First of all, I’d like to commend you for opening up this post. If you’re reading this, it probably means that you or someone you know has experienced burnout and you’re curious about preventing it.
If not, let’s quickly define what burnout is.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
You may be on the road to burnout if:
- Every day is a bad day.
- Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
- You’re exhausted all the time.
- The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
- You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
Simply put, burnout is when you’re so stressed or overwhelmed, you don’t really feel like you can go on. In this “hustle and grind” culture where we current find ourselves, burnout is extremely common. As entrepreneurship and freelancing grows as an industry, the more people have to do things alone. And that can in large part contribute to burnout.
I am not a medical or mental health professional by any means and I am not qualified to diagnose or treat any of the symptoms or causes of burnout. But I have been through it myself (and still go through it). As a result, I’ve noticed a few patterns and habits that contribute to my own overwhelming stress.
So here are a few things I know I’ve done – that you may be doing as well – that have lead me to burnout.
not making the best use of your time
Sometimes, you feel like you’re doing too much because you are. With time and experience comes the ability to figure out what to do yourself and what to delegate or automate. I won’t go too much here into my favorite time-saving tools, but if you can automate the busy work, do it. Work smarter, not harder.
If you can delegate by hiring a VA or subcontracting, do it. At the beginning of my career, I wanted to offer every service under the sun so that I could always say “yes” when my clients needed something. But I soon realized that was insanely unrealistic. Having to learn and then manage dozens of different services is just too much.
I’ve also found that time management in and of itself helps keep me from getting overwhelmed. I use block scheduling to set up my days and make my time more tangible. I block off the time in the morning when I go to the gym, and then create blocks for the activities I need to cover in a day. Managing your time means you don’t cause yourself unnecessary stress by forgetting things, running out of time, missing deadlines, or creating an unbalance of types of work (client vs. business tasks, etc.)
Consider tracking your time as well if you aren’t already. You can then look back and see where you may be spending too much or not enough time.
Trying to do everything and be everywhere at once
When you work for yourself, by yourself, you need to wear a lot of hats. But overseeing multiple facets of a business doesn’t mean you need to stretch yourself thin.
There was a time when I was convinced I needed to be active daily on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I knew that my clients hung out on all four and I knew they each offered unique opportunities.
But creating, scheduling, maintaining, and reporting on 4 full social media profiles is a full-time job in and of itself. Even if you haven’t decided on this insane course of action, take a look at all of what you’re doing to be everywhere and do everything. Are you making the absolute most of your time? The absolute most of that opportunity? Or are you just being there for the sake of it?
I’ve cut back to being active on Twitter and YouTube. Eventually, I’d like to hire someone to post more on Facebook and Instagram for me. But I’ve found that in absorbing myself more into 2 channels and spending more of my energy and focus there, I’m making better content and better connections.
not putting up strong boundaries
At the beginning of my professional career, I worked a job with zero boundaries. There was a strong culture of “family” which meant that everyone knew and was involved in everyone else’s business. There were phone calls and texts being sent in the middle of the night – and the expectation of a response. I was expected to work outside my business hours, to stay late if something wasn’t done, and there was no strong definition of what my job really was, so I was always being pulled in a million different directions.
As a freelancer, I’ve become adamant about setting my own boundaries. And when I breach them, I find that I’m immediately stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. Exampes of good boundaries are:
- Setting and sticking to working hours that work best for you. Not everyone functions best with Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm.
- Taking the days off that fit you best to make sure your client work isn’t crushing the opportunity for you to work on your business.
- Only accepting communication that comes in the way you choose. This includes not using a personal email or text messages, but limiting business interaction to business email accounts and phone calls on a designated line.
- Keeping your clients as just that – clients. If you’ve built a rapport with someone, it’s easy to let that evolve into a friendship. But keeping emotional boundaries between yourself and a client keeps you objective and prioritized.
not expressing gratitude
It is so, so easy to look at the businesses others have built and be bitter, resentful or jealous. I’ve definitely said to myself, “I can do what they can do – I can even do it better! Why are they making more than me?”
The truth is, it’s none of my business. And by comparing my success to the percieved success of others, I’m diminishing my own accomplishments and self-worth.
Keeping it all in perspective is tough. I have to remind myself regularly that when I began freelancing, I worked from an old desktop in a cramped, dark bedroom that I shared with a roommate, I ate horribly, I never went outside or saw any of my friends. Now, I work from much better equipment, have built a decent core of loyal and supportive clients, an amazing community of friends, and am much healthier – physically and emotionally.
Maintaining a gratitude journal – or even just being mindful on a regular basis of how far you’ve come – can shift your mindset and help dissipate imposter syndrome before it can fester.
Not Reaching Out for Help
You are not alone. I repeat, you are not alone.
A few days ago, I woke up feeling completely burnt out, depressed, and unable to work, so I posed this question on Twitter, just to see what other people go through. I’ll leave you with some of the amazing answers I received.
Allie is a WordPress designer and developer based in Miami, FL and the founder of Pixel Glow Web Design. She is a proud member of the WordPress community and is passionate advocate for education about and through the internet.