I’m a millennial, which means (at least according to a recent viral BuzzFeed article), I’m part of a burnout generation. That is if you don’t take into account that a lot of freelance writers have to deal with at least some burnout.
Many of us work remotely and if we’re avoiding coffee shops or co-working spaces to save money, we’re working from home, alone with no co-workers to chat with in the kitchen while everyone goes on a morning coffee or tea run. No co-workers to bounce ideas off. And no coworkers to turn to when your screen begins to drive you crazy. No free snacks to binge on with everyone during informal breaks.
That and freelancing means that there is no steady paycheck, no benefits, and no steady schedule that’s set by someone else. There’s a crazy amount of emotional labor that comes with staying afloat. It includes sending out pitches, invoicing, finding sources, paying for healthcare and transportation (and snacks) without a team behind you. During my last year as a freelancer, I’ve had moments when I’ve felt like tearing my hair off whenever something was wrong with my laptop, photo equipment, or when a payment was stalled.
I’ve cried over invoicing amounts so small, I wondered how the hell I would ever pay my bills.
I’ve raged over unanswered phone calls and emails from sources and editors. I’ve practically given up on writing thanks to killed stories. That comes with a lot of burnout. It comes with a lot of stress. And the first year of freelancing after I got out of graduate school feeling burned out also came with feeling physically sick all of the time. I had nausea, migraines that lasted weeks, chest pains, dizziness that would not go away and a sense that the floor was going to give away underneath me.
It sucked. And it was painful.
2018 was a better year, but I did spend a lot of time feeling some sort of burnout. I eventually came to terms with how I was feeling and why and decided to take a more proactive approach to it.
I Let Myself Feel Burned Out
If you’re a freelancer who feels burned out, don’t lie to yourself about it. I spend a lot of time ignoring how I felt instead of really looking at it and realizing that there was a problem.
This doesn’t mean that you have to wallow in feeling like crap or bad for yourself forever but do give yourself some time to look at the fact that you are burned out, it’s bad for you and for your work ethic. Then take some time to just feel crappy. Take a weekend off to just lay around or go for a walk. You need that headspace in order to think about how to get past the burnout.
I started giving myself more breaks and taking on fewer assignments that stressed me out while I began to access what to do about my burnout. It made a huge difference. It didn’t solve all of my problems (or symptoms), but it did give me some time to think about what to do next.
Make a Realistic Plan to Tackle The Causes of Burnout
Once you have some headspace, get cracking on what to do about feeling burned out. I had to sit down one Saturday and think about how I was going to go forward. It took a bunch of Google Docs, Google Sheets and a calendar to get my assignments organized, schedule in free time and even errands.
Like other things, it didn’t completely solve the problem, but I did feel better and it made me more organized. Was I frustrated in the middle of organizing everything? Yes. But in the end, it did make a huge difference in how I was able to organize my schedule. I now try to take half of Saturday and Sunday off unless there’s a pressing deadline. Staying organized has made sure that I’ve been able to do this at least twice a month.
Take a Freaking Break Already
I know this isn’t possible for everyone all the time. Some freelancers are parents to young children, caretakers to sick or elderly relatives, or just going through a lot of stuff themselves. But if some scheduling happens, there will hopefully be some time for you to take to yourself.
Whenever I’ve had to work on several assignments and deal with a personal or family issue, I wouldn’t have a lot of time to think. So I just started walking around the block, getting some quick fresh air and then coming back inside. If all I had was 5 minutes, then I took those minutes and made them count for me. It’s kept me sane during crazy weeks, which is important when I’m trying to hand in quality work.
So please, even if it’s just a minute or two, take a quick break. I don’t regret my phone free lunch breaks, or taking a quick walk. It has made some difference in how eager I am to get work done. It’s easier to get up in the mornings, I don’t have the same horrible long-lasting colds that I used to and I generally don’t feel like crap at the end of the day (at least not as often as I used to).