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Chapter
3

Build in strategies to prevent burnout

In the last step, you created your ideal workweek. Now, you’re going to build in some anti-burnout prevention strategies that will help you keep working happily and healthily.

Strike at the root cause of burnout

Back when COVID was just getting worse and worse, I got a bad, bad case of burnout. ‍

I was writing about COVID a lot in the early days. The fact that these stories had my name on them added pressure. I felt like I had to stay on top of breaking news, which meant I was constantly online consuming media. There was a ton of the hurry-up-and-wait I mentioned earlier with editors. 

All of that was happening on top of my usual workload and the general stress of existing during a pandemic.‍

Especially for freelancers with multiple service lines (i.e. you do coaching, long-term projects, one-off clients, SEO, etc), burnout is so real. Two in five freelancers report levels of high stress according to a study by IPSE, which often leads to burnout.

If you’ve been feeling the water creeping in over your head, you’re either already burned out or headed there fast.‍

So what should you do to avoid burnout? You need to bake in anti-burnout strategies into your day-to-day life. This is a part of your sustainable, long-term strategy.‍

Tip: Left it too late? Sometimes freelancers don’t worry about burnout until they’re nothing but cinders. If that’s you, focus on taking immediate time off to recover. I recommend a week at a minimum. You’ll get an email template to communicate that time off to clients in Step Four.

Use both little hoses and big hoses to prevent burnout

Here’s a great example of what long-term burnout prevention looks like. I had the chance recently to speak with a freelance writer, Katie Navarra, who used to write equestrian and agricultural content. We spoke about how she was feeling burned out in her original beat. She ended up taking three months off during winter to rehash her business strategy and has now pivoted to content marketing and life coaching.

That time off itself is a firefighting tactic, but it also enabled her to set up sustainable anti-burnout strategies. ‍

Your anti-burnout toolkit will have little everyday practices, like maybe taking a proper lunch break. I am a fan of time outdoors, turning off screens, and doing unpaid creative work, like knitting and cooking. 

To determine your smaller, everyday tactics, think about when you feel most energized, revitalized, and relaxed. Basically, the opposite of burnout. What are you doing to feel that way? How can you bring that energy into your life? To give another example, Katie feels like that when she’s in the ring, working with horses. For her, it made sense to set up regular times doing exactly that.‍

Other examples include:

  • Spending time with friends

  • Exercising

  • Weekly/monthly reflection

  • Meditation

  • Journaling

  • Naps

Build your anti-burnout toolkit and policy

Now it’s your turn. To create your anti-burnout plan, list your top three burnout prevention strategies and the frequency in which you will do them. They can be drawn from the list above, my examples, or anything else in your life that makes you feel calm, at peace, and fully happy. ‍

  1. ________________________________________  

  2. ________________________________________ 

  3. ________________________________________ 

Then put each one in your calendar to ensure you come back to them regularly. Here’s your template:‍

To prevent burnout,

I, _____ [your name], will do ______[activity 1] every ________[time span]

I, _____ [your name], will do ______[activity 2] every ________[time span]

I, _____ [your name], will do ______[activity 3] every ________[time span]

Tip: Struggling to develop the mental and emotional fortitude to tell clients you aren’t working for two weeks? I loved the book Burnout by the Nagowski sisters. In it, they write about how to do micro burnout prevention. You can close the burnout cycle on a daily or weekly basis. Some examples they suggest are practicing creative work, changing up spaces, or just getting some movement. 

You may feel like you don’t deserve to take this time off, or you’re somehow wronging your clients if you need this time off without warning. But remember: if you had a physical health emergency, like a broken arm, most clients and customers would be completely understanding if you needed time off. Take that energy and acceptance and apply it to your burnout, too. 

Recap

In this step, we covered handling burnout. One of the best ways to do that is to take regular time off and respect your body’s sick days – that’s what we’ll get to next.

Quick quiz: what three activities are you prioritizing to prevent burnout? Why did you choose them?

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