When you first start freelancing, you’re desperate for any work you can get.
You need to eat and pay the rent. If your fledgling business doesn’t provide, you might have to get a “real job.”
But once you land a few clients, the balance shifts.
Unreasonable clients can make “simple” projects drag on for months. Late-night emails interrupt your much-needed down time. And constant messages make it difficult to focus.
If you’re not careful, freelancing can become a grind.
So in today’s newsletter, I wanted to share 7 things I’ve learned that help me avoid freelance burnout.
1. Schedule Your Emails and Slack Messages
As Diane Kelly hints, sending even one late-night response teaches clients to expect more late-night responses:
But the challenge with email and slack is actually more fundamental.
All immediate responses, even those sent during work hours, condition clients to expect more immediate responses. And even if a response isn’t immediate, it often cues the client to ask for yet another edit or revision.
This can make it impossible to get ahead on your task list, because new tasks soon replace the ones you just finished. If you’ve ever sent 5 emails off to clients reporting that you’ve finished their requests only to get 5 emails back with new requests, you know how pernicious this can be.
To combat this cycle, try scheduling your emails and Slack messages for anything that isn’t truly urgent.
Give yourself an hour, a day, or even more time if appropriate, and relish the feeling of having a few hours where your task list actually gets shorter.
2. Limit Distractions
As Josh Burns notes, notifications are a huge source of distractions:
It’s impossible to get anything done if your devices are constantly interrupting you.
So experiment with closing chat apps like Slack, turning on Do Not Disturb, and avoiding checking email.
3. Set Contractual Boundaries
Everyone knows it’s important to set boundaries with clients.
But as Rachel Pilcher suggests, the best way to do this is by including your boundaries directly in your contract:
In every Statement of Work or retainer agreement, make sure to include relevant limitations like:
- Maximum number of calls per week/month
- Deadlines for the client to deliver feedback or assets
- Your revision process
- How you handle unplanned overages
4. Track Your Time
If you’re not already doing it, take Matthew Fenton’s advice and track your damn time!
Your time is your most valuable asset, so knowing where it goes is crucial. Good time tracking can reveal all sorts of useful things about your business:
- Which clients are most (and least) profitable
- How much you actually get done in an average day
- How much time gets wasted on calls and quick chats
Once you know where your time is going, you can start to experiment with streamlining the biggest offenders:
- Spending too many hours on catch-up calls with a particular client? Try using Loom to record demos and skip the meeting.
- Is a client particularly unprofitable? Raise your rates or replace them.
5. Be Realistic About Your Time
If you weren’t tracking your time before you started freelancing, you’ll probably be surprised that it’s possible to work a full day and still only track 6 “billable” hours.
That’s completely normal!
Think about your last full time job and remember all the time spent chatting with colleagues, eating lunch, and dealing with various everyday distractions.
As Stefan Palios notes, don’t expect yourself to actually have 100% of your time be “productive”:
So make sure you’re planning, and charging, appropriately.
6. Raise Your Rates
The best way to get clients who respect your boundaries is to get clients who pay you well:
Seriously, don’t discount this advice.
Cheap clients will demand the world for next to nothing. High-paying clients pay on time and actually respect you as a person.
7. Build a Morning Routine
As the good folks at Unemployable note, hustle culture leads to burnout.
Exercise, meditation, and other positive habits can all help relieve stress. But I’ve found that combining them into a single morning routine can make a huge difference.
- Start every work day with coffee and read a good book for 30 minutes (I prefer fiction, but anything not work-related is fine)
- Meditate for 15 minutes
- Exercise or go for a walk
- Don’t check email or Slack before 10am
The routine is simple, but the important thing here is your focus.
By starting your day focused on yourself rather than your clients, you keep things in perspective. Your business is there to serve you, not the other way around.
When I started doing my routine, my stress levels plummeted.
Remember To Experiment
The advice above has worked well for me, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
So if you’re finding your freelance business is stressing you out, start experimenting until you find something that works for you.
. . .
How about you? What do you do to avoid freelance burnout?