Often times after I say that I’m a full-time freelancer, it’s met with wide-eyes and a jaw fully agape. Couple that with the fact that I purposely schedule myself to work night shifts and it’s seemingly impossible for some to wrap their heads around what I do for a living.

“But, how do you stay motivated to work,” I’m frequently asked. “How do you keep yourself from procrastinating or just screwing off all day?”

Quite the opposite ends up happening to us freelancers, actually. Freedom over your own schedule is one of the most prominent beauties of being self-employed.

It’s not long before you realize “time is money” – and the phrase applies more literally than it ever did prior to your work as a freelancer.

Soon, you begin bargaining with yourself. “I could watch an hour-long episode of my favorite TV show, or I could spend that hour writing a 600-word article and bring in an extra $60.”

Eventually, every episode of TV begins to feel like it costs you $60. Every moment invested in a video game or a novel feels like a monetary investment. You begin to value your time much differently.

As this mindset progresses, you find your planners overflowing with due dates. Scrap pieces of paper stitch together to form to-do lists longer than your arms. Suddenly, your entire life revolves around work.

It’s almost addicting. Not necessarily the work itself, but chasing each paycheck. Each sale feels like leveling up in a video game.

And then you forget why you even got into freelancing in the first place. The greed is sinful and steers you into a binding tunnel-vision.

It may take a few weeks, maybe even months, before you start to feel the weight of your work crash upon your shoulders. That, my bug buddies, is the freelancer burnout.

So, how do you avoid feeling burnt out without feeling like every moment not working is costing you money?

Learn to Value Your Free Time

You may not earn a paycheck for treating yourself to an afternoon stroll around the neighborhood, but you’re still earning something; personal enrichment.

Your free time is priceless and you’ve most definitely earned it.

Plus, breaks are vital to your well-being. Overworking yourself is still stressful, even if you’re not working under the hawk-eyed gaze of someone else.

“Stress contributes to decreased organizational performance, decreased employee overall performance, high error rate and poor quality of work, high staff turnover, and absenteeism due to health problems such as anxiety, emotional disorder; work-life imbalance; depression and other forms of ailments such as frequent headache; obesity and cardiac arrests.”

Effect of Stress on Employee Performance and Job Satisfaction: A Case Study of Nigerian Banking Industry

Putting yourself under the stress of a constant workload can negatively impact your health and the quality of your work, which will cost you far more than a break here and there will in the long run.

Give Yourself Designated Breaks

If you can’t convince yourself to commit to at least one day off per week, then give yourself designated breaks or have loosely defined work hours.

For example, I work every day, but my “nine to five” happens between the hours of 9 p.m. to 12 p.m. with a one to two-hour break around sunrise. My afternoons and evenings are spent doing whatever I please, whether it’s socializing, watching TV, playing video games, or reading.

I don’t always work until noon, either. If I finish my work for the day earlier, then I finish early, simple as that. Whatever I have planned for tomorrow can wait until the next shift. And I don’t always start at 9 p.m. on the dot, either.

My breaks aren’t always filled with another activity. Sometimes I just need to take a nap in the middle of my shift. Hey, when you’re self-employed, why not? Personally, I think every employee would be a bit happier if they had the option to take a catnap halfway through their shift.

Don’t Push Yourself

Pace yourself! Everyone will have a unique flow to their work and everyone will be able to handle different workloads. Time management is key here.

If you know you have a busy week ahead, whether it’s related to your personal life or a passion project, give your clients a heads up. They’ll understand and appreciate having that open line of communication.

Similarly, if you feel burnt out after working a busy week, don’t push yourself to keep going full steam ahead. Fill the following week with “easier” assignments and weave more breaks into your schedule to give yourself a chance to recharge.

Don’t Forget Your Passion

I can’t stress this enough; don’t forget why you became a full-time freelancer in the first place. Clearly, you’ve chosen this path because it allows you to fully dedicate yourself to your passion, your craft.

Working full-time in the arts on your own merit can sound like a dream-come-true for many. It’s beautiful in theory, but can still be just as tiring as the stereotypical daily-grind.

Don’t forget why you fell in love with your passion in the first place. Your talent is more than just a source of income, it’s your personal connection to this big, blue marble we inhabit.

That being said, make time for personal projects. Whether it’s free writing in a journal, watercolor paintings to unwind in the evening, or impromptu photo shoots in the kitchen, don’t deny yourself the liberty of self-expression.

Embrace your passion and treat yourself with compassion. You’ve earned it.

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