Freelancing: how to avoid burnout

Burnout is something every creative has to watch out for. Knowing when to say ‘no’ is an acquired skill – the same one that we as designers use to edit ourselves. We can sit and tweak a logo for days, but knowing when to walk away shows maturity. The same can be said for knowing when to bring in help or just say enough is enough.

Wrestling with saying yes to too many projects is a constant struggle. But being honest helps. When I’m working on a never-ending project and a new client or project appears in my inbox, I’m honest with them. I’m always honoured that someone thought of me to help tell their story and then explain that I might not be able to start for two weeks, 30 days or even 60 days. I hate turning down projects, but maintaining sanity is something you can’t put a price on. If that new client really wants to work with you, there is always flexibility.

I recently prepared an estimate for a new client. I told them I needed several weeks before I could begin to concept on the project and my estimate was more than they expected. Because I was short on time, and the client was short on budget, we compromised: I gave in on price with a reduction of usage and I received a more favourable schedule. Being honest paid off.

For me, it’s time to step away when ideas are harder to come by, and I feel like I’m recycling old concepts. That’s when you need to take a walk or a day off. No internet, no phone, just go and be you.

There really is no magic formula for how to deal with taking on too much. Making lists and taking one bite at a time is all you can do. Look at what’s due tomorrow, what’s due the next day and work on that. Don’t get caught up in the final outcome – that can really stress you out before you even get started. Focus on the path.

For me, exercise is important. Lean on whoever you have in your life, and remember to get out and be inspired by those things around you. When you do something you love, you have to be able to step away. If you want to do your best work, you must schedule in downtime to maintain creative sanity. Sometimes your best work might be done when you’re not working.

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