Freelance Burnout: Symptoms and Solutions

By Erin Ollila, Contributor, on September 29, 2017

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Do you ever get that feeling where you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and face all the looming client work waiting for you? Are you overwhelmed and overworked, missing the days when someone else could cover for you if you needed to take a sick day? Freelance burnout is a heavy feeling. Some may think it’s impossible to get burned out when you’re acting as your own boss in a job that you love, but business owners often work even more hours than they did in their previous full-time positions. We’re the jack-of-all-trades, having to master our accounting, taxes, housekeeping, inventory and customer service.

I spent the final months of 2016 feeling extremely overwhelmed. Out of sheer excitement to be growing my company, I took on too many new clients. Those long nights with barely any sleep were catching up with me. However, I didn’t have time to unwind and regroup. I was still too busy with client-facing work. I was hustling to meet deadlines, and the stress was taking a toll on me both mentally and physically. I felt achy and exhausted, and I knew that something needed to change. I started my company to establish freedom in my career, not bind myself to it.

Freelance burnout manifests in many ways, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms and be aware of your emotional and physical well-being. What bogs down one entrepreneur may not phase another. Understand the symptoms and take control of your circumstances.

Look Out: Freelance Burnout Symptoms

  • Disinterested in your work
  • Withdrawn from social situations
  • Lack of inspiration
  • Confusion
  • Light memory slips
  • Dreading easy tasks
  • Procrastinating
  • Frustration with others
  • Anxiety
  • Poor eating habits
  • Lack of sleep
  • Odd working hours
  • Poor ratio of working hours to personal hours
  • General aches and pains
  • Slow movement
  • Exhaustion
  • Pushing physical limitations
  • Loss of strength

How to Regain Control

Great news: it’s easy to dial down the feeling of being overwhelmed. Learn to recognize when you’re burning out. Often, entrepreneurs get so ingrained in their work, that they don’t recognize that there’s a problem until it’s too late. The easiest way to get your life back and to enjoy your work again is to practice some self care. What is one easy thing that you can do to make yourself feel better today? Maybe it’s ending work by 6 p.m., eating out and taking a relaxing bath with a glass of wine. Or, your idea of self care might be stopping by a local all-night jam session with your guitar. Find one simple thing that you can enjoy, and do it.

However, taking just one step won’t completely fix your problems. To move beyond burnout and become the best businessperson you can be, you need to develop systems that work for you. First, identify which of your tasks are the ones that you avoid or worry about the most. This could be a small list or a long one. Then brainstorm ways that you can remove these tasks from you list of worries, or adjust how you approach them.

Ask for Help

To offload some of your work, consider hiring a virtual assistant (VA). Of course, there will be an initial training period, but after your assistant is adjusted, you’ll be able to pass off overwhelming tasks to someone else. Automation and online tools can help if hiring a VA isn’t an option. If social media seems like it’s becoming less social and more time-consuming, subscribe to a scheduling program that can regularly publish your tweets and posts for you.

It might be helpful to hire an organizational consultant to review your work processes and suggest ways to create systems that will make you a more efficient freelancer. For example, when onboarding a new client, do you find yourself answering the same questions time after time? If so, your consultant might suggest that you create a welcome packet to address the routine questions that you’re typically asked. A consultant can identify ways to streamline your work — allowing you to move forward in the most efficient manner.

When it’s happening, freelance burnout might feel extremely overwhelming. Just know that this doesn’t have to become your lifestyle. With small tweaks and some larger implementations you’ll get back to your old self and learn how to love your work again.

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