friends and family tend not to take your work very seriously, and that means they often interrupt, distract, and derail your focus and concentration.

Perception is projection – people see us in the way we project ourselves to them. In this case, that means that if no one’s taking your job seriously, you may not be projecting that your job is serious.

For example, you might complain about being too busy… but when a buddy calls, you drop everything and cut out for some playtime. Or you might feel like too many people disrupt your workday, but when they do, you greet them with a welcome.

Not only does that send mixed signals to your friends and family, it’s also completely destroying your productivity. If you drop everything to take a long lunch with a friend, you’re going to wind up taking two hours out of your workday. Those hours of work don’t just magically disappear – you’re still going to have to do them.

The difference is that now you’re going to have to do them late into the evening. That’s no good. Show your friends and family you’re serious by taking your freelance work as seriously as you would a nine-to-five, and you’ll find you get a lot more done in “normal” work hours. You’ll also find that other people are showing your work a lot more respect – because they see that you do, too.

Step Two: Set Clear Boundaries

It’s not enough to simply decide that you’re serious and that this is a real job. You need to set some clear boundaries for everyone’s benefit – your own, first and foremost.

Write down boundaries that would help you get more work done. For example, decide which hours you’ll work each day – firm ones, not flexible ones. Close the door to your office to signal you’re busy. Turn off the phone while working and don’t answer every call. Turn down invitations to go play. Keep a steady schedule so that friends and families can learn which days you work, and when. Limit your social media activity and try not to be omnipresent all the time.

Enforce your rules – with yourself first. Don’t expect people to respect new boundaries unless you respect them as well. If you’ve said you won’t take calls until 2pm each day, then don’t. Let the answering machine pick up the phone and focus on getting that work out of the way. They’ll survive without you, don’t worry.

When you decide you’re going to make some hours of the day sacred to work, you’ll get more done in that time. No matter how good you are at multi-tasking, you’re going to get a lot more done in a single hour of uninterrupted work than you would if you answered an email every five minutes and picked up the phone halfway through your 60-minute time frame.

Set those boundaries and start abiding by them strictly.

Step Three: Shed the Unnecessary

Many people tend collect tasks and work they don’t really have to do, and when you’re a web worker, that collection can take on phenomenal proportions. We’re talking about things like answering every email within five minutes, or doing extra work for a client for no pay, or simply checking blogs and other forums for new information on your industry.

But all this “busy” doesn’t really get anything productive done for your business. Being overly busy creates a false sense of energy, but it really just adds extra stress. You’re probably even feeling guilty that your real priorities in your business aren’t being taken care of while you run around commenting on blogs and sorting through your spam filter.

So get rid of what’s unnecessary. Go on a wild rampage. Cut out anything that isn’t critical to your business survival for two full weeks – blog commenting, RSS reading, social media, IM chats and emailing friends.

With no “busy” cluttering up your days, you’ll find yourself with a lot more time to get out from that pile of work you’ve been putting off – and when you’re done, you’ll have way more free time to enjoy.

Give It Two Weeks of Commitment

Two weeks is often enough time to break a bad habit. Give each of these strategies two solid weeks of your full commitment, and you’ll discover just how much these time-wasters were cutting into your day. Most likely, you won’t want go back to them.

How about you? Have any tips that have worked to keep burnout at bay?

2 Comments on "Your Three-Step Blast-Away to Avoiding Freelancer Burnout"

  1. Good post, although I think everyone reading this has by definition broken rule #3!

  2. Great post James. After reading these it seems so simple. But as Joseph said, we all have broken the rules. Thanks for reminding me that I need to take care of “me” or else the freelancing will take care of me in a negative way!

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