How Freelancers Can Successfully Deal With and Recover from Burnout

pay off debt as freelancer
This post comes from contributor Kali Hawlk, who quit her day job to become a freelance writer and editor. Read her entire story here.

The month of May 2014 was my busiest — and therefore craziest, most hectic, most stressful — yet for my side business. While trying to manage my full-time job and my freelance business, I’m up to working about 80 hours per week.

A typical day has me working either at my day job or on my own projects from the time I wake up and roll out of bed to the moment when I finally crawl back in and pass out.

I’ve tried to keep the complaints to a minimum; after all, this is exactly what I wanted, right? A thriving side business that could one day be large and sustainable enough to make into my full-time work.

But I’m realizing that even when things are wonderful and I’m exceeding the goals I set for myself on my journey to becoming a solopreneur, I have limits. Those limits aren’t forgiving when I cross them and enter one of the most inhospitable states for any creative: burnout.

The literal crash and…a nap?

The common expression for someone who experiences burnout is that they “crashed and burned.” For me, I realized I was officially burnt out after doing my best impersonation of someone suffering from narcolepsy.

After coming home from my day job one day, I went to greet one of my cats who loves to sleep on the second-floor landing of our stairs. I sat down on the stairs to pet her, thinking about how nice it was just to sit and do nothing but hang out with my cat.

I stretched out my legs so my feet rested two stairs below where I was sitting. Then I put my head down on my arm on the landing.

And then I woke up an hour later when my phone started ringing. What the….Where am I? I thought as I struggled to regain consciousness. Did I seriously just fall asleep on the stairs?!

How to deal with the aftereffects of burnout

Maybe an accidental nap doesn’t sound like too big of a deal. For me, someone who never naps even when she’s sick or was up too late the night before, it was the sign I needed to finally understand that things had to change.

Burnout is something aspiring solopreneurs are likely to encounter at some point. We’re trying to launch legitimate, sustainable, the-real-deal businesses — while somehow managing to juggle an existing career working for someone else, families, friends, other responsibilities, plus more.

It’s an understatement to say we’re working hard to make our business dreams into realities. From personal experience, solopreneurs are some of the most dedicated, hard-working, and driven people I’ve ever met.

But such determined individuals are even more likely to experience burnout simply because most of the time, it’s hard for us to know when we’ve pushed too hard, and done way too much.

There’s a lot of content out there on recognizing the signs of burnout, before you actually find that you’re there so you can get off the overworked highway at the next exit. But what do you do when you missed all the signs and burnout hits you like a ton of bricks? Or, you know… like a nap attack?

Take a step back

It may be the last thing you want to do when you’ve been going nonstop because you have so much work to get through, but the reason you crashed is because you’re running yourself ragged. You obviously can’t continue to work in this fashion.

Admit that you’re overworked and overstressed

Take this opportunity to pull back and look at the big picture. Organize your clients, your assignments, your responsibilities, and your back-end work.

Is there anything that needs to go? If you need help culling through the pile, as you consider each specific client or particular gig, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this work worth my time?
  • Am I getting appropriately compensated for my time, skills, and abilities?
  • Do I actually enjoy working for this person/working for this gig?

Be honest with yourself

If the work isn’t furthering your career or business, cut it to make room for better opportunities. If one particular client drives you up a wall and is more trouble than it’s worth, same thing.

Lean on your support group

The reason that community builders like Carrie establish wonderful groups like the Careful Cents Freelancers Club is so that like-minded people who are facing the same struggles, problems, and challenges can band together.

You likely have many different kinds of support groups available to you: friends, family, coworkers, online blogging buddies, other business owners and side hustlers. Reach out to them! Just having someone to talk with can offer a tremendous amount of relief.

Members of your support groups may also be able to offer suggestions and solutions to help you deal with burnout and create better processes and plans for 1.) moving forward and 2.) avoiding getting yourself into the same situation in the future.

Seek help to get through the tough times

Don’t let your pride keep you from moving past a burnout phase. You may need to ask your significant other or family member to help out around the house. Perhaps you can find a coworker to assist you on a tough assignment at work.

More importantly, don’t be afraid to outsource some of your assignments as you deal with feeling burnt out. This is exactly what I did in May and to be frank, it saved my tail. I am so incredibly grateful I had E.M. from Journey to Saving, a fellow personal finance blogger, to help me out with my workload.

Not to mention, it was so wonderful to know that I could, in a small way, help a fellow go-getter start her own journey. E.M. wanted to get into freelancing, and I was thrilled that coincided with my need to have someone help out with my business.

Don’t be afraid to recognize when you can’t do something alone — and then ask for the help you need. It may be the best thing you will do for yourself and your business.

failure quote

How to move forward and recover from burnout

Dealing with burnout made me realize that it might be time to reassess my business and my goals. I’ve obviously grown from side hustler to almost-there freelancer much, much faster than I anticipated, and as a result I may need to revise my original plan of quitting my day job by next March.

Changing things up is tough, but you have to be willing to adapt in order to continue growing. I’m now looking at putting in my official notice with my employer by the end of June.

I plan on continuing to work with them in some capacity through August (as I stated in my original post for this series, I’ll likely have to train someone to replace me), which means that I still won’t be working 100% for myself anytime soon.

But I think it’s time to start the transition period. This feels like a move in the right direction, and I cannot wait to see what I can achieve when I have the chance to focus every bit of my time, energy, and attention on my own business.

My plan for recovery also means making a plan for hiring help in the future. I don’t want to take any more stair-naps, so I need to make sure I ask for help well before I get to official burnout again.

I’m also recovering by taking the time to reassess things like the rate I’m charging and how I’m billing clients. With some gigs, I feel like I’m not being fairly compensated for the value I’ve provided. That’s stressing me out and leaving me feeling frustrated — which means it’s time to try something new when it comes to charging for my work.

Finally, I’m making an effort to simply take one day at a time and to release negative emotions like stress and fear that have a tendency to weigh us down far more than they should. Letting go of fear as I drastically move up my planned “day-job quit-date” is not easy, and it’s something I have to work at every single day.

But I know in order to continue moving in a positive direction and making the right decisions for me and my just-about-there business, I must keep faith in myself that I can do this and make what started out as a pipe dream into a present reality. It’s all about confidence.

And as I recover from burnout, I will continue to be confident that I will succeed.

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One comment

  1. Leigh Adams says:

    Man you are dead on with this. Burnout is terrible I have been in the position myself working full time from home and trying to build my own business at the same time. With a wife who works from home and a little one to look after. You just don’t get the social interaction however when you are not in the office. But when I was in the office I actually fell asleep talking to someone at my desk. I was so embarrassed it was untrue.

    Now I just manage my time more effectively and allocate a certain amount of time to manage each task. If it doesn’t get finished it doesn’t get finished and it gets put to the top of the list for the next day.

    At the end of the day there is no point killing yourself you have to have a good work life balance and a positive outlook and among everything else keep smiling

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