13 Ways to Avoid Burnout

By Alyssa Gregory
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burnoutWhen you freelance or own a business, it can be challenging to get away from work, especially if you love what you do. This past weekend I took some time off from work for the first time in months, and it was a reminder of how much we need to walk away sometimes in order to stay at the top of our game.

You may not always mind working long hours or weekends, but at some point, when you work non-stop you face the risk of burning out. Which isn’t good for you or your clients. Here are a few things you can do now to avoid burning out.

1. Get Organized

If you don’t have control of the day-to-day business administration activities, it can be a major source of stress. At the end of a 14-hour workday with your nose to the screen, do you really want to deal with two more hours of miscellaneous to-dos that are necessary to keep your business running? I don’t. So I use a project management system to stay on task, a bookkeeper for my finances and a number of other systems to help my business run without too much daily interference from me.

2. Make a List

I admit to being a consummate list-maker. Without my daily task list, I would be lost in the sea of things that I need to do with no idea where to start. A list can be overwhelming, but it can also be a great way to focus.

3. Prioritize

We all have a million things we need to get done and if you have a list as mentioned above, you know this better than anyone. But luckily, most of our to-dos don’t need to be done at the same time. Take your list (or whatever you use to keep track of your tasks), and break it up into more manageable segments, based on priority. For example, you may have lists for today, tomorrow, this week, next week, this month, sometime in the future. And then mark the most important items on each of the lists so you know those are the things you need to do first every day.

calendar4. Schedule Time Off

If you have a packed schedule, there’s no chance you will be able to take a break or do anything non-work related without shuffling your time and causing more stress. One way to ensure you take time out (30 minutes a day is a great start) is by scheduling in the time as if it were another meeting. In time, this will become second nature to you and will be one of the most valuable slots of time during your day. And don’t forget to schedule a vacation.

5. Know Your Stressors

There are probably certain things that you don’t love about your job, so you probably procrastinate and put them off as long as you can. Then when you finally tackle them, they take longer and are much more painful than they need to be. Be able to identify what these stressors are, so you can create a plan for getting them done and off your list as quickly as possible.

6. Outsource

If you have more work than you can handle and it’s causing you to work non-stop, consider outsourcing. Subcontractors can be a great way to off-load extra work and even the stressors identified above that you want to get away from.

7. Say No

It’s always tough to turn down work, but there may not be a quicker way to burnout than taking on work you really don’t want to do. Create an ideal client and an ideal project and measure all incoming work against that list before taking it on. If it doesn’t meet your ideal criteria, pass it off to a colleague or a subcontractor.

8. Eliminate the Riff-Raff

If you find you have a few non-ideal clients and projects in the mix, consider cutting them loose. This will likely alleviate some stress and free up time for taking on more of the work you want.

9. Set Work Hours

Some of us work better when we have a set schedule. If this is the case for you, try creating work hours. It can be 9-5, 5-9, whatever, but once you set them, stick to them. And that means when the day is done, you’re done…e-mail included.

10. Take On a Different Project

If you’re doing the same exact thing day in and day out, you’re on a fast track to burning out…and maybe some boredom, too. Be open to taking on a different kind of project to add some variety. You might find a new skill and be able to expand your service offerings at the same time.

ice-cream11. Go Out for a Drink

Or a shopping trip, or an ice cream sundae…whatever your guilty pleasure. Socializing and unwinding can do wonders to stop a path to burnout. And it’s fun!

12. Blow Off Some Steam

This is especially important after (or in the middle of) a particularly stressful day. You need to decompress in order to refocus, and you don’t want the frustration and stress to build and create a time bomb. Do something that can act as your reset button — workout, scream, punch a pillow – and take a deep breath before jumping back in.

13. Go Back to the Beginning

From time-to-time, it’s a good idea to revisit where you were before getting started on your own. What were your first goals? What kept you going? And then celebrate your accomplishments and acknowledge how far you’ve come.

Have you faced burnout? How do you recognize it’s time to re-center yourself?

Photo of man, image credit: Michael Lorenzo
Photo of calendar, image credit: Pawel Kryj
Photo of ice cream, image credit: Sanja Gjenero

We teamed up with SiteGround
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  • Thank you for this article. I have fallen victim to burnout, many of times, in fact I still struggle with it, because I love my work. However, it is affecting my health because I get so involved, I don’t sleep and that, of course, affects my ability to not only do a good job, but be available for my family. It’s still a work in progress, but your article was very helpful, thank you.

  • I am currently feeling burnt out somewhat. I work full time as a web developer, go to school at night for a degree in web dev, read programming books in my spare time, and sometimes do freelance side jobs. But I feel like theres so much to know in this industry and if I do take a break, I’ll never become the true expert I want to be.

  • nachenko

    I’ve been on the edge of burnout too many times. I learnt many of these tips the hard way. It’s easy to get trapped. The main problem is to teach your customers you’re NOT available 24/7. If started my business again, I’d use two cell phones, one for work and another one for LIFE.

    I need “A hundred days off”.

  • Never give your clients your cell phone number. Give them a number (like a land line or skype) where they can leave a message and then you call them back on your own convenience. We are not “web doctors” that are “on call” 24×7.

  • BeenThereDoneThat

    When I first got into Web Design/Development on a professional level, I worked both a full-time 60 hour a week day job AND a 35-40 per week freelance job out of my home office. That’s a lot of time to put into working and I paid the price both mentally and physically – even with healthy distractions such as working out and doing other, non web things.

    Bottomline – you need to find your own, personal limitations and work within those boundaries. Sometimes it is 150% unavoidable not to have to dig in and hunker down to knock something out but most of the time, with a little planning, you can keep your sanity and remain very productive. I’ve been doing this for 13 years now and I know how far I can go – I do my best to honor the boundaries I have set for myself in an effort to maintain my sanity and keep my stress levels minimized.

  • Costas Siavelis

    Thank you for your comments, most encouraging! Have you been spying on me? :) I totally agree with everything you have said and these are things that I have been either doing or are always planning on doing. I think that one of the things that you said that stands out to me the most and that sums up a few of the other points, is the comment about being organised. Setting up systems to help you get organised will help relieve your mind strain and also stay and feel in control. Nothing worse than the feeling that things have run way from you… I good project management or task management system can help this.

  • Rachael Wilson

    Burnout – a place I only know too well! Thank you for the reminder that it’s ok to stop once in a while and that time out makes work time even more productive. As a highly driven person of mega proportion, that whole concept of taking time out when I could/should be working has been my biggest hurdle – the brain just does not compute! *schedules time in her diary for “productive down time”* Thanks!

  • Eneza

    @artcoder Well, yeah but how about the projects that is offshore in a different timezone that deals with E-COMMERCE how can you deal with that?

    Yeah we are not “WEB DOCTORS” and MIRACLE WORKERS! Nice article

  • khuramyz

    A symptom that I am feeling currently is boredom. Its same old work over and over again. I need a break.

  • nachenko

    I’m bored too. The main problem is that I evolved much faster than my customers. They keep requesting the same things again and again and again, while I’m already several steps further. I’m faster at my work, sure, but this does not save you from boreness.

  • tag_webdev

    For me, burnout almost feels like part of the job description at times. I’ve been better about it lately, avoiding work on weekends almost completely now, but I’ve never been able to shake it. I don’t think it would be so much of a problem for me if the revenue stream was heavier. I’m part of a small company and have to wear many hats, so to speak, and lately, the pipeline has gotten rather dry. To tell you the truth, I think about looking for something full-time or just doing the solo thing where I keep 100% of the revenue.

    Any advice?? Should I move on or try and motivate the team to push forward? Thanks…

  • Skweekah

    This is a great article. Web dev is wracking on the brain (for me anyway) and at the end of the day I feel a combination of satisfaction and mental fatigue! One glass of red wine and Im down for the count! But, these are good, solid tips for those of us out there who are trying to stay solid at our work and maintain a bit of “my time” while juggling (quite literally!!!) a family! So, thank you while I go back to the beginning – again…

  • Skweekah

    But I feel like theres so much to know in this industry and if I do take a break, I’ll never become the true expert I want to be.

    Youve got to figure out what it is you want to do and where you want to specialise. There is no point achieving the unachievable. You can try to be fair at all things but great at one. You’ll need to decide which approach to take depending on the kind of work you do. This isnt meant to be discouraging but Im hoping some people may find solace in this. It took me a while but I came to accept this (my stack of Java books will attest to this!)

  • codamedia

    Great article! Organization is my first line of defence for burnout but the next closest thing is “cutting the stressful clients loose”.

    I once had a client that made up 40% of my monthly income. The fear of losing the income this client provided kept me in stress for years. When the phone rang I had to stop everything for these people!

    Finally I bit the bullet and cut them lose. Within a month I was nearly stress free (well, under control anyway) and actually was able to take on other customers I might normally have turned away due to “no time available”. My bottom line is better, my stress level is better, my wife is happier! Need I say more!

  • anapb

    Great Post. hope its ok if i report this to my blog. Ofcourse I will acknowledge you and your sources.
    thanks for the tips!

  • I completely agree with cutting loose stressful clients. In fact, I put that above organization. After a while, you will just know which clients will give you headaches. I had to “let go” one of two clients in the past. If it feels right after you let them go, then that was the right thing to do.

  • Many thanks to all of you for your ideas and input. I have a question for all your pro’s. I started my business about a year ago, and it has grown beyond my expectations, and has taken on a life of it’s own. It’s consuming all of me, however at this point I know if I pull back, all my hard work this past year will be lost. I am not in a position, yet, to hire additional help. How do you keep your business from drowning you, especially in the beginning?

  • yesgms

    Well, among all of these techinal content, even reading this sort of article makes me relaxed and makes me feel good. To know that somebody out there understands and actually is going through the stuff i am going through is already enough to feel good. So thank you very much for the tips. I guess we all know those but still to be reminded again is good. I also suggest to everyone, these times try to say to yourself ” be mentally strong to overcome this ” repeat this with a concious mind, it will help. Regards

  • 4. Schedule Time Off , I never packed schedule , so many work to do , no time to schedule .
    thanks for share .