How to Avoid Burnout as a Freelance Creative

March 25, 2020

How to Avoid Burnout as a Freelance Creative

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If you’re self-employed, you don’t always know when your next project or paycheck will come, which makes saying yes to every work opportunity pretty appealing. But, taking on too much work can leave you sacrificing things like family, friends, creativity, sleep, and health. While giving up these things in the short term is doable, in the long run, working around the clock can leave you feeling burnt out, unmotivated, and overtime could jeopardize your creative career.

If you’re overworking yourself, it can cause mistakes to occur, unhealthy habits to form, and increased stress. If you want to do your best and be your best, you must prevent burnout. And there’s good news! There are several ways you CAN avoid burnout to maximize your productivity while ensuring a healthy lifestyle.

1. Know the Signs of Burnout

The first way you can avoid burnout is to be self-aware and pay attention to the early signs. Some common indicators are; trouble sleeping, irritability, challenges concentrating, tiredness, lack of motivation, and feeling overwhelmed. Recognizing these early signs allows you to practice prevention methods to stop burnout in its tracks. 

Woman experiencing stress or burnout while working.

2. Practice Time Management

A big cause of burnout is being unrealistic about how much you’re capable of accomplishing in a day. It helps to get an idea of how long it takes you to do things and to understand what your limits are. If you’re a videographer, a 10 hour shoot day is really a 12 hour shoot day because of the additional time it takes to prep and pack gear, charge batteries, and so on. Another example is as a video editor; you not only spend time editing, you also organize clips, back up your work on a safety hard drive, make revisions, send emails, etc. Figuring out ways to save time, such as incorporating stock media into your projects or working with an assistant editor, are great ways to accomplish more during working hours.

White woman and white man collaborate on a freelance project to avoid burnout

Another excellent tool for avoiding burnout is effectively using your calendar. Schedule your daily work and allow a realistic amount of time to finish each task. It helps to build in a little bit of buffer time to tackle unforeseen items. Schedule at least one to two free days each month to unwind, catch up on hobbies, and hang out with good company so that you’re refreshed, and you can perform at your best when you are working.

Looking at calendar to effectively strategize time management

3. Eliminate Distractions 

When not actively aware of surrounding distractions, people can fill the majority of their work hours with social media, socializing, texting, or eating. Because of this, studies show that, on average, some people work productively for only 2 hours and 53 minutes a day. If you fall into this pattern, it can leave you scrambling to get jobs finished after hours and cause you to feel like you’re always trying to catch up, and in reality, you are. 

Eliminating distractions from your environment can significantly increase your productivity and reduce burnout. Here are a few ideas: Turn your phone to silent and flip it over or put it in a drawer beside you, so you don’t see notifications pop up and get the urge to check them. Try to use your work computer only for work tasks, not for checking distracting social media sites. 

Man with multiple scarves working on laptop

The Pomodoro technique is a great tool to maximize efficiency. The idea is to set a timer for 25 minutes and do focused work during that time frame without allowing any distractions. When the timer goes off, take a quick break. Creating short deadlines instills a sense of urgency, causing people to focus on the task at hand, which makes their entire day more productive. 

4. Set Healthy Boundaries 

Setting boundaries is very critical to preventing burnout. While it may be tempting to work a few hours longer each night or answer calls and emails during off-hours, doing these things will create an expectation with your clients that you have no boundaries, and they can have access to you any time they please. 

Allowing yourself to set, or agree to tight, or unrealistic deadlines are easy ways to get overwhelmed with a project. With proper communication, you can explain to your clients ahead of time how long a project will take, and that trying to complete a task in a shorter timeframe could produce lower quality results. They are hiring you as a professional, so it’s up to you to set healthy boundaries and proper deadlines to produce great results while still taking care of your own needs. 

Composed woman taking the time to call someone.

Being concise and consistent when setting boundaries can come with some initial pushback, but providing context, and explaining the various aspects to your professional process, will ensure you are delivering your clients with the best work you can.

To reach goals, increase your happiness, and create at your best, you have to take care of yourself first. Managing your time well, knowing how to communicate with your clients to develop realistic expectations, avoiding distractions, and being aware of when you’re getting close to being overworked, are all vital steps to prevent burnout. It will help you create a healthier and happier life, and keep yourself in check as you advance in your creative career.


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Alli Saunders

Video Creator, YouTuber: Alli and Will

Alli runs several businesses including a Toronto based video production company and an online business that’s trained 150,000+ students in a wide range of courses. She has 7+ years of cinematography and editing experience producing corporate, web and commercial videos. Second to that, Alli has a <a href="">YouTube channel</a> with her husband and business partner Will that’s focused on filmmaking, traveling, and a behind the scenes of their lifestyles.