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It’s not easy as a freelancer to figure out when we’re done and give ourselves permission to turn off the computer and declare the working day over. Here Louise Rowland shares 5 ways to avoid burnout when you freelance.

Switching off is a must.

Going solo in your career can be a hugely exhilarating step. Here it is – your ‘Eureka!’ moment. You’re taking control of your goals and working rhythm — and life is bound to be richer and more rewarding as a result. 

Not always true, sadly. For some, it can end up being a lonely, exhausting and highly stressful move. ‘Burnout’ is no longer just a buzzword but a formal medical diagnosis, listed in the World Health Organization handbook. And freelancers may be particularly at risk.

Kim Palmer, founder of the Clementine App, set up to help women feel confident, calmer and get better sleep, agrees that avoiding burnout is hard. That’s especially true when you are a self-confessed workaholic, perfectionist and passionate about what you do. Looking back on my own experience, I’d do some things differently.

It’s very important to set some very clear boundaries of when you will be working and stick to these from day one. Explain them to people you live with so they can keep you accountable. 

If you are working from home, make sure that you are connected with other people via online communities and plan to get out of the house every day. Whether that’s a 15-minute walk or working from the local coffee shop, it’s good to have a change of scene. 

‘Plan every day what you are going to focus on. Write the three biggest things you want to achieve and do those first. Everything else is then a bonus.’

Pulling the plug

You need to know when enough is enough, says Dr Sally Ann Law, Personal and Executive Coach: It’s not easy as a freelancer to figure out when we’re done and give ourselves permission to turn off the computer and declare the working day over. It can be hard to know when you’ve reached that point, leading many towards stress and sometimes even complete burnout.  

‘Imagine you have a boss who expects you to work a full day but no more.  Now come up with a structure for yourself to deliver just that – and no more! Take advantage of your time flexibility and organise tasks to suit you. You can go for a run during the day: you just need to schedule that time back in some way that works for you. And you don’t have to achieve everything at once. Map out a realistic timeline to meet your professional goals and ask someone you trust if they think it is realistic, too.’

Taking time away from your desk can be hard work psychologically for freelancers. But it’s an essential part of the process, says Juliet Simmons, Creative Consultant and founder of Piece of Cake: “Even at the start of my freelance career, I made sure that I had carved out blocks of time to find creative inspiration.  Sometimes that would mean walking to work and taking pictures, sometimes going to a gallery or sometimes just sitting in a café with a cup of coffee. It felt hard to do, but afterwards, I felt much more able to get done the things that I’d been worried about.”

As someone who’s just celebrated 25 years running her own PR business, Kate Broad, founder of Broad Communications, still sees every day as ‘a school day’ when it comes to self-care. ‘I’ve learned so many valuable lessons to stay healthy. I say ‘No’ when I need to and I’m no longer a people pleaser. I work with the clients I want and turn down work when necessary. I celebrate success, laugh at myself, view failures as positives and aim to be both interested and interesting.

‘Sometimes, I do have to put on my big girl pants but they’re always the colour positive!

I also do things outside work I’m passionate about and get regular exercise. I have a daily gratitude list and believe in being kind. And that includes myself! Importantly, I ask for help when I need to. I always give clients my personal best, but I have holidays – aka ‘sanity checks’ – on a regular basis. 

‘I also no longer beat myself up over wrong decisions. And I don’t get too bogged down in issues, but just ask myself “Will this matter five years from now?” If the answer is “No” I move on.’

Five ways for freelancers to stay Zen 

#1 Don’t be in a rush

Think tortoise, rather than hare. No matter how stellar your new product, service or app, you can’t conquer the world overnight. Be realistic in your goals and ready to trip up occasionally – the bigger, the better, as legions of highly successful entrepreneurs will attest. And avoid saying yes to everything, because you’re grateful or feel you can’t say no. 

#2 Beware the tyranny of lists

Addicted to to-do-lists or fluorescent post-it notes? Keeping track of your progress is fine. But if the items on that list constantly end up rolling over, you’ve created a boulder on your back. Make each day’s list short and achievable.

#3 Be your healthy best

Even the Duracell Bunny’s batteries run out eventually. Downtime, holidays, sleep, healthy eating and exercise are all non-negotiable. If we were meant to be desk-hugging animals, we’d be shaped like angle-poise lamps.  Remember to get up and stretch every hour, no matter how urgent the job.

#4 Fire up that support network

No freelancer is an island. Stay close to friends, family, former colleagues and future collaborators – everyone who will root for you and protect you from yourself. If possible, have other freelancers on call if you ever need extra support.

#5 Make sure you’re not ‘on’ 24/7

Boundaries are not just about time but also physical space. If you don’t have a separate workspace at home, pack everything away out of sight at the end of day. Keep your phone out of reach. And don’t – ever – be tempted to check your emails at 3am. 

If you are thinking of taking the plunge, tweet us and share the news — we’d love to support you!

Louise Rowland

Louise Rowland

Louise Rowland is a novelist, speechwriter, journalist and business writer. She’s written about everything from green energy and finance to giving birth in Frankfurt and the ins and outs of Brexit. Based in London, her first novel The Girl’s Book of Priesthood came out in 2018 and she is currently writing her second. She loves having two daughters in their early 20s, partly to hear their views on life, but mostly for the wardrobe advice and book recommendations.

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