5 ways to manage freelance stress and avoid burnout

The life of a freelancer looks so appealing, and many people on the nine-to-five desk grind will envy the freedom and flexibility that comes with this type of work. You can choose where you work, how long you work for, what type of work you take on, the volume of work you do, and who you work for. While all this sounds perfect, the most common myth about freelancing is that it is stress-free.

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However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and nothing can prepare you for the added stress that comes with working independently. Simply lacking the safety net of having a permanent full-time role within a company can be stressful enough for some people, as well as the need to self-motivate when you just aren’t feeling it.

Plus, there will always be times where work is scarce and you’re stressed about making enough money and finding more work, and then there will be high-pressure periods when managing the amount of work and meeting deadlines will be just as stressful and exhausting.

This fluctuation is hard to get used to, and in my own freelancing career, the unknown nature of what comes next is still something I’m getting used to. However, I’m definitely not willing to give up the flexibility, and so I found a few practical ways to manage the stress inherent in the nature of freelancing work.

5 ways to manage freelance stress

1. Learn to say no

Saying no is something I have never been good at. Especially as a freelancer, you will feel inclined to say yes because you are never certain that you will continue to have work down the track. And it is this mindset that has been the basis of most of my stress when freelancing.

You need to be able to create a realistic schedule, one that allows you to meet all the deadlines for projects you have already committed to. To avoid taking on too many jobs at once, make sure you not only schedule in your work hours but also time for social activities, exercise, and any other commitments.

You don’t want your leisure time to be compromised just so you can take on another project, because that will only be a disservice to the quality of your work and ability to meet deadlines, and could also eventually lead to burnout.

2. Set work hours

Even though freelancing is appealing because you can work whenever you feel like it, it can also be really useful to set work hours. When I don’t do this, I find myself feeling guilty for doing anything besides work, and end up spending too much time procrastinating and consequently skipping out on leisure time. Or on the other hand, I schedule in too much of everything else and fail to leave myself enough time to get all my work done (causing A LOT of easily avoidable stress).

The best part is that you aren’t restricted by nine-to-five hours, and don’t need to commute to an office, so you can think about when you are most productive and schedule in a solid block of time to power through some work then. A lot of people are most productive when they first wake up, from 6 am to 10 am, but every individual is different.

Setting work hours is also just as important as setting time for activities outside of work like socializing or exercise, and if you have stuck to your schedule and completed your work then you won’t need to spend this time outside of work feeling guilty (just as I used to).

And if something urgent comes up and eats into all your work hours, it’s important to find another block of time to make up for it so you keep on top of everything and aren’t stressing about not getting everything done.

3. Schedule breaks

When your working in an office the best part of the day is usually your break, and it tends to be something you aren’t willing to give up. But with freelancing, and particularly if you are working from home, you can quite easily forget to take a break.

As someone who works out of home, my bedroom is totally off limits while working, unless I’m taking a break. Even though I’m working at home, I try to separate my work and my personal life, which is why I still stick to scheduled hours and will only work in my dedicated spot in the house.

That way when I go to take a break, it actually feels like I’m taking a break because I’m relaxing in a different area. If I was to work in my bedroom, then the line would be blurred between work and everything else, and it would also inhibit my productivity.

Find out what hours work best for you whether that is working straight through a day with an hour lunch break, working in two-hour slots with breaks in between, taking ten-minute breaks every hour etc. The beauty of freelancing is that you’re in control, so taking advantage of that is vital to stress management.

4. Focus on the task at hand

In those high-pressure times where you are flooded with deadlines, the worst thing you can do is dwell on everything you have to complete.

Keep your mind focused on what you are working on right now and getting the most important things done first. You may have no choice but to work into the night sometimes but try not to make this a regular occurrence.

At the end of the day, spending time worrying about completely all your projects is simply time wasted, and adds no value to your work. Focus on things one at a time, take regular breaks and keep breathing! The high-pressure times won’t last forever.

5. Find a hobby

Doing something that you enjoy every day will help eliminate stress and gives you something to always look forward to if you’re finding yourself in a work slump. As mentioned earlier, try having a workspace and personal space if your home allows for it, so your mind can easily distinguish between work and your hobby. If you’re living in a tiny place where this isn’t possible, it’s really important to get out and practice your hobby, even if that just means going out and exercising (which is actually super beneficial when managing stress).

Getting out is also great due to the isolative nature of freelance work, which makes it easier to fall into a pit of depression. Finding a hobby can give you a reason to get out of the house and provide new social connections. You could even take up a hobby with a few friends giving you the perfect excuse to catch up.

Just about anything can be a hobby, from making art to nurturing a veggie patch or practicing yoga. To help manage my own freelance stress, I started up a book club with some friends and this has encouraged me to read more books for pleasure, and also allowed me to catch up with friends on a regular basis.

It can be difficult to put yourself first when you manage your work independently and also have multiple different people relying on you, but without practices like these, you are more likely to experience exhaustion, burnout and extreme stress when freelancing. Taking time out is just as important in the world of freelancing!

This article first appeared on A Girl in Progress

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