How to Avoid Freelance Burnout in Physically Active Lines of Work

Written by Nicola Brown on June 20, 2017

Companies like Uber have accelerated the rise of the sharing economy (an economic model in which individuals are able to borrow or rent assets owned by someone else), and entice many people to consider the possibility of making some money on the side with independent, part-time work. While more people are embracing the possibility of a freelance lifestyle that allows for flexible working hours and locations, it can also lead to freelance burnout — especially when the work is physically demanding.

Active fields like landscape design, painting, Uber driving, renovations and house cleaning are among the activities that many people choose to pursue on a part-time basis. Some even opt to turn them into full-time freelancing opportunities as they become more lucrative. But these jobs aren’t immune to freelance burnout. When that burnout has a physical exhaustion component, workers can often face some serious health and safety issues.

What I Learned From a Summer of Manual Labor

One of my summer jobs during university was painting houses, which required me to wake up early, travel long distances and be on my feet all day while climbing ladders and moving equipment. My lunch break consisted of a rushed sandwich while sitting on the curb, then getting right back to work. My colleague and I tried to take on as many jobs as possible to pay for our trip to Europe at the end of the summer, so we filled at least five days a week with painting jobs. At the end of the day, I’d come home and collapse on the couch with barely enough energy to think about dinner before I’d fall asleep and start over again the next day. By the end of the summer, I was completely burned out.

My painting gig was short-lived. Even if I had wanted to continue, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain the same pace of work, making the opportunity financially impractical for me. As I discovered my physical limits, I quickly learned that what I had imagined would be possible was not reality.

Part-time physical labor is very different from full-time physical work, and those who are considering turning their active side gigs into main sources of income should be wary of freelance burnout.

Learn to Recognize the Signs of Burnout

It’s easy to reach a point of burnout without even realizing it. The momentum of physical work often involves a certain amount of adrenaline that can blind you to how tired you really are. When you get tired, you start to make mistakes you’d never make when fully rested. That’s a good indicator that you need a break.

It’s particularly important to recognize these signs in a physical job, because it can put your safety (and that of others) at risk. Not getting enough sleep, working odd hours, not eating properly and pushing your physical limits can be a recipe for disaster. Always make sure you’re making time to eat, sleep and rest. Never compromise on these things. Many workplace accidents can be avoided just by knowing your limits.

Maximize Efficiency, Not Profit

If you’re looking to scale-up your freelance work, consider how you can maximize your efficiency, not your profits. It’s easy to believe that if you work longer hours you’ll make more money, but you can’t continue adding more hours to your schedule indefinitely — especially regarding physical work.

The better strategy is to brainstorm how you can get the work done in less time for the same price, or earn a higher hourly rate for the same amount of work — that’s the best marker of growth for freelance work. This can include demanding higher rates in accordance with your level of experience, automating certain aspects of your job, pursuing higher paying clients or hiring employees to support you.

Your health and safety should always be front and center in your decision-making process when your freelance work involves a lot of physical activity. The ability to recognize the first signs of burnout and plan a career trajectory that effectively mitigates it will put you on a path to long-term success.

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