Every morning, I wake up and sit down at my desk. Cup of coffee in hand, I begin typing away. Every morning, it’s the same. I write thousands of words per day for my clients—for case studies, blog posts, eBooks, and other assets.
Doing this day in and day out gets exhausting, and at times, I’ve found myself burned out from freelance writing. Without question, being responsible for so much content and for a constant stream of creativity is difficult. Sometimes, the thought of typing another word overwhelms me. I often feel stressed outside of work hours when I’m at the gym or having dinner with friends.
I know I’m not alone—other freelance writers experience burnout, and we sometimes vent to each other about how we’re handling it. Burnout doesn’t have a quick fix, but there are ways to prevent it from happening in the first place, and things you can do to cope once it strikes. Today, I’m sharing some ideas on the source of burnout, and what to do when it happens to you.
Michelle Nickolaisen has been a freelance writer for seven years and has suffered from burnout along the way. One of the biggest lessons she’s learned is to stop thinking like an employee.
“A lot of freelancers think with an employee mindset,” says Nickolaisen. “They create rates that would make sense if they were an employee, forgetting how much they have to put into their businesses.”
According to Nickolaisen, freelancers don’t really have 40 billable hours in a week. “It’s easy to think that you should be making bank because you’re charging $60 per hour, but you can’t get as many billable hours as you think,” she says. “You have a lot of overhead as a freelancer, and you need to think as though you’re a business owner, not an employee.”
If you’re not making enough money, the solution is to take on more clients, but this leads to burnout. If you barely have enough hours in a day to serve your clients, then you’ll struggle to take good care of yourself.
Ever hear of the psychological principle of scarcity? Psychologists have found that people place a higher value on things when they perceive them to be scarce. For example, freelancers tend to hoard any work that comes our way, fearing that work will become scarce in the future.
“The key to preventing burnout for any line of work—freelance or full-time—is knowing when to say no,” says Rob Wormley, a content marketing consultant. “It’s tempting to say yes to every project that comes your way and it’s so easy to want to help everyone who reaches out, but it’s not a sustainable way to build a business or grow in your career.”
Instead of saying no when you’re booked up, you can put clients on a waitlist. This will make them feel as though your availability is scarce, and it makes them want you all the more. Perhaps more importantly, it gives you the time you need to focus on your work and take good care of yourself, which will prevent burnout.
According to research, there are three types of burnout. There’s overload burnout, which is when someone works until exhaustion. Second, there’s burnout that happens when someone is bored. Lastly, there’s burnout when someone is worn-out. That is, they have trouble getting motivated to achieve their goals.
If you’re feeling any of these types of burnout, the solution may be to reassess your offerings. What projects bring you joy? Which tasks make you feel the most accomplished? Are you charging enough for the things you spend the most time on?
You might find that it’s time to raise your rates, but what’s most likely to reduce burnout is to reassess how you run your business. Maybe you should start specializing in a certain industry, or a certain type of writing. Maybe you need to add project minimums, or start saying no to clients.
To get through burnout, you need to step back and take a bird’s eye view of your business. What’s working, and what’s not?
I’m a very social person, and the hardest thing about freelance writing is having to work by myself. The way I cope with burnout is by venting to other freelancers who understand where I’m coming from. These fellow freelancers can also offset a heavy load.
When there’s too much work coming my way and I feel burned out, I refer clients to other freelancers. When they’re burned out, they refer clients to me. In this way, I’ve built up an effective, two-way referral program.
Additionally, most cities have freelance or marketing meet-up groups, and I highly recommend the monthly SPARK events put on by the Freelancer’s Union. When I lived in Massachusetts, Boston Content was essential in helping me stay connected with others.
This summer, I’m considering going on a retreat with a fellow freelancer so we can have dedicated time to put our heads together and work on our businesses.
Burnout isn’t something that magically disappears from freelance writing. There’s no quick fix that can erase it from your life as a freelancer. Most freelancers are perpetually connected to our businesses, and there’s little differentiation between our work lives and our personal lives.
Even when 5:00 p.m. comes, our smartphones remind us that there are projects to complete and administrative things to do. In fact, even if you think you can put down your phone and take a break from your work, research by British psychologists shows that young adults use their smartphones about twice as much as they estimate they do. Most of us are on our phones about a third of our waking life.
In this environment, we may not be able to banish burnout completely, but we can formulate strategies to help us cope. When burnout hits freelancer Kaleigh Moore, she gets out of her office. “I have to take breaks—I take a walk, go for a drive, or sometimes I just have to end early and try again the next day,” she says. “If I power through the burnout, the work suffers.”
Have you experienced burnout before? Let us know how you coped with it in the comments section!