4 Steps for Battling Burnout

Burnout can creep up and leave you feeling less than enthusiastic about your work. Here’s how to get through it.

For independent contractors, burnout happens when frustrations about our daily tasks or clients build up or we experience a lengthy period of high demand that tips the scales of our work-life balance. Burnout can come and go with work fluxes, or it can stick around long term and make us question our livelihood. Either way, we should address burnout when we start to feel it so that it doesn’t derail our passion.

Learn to recognize burnout
Psychology Today describes burnout as a state of chronic stress. It can lead to physical and emotional fatigue, detachment, feelings of negativity about one’s self, and a decrease in productivity. Some signs of burnout will be obvious, like increased stress and anxiety or a loss of enjoyment for what you do. Others won’t be so clear cut, like a loss of appetite or trouble sleeping. Read this list for both physical and mental signs.

Pinpoint the source
You first step to banishing burnout is to determine why you’re experiencing it in the first place. A number of issues could plague you as a freelancer and cause burnout. Here are some common situations:

  • Is the pay you’re receiving not commensurate with the workload?
  • Are your clients expecting you to be on all the time by contacting you during your off hours?
  • Is your to-do list too long each day?
  • Do you have a client who is being unreasonable, sending you a constant barrage of negative feedback, or interfering with your ability to complete your other clients’ work?
  • Has your amount of free time dwindled as you work harder to keep up with tasks?
  • Do you feel resentment toward something or someone related to work?
  • Is your partner or spouse not helping with household labor and it’s stressing you out further?
  • Is your work space not conducive to productivity?
  • Are you bored with your work?

Find a way to minimize or eliminate the issue
Once you make a list of the possible sources of your burnout, try to make changes to reduce the problems. These changes require time, so be patient and find solace in the fact that you’re taking action.

If a client is the source, find a way to set better boundaries. As freelancers, we are grateful for the projects on our plate, but we can also easily let clients’ needs come before our own by foregoing free time, family time, or sleep in order to meet demands, answer calls, or respond to emails.

Burnout can also occur when the workload and compensation are out of balance. If you find you’re working long hours for pay that isn’t worth it, increase your rates. This bumps up the reward and allows you to do less work to pay the bills. Increasing your rates can also help you trim your client list so that you can work with only the clients you enjoy and who treat you with respect.

Address your work schedule and to-do list. If you’ve got too many tasks to complete each day and you’re only falling further behind in deliverables, no wonder you’re frustrated. Get realistic about how much you can complete during your work hours so that tasks don’t interfere with your free time. Reassess future deadlines, and work with your clients to find realistic completion timeframes. Remember to allow a small chunk of time to deal with day-to-day items like invoicing and email management. Depending on the nature of your work, you may also need to slot time to deal with client emergencies that crop up.

Take care of yourself
Get enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to stave off and recover from burnout. Don’t be afraid to unplug from your devices during your off-time. Find the things you love to do and schedule time to enjoy them. Head to the climbing gym, go to the yoga studio, play outside with the kids, or take a true vacation. Frequent rejuvenation, whether from small or large breaks, will help you return to work with a fresh mindset and renewed passion.