Utilizing Freelance Work To Balance Burnout
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Utilizing Freelance Work To Balance Burnout

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An unsatisfying and over-demanding job can lead to burnout, so it's important to find the work that aligns with your values, as that will keep you motivated.

Having a job is a bit of a conflicted experience. Sometimes, you might be in it for the money, while it might be all about passion for others. Incorporating your job into your life is a bit of a balancing act. To succeed, you want to find work you’re passionate about, while leaving room for your personal life as well. While freelancing is a good route to pursuing interesting work, doing too much can lead to burnout and feelings of discontent with what you do.

Balancing Freelance Work

Whether you’re just getting started as a freelancer or having a steady freelance side hustle alongside your full-time job, this job is something you need to try to fit within your schedule. Here, balance is key. While freelancing can be incredibly rewarding, it can also demand a lot of your time. So, how can you make it work?

Getting started as a freelancer

With freelancing, the possibilities are endless. Whether you’re fresh out of college or have been in the workforce for a while, freelancing can enable you to develop your career and your passions. To get started, think about what skills you can offer and how you can market them to clients, then take the leap of faith!

Some popular freelance options in 2022 include:

  • Graphic design
  • Website development
  • Software engineering
  • Copywriting

Importantly, freelancing does not have to be all-or-nothing. Even taking on one small job counts as something. What matters is that you’re building your portfolio and discovering what you really want or need in life.

Freelancing while working full-time

You also don’t have to sacrifice your day job for freelance work. Freelancing while working full-time is a good way of maintaining a financial safety net while exploring other options. As long as you’re thinking of legal and personal constraints like conflicts of interest, and giving your jobs the attention they deserve, this path is completely feasible in 2022, with more people branching out toward multiple sources of income.

Burnout from work

While everything about freelancing might sound enticing, it’s also important to recognize your own limits. It’s possible to take on too much work, or get trapped in a job you don’t like. In those situations, you might start to experience burnout, and what used to be rewarding suddenly starts feeling like a waste of time.

Cartoon of a person typing at a laptop, brow furrowed, with a fire behind them and the trembling text "AAAAAAAAA"

What is burnout?

Burnout describes a kind of extreme fatigue related to work. People who experience burnout may be feeling a sense of exhaustion and disconnect from their job, with a loss of energy and motivation.

This is even more prevalent in 2022, as working from home has made it more difficult to set a work-life balance. Working online makes it hard to leave your job behind and go home, leaving less space for family and personal time, for example. As a result, burnout can occur from this lack of balance.

What causes burnout?

Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors in your lifestyle. Broadly speaking, burnout at work happens when the conditions you work in are overly taxing on your mental health. Especially in 2022, with the prevalence of hustle culture and the related belief that work should be difficult — even painful, burnout results from too much time working in conditions unsuitable for you.

Some major causes of burnout are related to workload, values, and reward. The dangers of an overly-demanding workload are fairly obvious: when work takes over your life, there’s a lack of balance and control over your own time. Work becomes overwhelming when you can’t take time away from it.

Other times, burnout can stem from differences in values. When the work you’re doing doesn’t align with what’s important to you, it can be easy to feel burnt out. Similarly, sometimes your work isn’t sufficiently rewarding. This can be monetary, but it can also be emotional, if the people you work with don’t appreciate your contributions. That kind of work environment can certainly diminish your sense of accomplishment.

How to spot burnout in the day to day

photo of a skeleton's upper body buried with blue sticky notes, with one in its mouth that has "BURNOUT" written on it in red ink
(Credit: Tara Winstead on Pexels)

Burnout can look different for different people, but here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Exhaustion, both physical and emotional
  • Tendencies toward isolation from others and social withdrawal
  • Desire to escape from current situation
  • Stronger irritability and anger
  • Other changes in behavior and mood

What’s the difference between stress and burnout?

Burnout is more than a simple experience of stress. While stress may certainly be a cause of burnout, it is not the entire picture. While stress is a period of overwhelming attention to work, burnout is characterized by a persistent lack of engagement with it. When you’re stressed, you may feel a greater urgency to get things done. When you’re burnt out, however, you lose that motivation and hope to work, even under stressful conditions.

Is burnout related to mental health?

By that definition, then, burnout is clearly related to mental health. It is a persistent condition that cannot be simply solved through more work. While getting things done might alleviate stress, it cannot cure burnout. Experiences of burnout can be accompanied by depression or anxiety, both serious mental health concerns that require targeted support. Left untreated, burnout can also exacerbate mental health issues outside of work.

Avoiding burnout: the four P’s of time management

Burnout, obviously, is not anyone’s ideal situation. Luckily, it also is not an inevitable one. Finding the right approach to a work-life balance can help you stay productive and motivated while avoiding burnout.

Using time management to avoid burnout

Time management skills are incredibly useful tools for avoiding burnout. As mentioned, one major cause of burnout has to do with an unhealthy workload. When life becomes overwhelmed by work, even if you are doing something you enjoy, burnout can make you feel discontent in even the most enjoyable job.

Practicing good time management is a great way to help avoid that unpleasant outcome. It can help you regain control over your schedule and find balance in your life, so you can actually take pleasure in what you love to do. To practice time management, consider four P’s:

  • Plan
  • Prioritize
  • Push
  • Party
photo of a planner lying flat on a wooden table, with writing utensils around it, open to a hand-drawn January calendar
(Credit: Bich Tran on Pexels)

Plan

Especially if you’re experiencing burnout because you feel a loss of control over your work, it may be helpful to take a step back and plan out your schedule. You can do so on a small scale by planning out your daily tasks, as well as focusing on the long term and setting goals for the week or month.

There are many benefits to having a plan for yourself, but one important thing it does is give you insight into why you’re working and what you’re working toward. Planning, especially in the long term, helps you find the meaning of your work. It allows you to structure your tasks with knowledge of the goal they serve.

Prioritize

Sometimes, it may feel like there is too much that needs to be done to achieve your goals. You might feel the work pile up and feel burnout from the pressure that causes. In this case, it’s important to prioritize. Not all tasks are created equal, so try to identify what will best help you achieve your goals and focus on those first.

There are three things that are useful to consider when choosing what to prioritize: urgency, importance, and effort. Ideally, you want to prioritize tasks that are more urgent and important than the rest, especially if they don’t require too much effort. Thinking of these factors will help you determine when and how to get things done while minimizing stress in the process.

Push

Though this may feel counterintuitive to combating burnout, good time management also means pushing through your plan to get things done. Especially if you’re a freelancer without a fixed schedule, it can become easy to let the day slip away from you. Finishing the work that needs to be done, however, is better in the long run.

How do you work with a lack of motivation? The answer is different for everyone. For some, it might have to do with changing the way you work. Find ways to make your work time more enjoyable and productive, like setting a reward system or creating a nice work environment without distractions.

For others, though, lack of motivation might have to do with the type of work you’re doing. If you find the tasks you’re doing overly uninspiring, it might be an indicator that your work isn’t right for you. Sound like you? In that case, keep reading to learn more about reevaluating your lifestyle choices and bouncing back from burnout by making a change in your life.

Party

Finally, good time management also includes knowing when to take a break. Even if you’re getting things done, overworking can contribute to burnout in the end, so make sure you take the time away to focus on your own self care.

Man shutting laptop, standing up, and walking away while saying "Break time"
(Credit: Kim’s Convenience on GIPHY)

Turn freelance full-time to combat burnout

It’s important to note, though, that time management is not the ultimate solution. While those skills are useful to avoiding burnout, they are not the cure. Sometimes, we need to turn to other resources, especially when the root of burnout is not as simple as too many tasks to complete with too little time.

How to bounce back from burnout

Recovering from burnout will look different for everyone, depending on what the root cause is. A few general ways to bounce back from burnout include:

  • Looking externally: try to locate the cause of burnout in your work
  • Introspection: reevaluate your mindset
  • Talking to your friends, family, and support system
  • Connecting your work to your core values
Mrs. Maisel, seated, facing the camera and saying to someone "I'm lucky I have a support system"
(Credit: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on GIPHY)

Reevaluating your priorities

Sometimes, you need to take a step back to see things from a broader scope. Recovering from burnout sometimes requires you to check in on your own priorities. If you’re feeling burnt out, you likely aren’t in the state you want to be in. How can you return to that desirable condition?

Remember that a major cause of burnout is a disconnect in values from your job. If you’re a freelancer still working at a regular 9-5 job, it might be time to consider turning freelance full-time, especially if you’ve already established a good business for yourself.

Ask yourself what’s important to you. Is it money, success, or skill development, for example? If you’re feeling burnt out, your priorities likely aren’t being met, but you have the power to change that.

Freelance success stories

Turning to freelance full-time might sound daunting, but it’s completely doable in reality! Especially in 2022 with the widespread adoption of remote work, freelancing is a viable career for many.

Consider the example of Radhika, a freelancer who quit her full-time job at 28 to fully pursue a freelance career that would allow her to travel the world. One of the most attractive features of this decision was the ability to be fully mobile, to take her work with her without being tied down to a time or space. For Radhika, finding balance in her life entailed being honest about her passion — travel — and finding a way to fit that into her life.

What counts as full-time freelancing?

So what exactly does it mean to be a full-time freelancer? Unlike a 9-5 job, there aren’t really set hours to define full-time freelance work. One major feature, though, is that you aren’t employed by any one company. Instead, you choose who you work for yourself. You choose the projects and clients you take on and fully plan out your day-to-day activities. Essentially, you have the ability to determine the how, when, and what of your work.

Thinking finances

When thinking of a work-life balance, though, it’s also vital to keep finances in mind. For many, the appeal of a traditional 9-5 is the predictable pay. When you start to freelance full-time, you might feel a fear of losing that safety net.

Part of freelancing full-time is learning to deal with the difficult subject of finances. Before you take the leap, it’s probably a good idea to have some savings to fall back on, to give you the confidence to focus fully on your work.

Once you start full-time freelancing, you’ll also need to accept the reality that money is unpredictable. Some months, you might make less, while in others you’ll make significantly more. You’ll also need to know how to budget for things like taxes, insurance, or any benefits typically paid for by the company.

Homer Simpson walking and exclaiming "I have to WORK for money"
(Credit: The Simpsons on GIPHY)

This might all sound like a bit of a downer, but there’s also lots of potential for freelancers in 2022. As the world of freelancing continues to grow, more opportunities to earn will open up with more resources, including emerging technology and job platforms like Pangea.

Although thinking about money is a necessary reality check, that doesn’t mean that reality is grim — in fact, it’s quite the opposite! Freelancers have access to a wide range of opportunities to learn and grow, both professionally and personally.

Making the right choice for you

With all that being said, the most vital thing is to make the right choice for yourself. There’s a lot of information to consider, but balance means something different for everyone. To avoid burnout, you need to search for what makes you the most fulfilled and pursue that, using your personal goals and values as a guide. Ideally, you’ll be able to find the thing that keeps you motivated to work and pays the bills.

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