When 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?