Freelancing and feeling burned out.
April 16, 2017 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Fellow do you step away, step back, enjoy a little bit of life?

I've been freelance / self-employed for five years and haven't taken a break in all that time. I've worked every day, including Christmas and New Year and am feeling more than a little wiped out.

My work is mainly copywriting, marketing and social media and have half a dozen clients who seem to require round the clock attention. The money is good but the work is super demanding.

I thought I'd found the balance by setting my daily work hours and downing tools, getting out into nature and ignoring emails for a few hours each day but I've really not had a full non-work day in the past five years.

I'm single, early 40s, no major commitments other than my dog. How do I take a break? Is a holiday (two weeks?!) even possible without losing clients? I can work remotely as long as I have internet and my laptop...have you worked succesfully from a holiday destination and still unwound?

If long timeouts aren't possible how do you balance work and relaxation? Are long periods of downtime even neccessary or can you work and play without the standard 'holiday'?
posted by Caskeum to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone goes on vacation and understands when others go on vacation. Would you feel guilty if you had a full-time job and took time off? YOU have to establish the boundaries when you're self-employed, and you have to make that time because no one will just hand it to you. If your client can't deal with you taking a day off, find new clients. Easier said than done, but your sanity is more important than whatever work you're doing, so give it some thought.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:27 AM on April 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've freelanced for a few years, but just as a side gig right now. I also do mostly copyediting and writing for the web. I like freelancing for the potential work/life balance it can have, but I find it hard to step away some too. For time off, I try to approach it as I would at a normal 9-5 job and let clients know well in advance if I will be "out of office" for vacation so they can plan ahead for your absence. It is good to keep a typical number of annual vacation days, like 3 weeks, in mind in order to remember to actually take time off.

Also, if you know any other freelancers in your field that you would recommend, consider asking them to be "on call" if your clients do express concern about your absence. That way if something urgent comes up while you're away, they can have a back up plan. I think that would still be going above and beyond your responsibility. At my day jobs I've always worked with freelancers and don't expect them to be available around the clock. You just need to set boundaries and deadlines for certain requests so you can schedule yourself to work reasonable hours.
posted by Katie8709 at 11:31 AM on April 16, 2017

clients who seem to require round the clock attention.

You know why that is most likely the case? Cuz they are terrible at planning, they are always running late, so when they come to you everything is urgent by default. And they love you, cuz you always turn it around really quickly! But why should you be the one picking up the slack for their disorganisation?
It may be difficult to retrain them if this has been going for years, but it's worth trying. Set reasonable deadline boundaries (no "next day delivery" or whatever), and a hefty premium for the occasional (!) rush job. If they appreciate the work you do, they'll incorporate "Caskeum turnaround" into their shoddy planning.
Taking a day off from time to time will become much easier (I worked every day for a while. It's terrible. Now I work 5 days / week most weeks. It makes a huge difference, even tho I only work 2-3 hours a day on average anyway).

And similarly, you can warn them ahead of time of a planned holiday. Hefty premium rush job deal optional if you feel like being available on holiday (I've worked on trips. But 2-3 days out of a 2-3 week holiday!! Not every day.)

Good luck!!! Work-life balance is really important and it's easy to feel like you can't let clients down. But if they burn you out, they are shitty clients.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:05 PM on April 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Freelance marketing copywriter here for over a decade. I bill 20–25 hours a week and take off four to five weeks a year.

I just tell my clients when I'm going to be unavailable, and it's honestly never been a problem.

If the tempo of social media posting is part of the problem, consider using Hootsuite or similar to schedule posts in advance.

But if the problem is that you've trained your clients to expect 24/7 availability, I'd say it's time to start training them to respect reasonable boundaries, and to fire the ones that won't.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:57 PM on April 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think you just have to start doing it. It takes practice to take time off. But you just tell people you are unavailable. How much savings do you have? If you bill by the hour, how many hours do you need to get in each week to meet your overhead requirements? If you don't know that yet, work on that.

I had a kind of wacky project last year and it relied on multiple outside influences to get done and there was a lot of hurry up and wait and, of course, despite telling everyone that I was off for a week on a certain day, it ended up the day before my vacation that everything kind of gelled and I said, well, here's what I can do for you now, but I'm off the grid tomorrow and won't be able to check back in for four days. The client was very understanding. And, frankly, if they had not been, they were the ones that were on the short end there, already too deep into things to just go, "Well! I'll take my business elsewhere!" I would have laughed and said, good luck! So, you need to also recognize that you are a sunk cost for them and your clients don't really want to go anywhere else even if you suddenly aren't as available as you were before.

So, go ahead, schedule a long weekend in May for a get-away. Do it now! Take a Friday and a Monday but tell your clients you won't be back until Wednesday. Then use that Tuesday to putter around, do some project housekeeping and decompress a bit.

And, yes, I think you do need time away occasionally. Though "away" can take different forms.
posted by amanda at 2:17 PM on April 16, 2017

We train people how to treat us. If you are willing to be available 24/7, that's what your clients will expect. No one will take care of you but you. It's not personal, it's just human. So just nthing what everyone else said above.

Keep in mind that we are actually more effective at work when we get regular breaks. Stress and deadlines take a physical toll, even though that toll may not be obvious initially and can be maintained for some time. But it's not healthy and not recommended. So please do yourself, your clients, and your fellow freelancers a favour and start acting more professionally by setting appropriate boundaries and expectations around your work hours, vacation periods, etc.

Getting started may be painful. You might feel anxious at first and worried that you may lose clients. But if you give folks warning and then follow through (rather than caving), you'll get the weekly break (you should be getting weekends off most of the time) and vacation you need. So go do that, and best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:58 PM on April 16, 2017

As a 10-year freelancer, I totally get your anxieties, but one thing to remember is that if you've been working every single damn day for the past 5 years, you have plenty of business AND THEN SOME. So unless you've been putting in all this effort for a single client, even if you were to loose one by not working weekends or taking a vacation, it'd be the shitty clients you'd loose. And you'll be better off without them in the long run.
posted by drlith at 5:51 PM on April 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure how much face-to-face contact you have with clients on a regular basis, but in addition to setting firm boundaries about turnaround time expectations, I'm here to say that it may be entirely possible for you to go on vacation and keep working.

My partner is a freelancer (though he's transitioned to doing a lot more remote work for several long-term clients) and I have an academia-adjacent job that often leaves me with summers off, so we'll sometimes spend a month or so in Thailand. Thailand in particular is an excellent place to work remotely from a laptop: a low cost of living, excellent street food, and great cafe culture (including plenty of expat-friendly cafes with blazing wifi and lots of so-called digital nomads). He sometimes has awkwardly-timed Skype meetings with colleagues and clients at 10PM (which is mid-morning for them), but other than that he has a pretty similar schedule to his ordinary life, albeit with a bit more work done in cafes than at home. Could you do a trial run of a 2-3wk "half-working" vacation to see if something like this might work for you?
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:44 PM on April 16, 2017

Thought reframing:

If you lose a client over a 2-week period of unavailability, that is a terrible client and you should be glad they've removed themselves from your life.

Think of it as Marie Kondo-ing your client roster: a client who does not let you spark joy in your life? Out they go, with your love and blessings. Their place will be filled in due time by a client who understands the two-way nature of this arrangement.

That said, I would be shocked if you lost even a single client over a 2-week vacation. If they need such 24/7 care, it's likely that they'll be unable to muster the organization to replace you in that time frame...if anything, you'll find them even more desperately in need of you when you return.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:02 PM on April 17, 2017

clients who seem to require round the clock attention.

It took me more than 5 years to figure this out as well, but like everyone said, you gotta set better boundaries.

I have never had any trouble taking time off, I simply tell people I'm unavailable. If they are a regular client, I tell them in advance. That's it. What is the point of the hustle if you can't tell everyone to piss off for a few weeks while you live your life?

I strongly agree with others here, if you are working every day with 24/7 availability then it is long past time to do some weeding.

IME it sounds like you need to raise your rates substantially. Will you lose some clients? I sure hope so! If the ones you love won't budge on a reasonable rate increase, let it slide, if the ones who keep you up at night (and prevent you from going on vacation) balk, good riddance!
posted by bradbane at 5:40 PM on April 17, 2017

« Older Easy, trustworthy escrow service for rental...   |   How do I clean the inside of my Weber gas 3 burner... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.