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If you’re still fairly new to freelancing and you’re bursting out of bed every morning ready to hit your desk and start on another ludicrously productive day – great. I envy you. This post probably won’t have any relevance for you yet, but it will at some stage.
Any freelancer who has been in the business for more than a year or so is likely to have gone through a period of listlessness and lack of interest in the job, otherwise known as “burnout.” Having recently come through a period of burnout myself, I’d like to take a look at what I think causes it and how you can best avoid burnout and get through it when it strikes.
Working Too Much
Obvious but true, trying to push yourself too hard in the short term can ultimately hurt your productivity in the long term. It’s important to set a sustainable working pace for yourself. Of course, as a freelancer you may feel you have limited control over this: you work when the work is there and get a break when it’s not.
This highlights to me one of the most essential reasons to have a bit of a “cash buffer” in your bank account at all times. It’s not just for a rainy day, in case work dries up for a week or two – it’s so you can give yourself permission to take time off or turn down a project whenever you want. That’s a lot harder to do if your next meal depends on you saying yes to whatever projects come your way.
Lack of Purpose in Your Work
This is what did it for me. Previous to becoming a freelancer, I worked at a conservation park. The money was terrible and the job was repetitive and boring, but I was at least able to tell myself I was doing some good in the world, helping (in a small way) to prevent endangered species from going extinct.
After a couple of years as a freelancer I started to miss that in a big way. I eventually got over it by reminding myself that I am doing good in the world: by serving online business owners I’m helping people get out of the rat race and enjoy a much greater degree of freedom in their lives. On top of that, the more I earn the more I can donate to causes I care about. So to avoid burnout in the long run it’s important to keep an eye on the wider picture of what you actually do for the people you serve.
Now, just realizing this stuff might not be enough to help you avoid burnout, kick the blues and carry on in your chosen career path. In that case, I have three Burnout Cures to suggest.
Burnout Cure #1: Commute
If you live in a big city, nothing will make you appreciate the self-employed lifestyle you’ve built for yourself like joining once again in that great pilgrimage of the rat race: the daily commute. Wake up nice and early to an annoying alarm tone, get in your car and join the trek into the city center.
It’s healthy to remind yourself just how good you’ve already got it compared to a lot of other people. This is something I think we tend to lose site of the longer we’re self-employed.
(The beauty of this one is you don’t even have to do it. The thought alone is usually enough.)
Burnout Cure #2: Watch People with “Real Jobs”
Similar to Cure #1, this is about reminding yourself of everything that forced you to seek the freelance lifestyle in the first place. Go somewhere and simply watch people working in unpleasant day jobs for half an hour. The closer it is to closing time the better, because you get to see the full eight hours or drudgery etched on their face.
If possible, go watch people doing whatever job you used to do before becoming a freelancer. This is a great way to get another taste of that sense of freedom you had when you first broke free from the rat race and started freelancing.
Burnout Cure #3: Rebalance Your Life
This ties in to this first way to avoid burnout I mentioned: don’t work so much. It’s possible that you’re simply putting unrealistic expectations on your work output. Time to take a step back, take a holistic look at your life and ask yourself what’s really important.
Chances are you have been neglecting an important area of your life in the name of getting more done: health, family, relationships, etc. Remember, although it does take work and commitment to build a self-employed lifestyle, that’s ultimately an exercise in futility if you leave your sense of freedom and verve for life in the process.
Pick up an old instrument. Start writing that novel. Go see your sister who you haven’t talked to in six months. You get the idea.
About the Author – Tom McSherry
Tom McSherry is a professional SEO copywriter and the founder of Premium Online Writing. His website contains over 100 articles providing tips and insights for online business owners and other freelance web writers.