If you’re like me, you’ve got “workaholic” written all over your forehead. Which is ironic, really, since many of us came into the freelance life to avoid working so much and having so little to show for it.
But alas, being a Type-A hard worker means you’re more likely to work your butt off and less likely to take breaks when you need it… right up to the point that you’re stressed out and eyeing the full-time writer listings on your favorite job search engine just to get a break.
Being a Type-A hard worker means you’re more likely to work your butt off and less likely to take breaks when you need it.
Of course, over-work isn’t always because things are bad. When you’re working for yourself on projects that excite you and clients that appreciate what you do? You’re even less likely to give yourself a rest for the sheer fun of what you’re doing.
If you’re stuck in the spiraling inevitability of burnout, here are four logical arguments that create a compelling case against working yourself to death:
1. If You Invest All Your Hours Into Your Clients, You’ll Have Nothing to Show For It
You know money is finite? How if you spend your paycheck, you can’t invest it because it’s been allocated somewhere else? You only have so much money and once you choose where it goes, it’s gone.
Your time as a freelance is the same way. If you try to bill all of the hours you work as client work, there’s no time left over to do the things you need to do that will sustain your business (and your sanity) in the long run.
Michelle Nickolaisen has a great post on the Freelance to Freedom website that explains this exact phenomenon:
My current per-word rate is .25 so 2,500 words/day at that rate = $625. $625/day x 22 workdays this month = Holy crap, that’s $13,750! I’m gonna be rich!
…In theory, I could make that large sum of money every month if I did nothing but worked on client work all day, every day.
But if I did that, the following would happen:
- I wouldn’t have any product income coming in
- I wouldn’t have any class or course income coming in
- I’d be at the mercy of my current clients and when/if our work together came to a close, I’d be left without any interested parties to help fill that income gap (because I hadn’t been pitching or marketing)
- I’d be burning out because I wouldn’t be working on anything that wasn’t just for me or my creativity
When you work as an employee, you “bill” 40 hours per week working because the company has other people who do the marketing, the professional development, the lead generation, and the website design. When you work for yourself, that person doesn’t exist (unless you delegate). It’s futile to try to bill all of your hours, so you must work time off, professional development, and personal passion or income projects into your pricing.
2. Stress Turns Off Creativity, Productivity, and Your General Will to Live
When you overwork yourself, you trigger the consequences of long-term stress and overwhelm. Guess what happens to your free-flowing creativity when that happens? Study after study shows that over-worked, stressed-out employees are less creative, less productive, and less able to feel their best.
In fact, one scientist describes the process like drizzling fine sand in the brain. “It might keep working,” says Rick Hanson, PhD, “but if you dump enough sand in there, it’ll freeze up at some point.”
Repeat this mantra to yourself: By taking a break, I will be able to work better, faster, and more passionately later this afternoon.
The moment you feel anxious or stressed out about work might seem like the least likely time you want to take a break, but it’s the most important time to do it. Repeat this mantra to yourself: By taking a break, I will be able to work better, faster, and more passionately later this afternoon. Then go take a break without your cell phone, laptop, or tablet.
3. A Relaxed Freelancer Provides Better Client Experiences
We’ve all taken a client call when we were high on an impending deadline and the accompanying cortisol rush. How did it go? Were you receptive to ideas and warmly communicative? Or were you a bit too brisk, distracted, and way too relieved when the call ended early? Chances are your client noticed.
The tangential effect of overworking can seep out into how you treat your clients, which in turn can make them feel less-than-excited to work with you. Worse, they might feel like it’s a bother to work with them, talk to them, or provide services. Those tiny micro-damages to your rapport can build up over time until eventually another (more energetic) freelancer snaps your contract out from under you.
I know it’s time to take a break when I roll my eyes at absolutely every email I receive.
For me, I know it’s time to take a break when I roll my eyes at absolutely every email I receive, as if working for myself is one great inconvenience. It could be someone writing to let me know they have sent me a million dollars by check, and my first reaction is “Oh, great, thanks so much for sending that by mail so it can take two weeks to get to me and get lost real easy.” It’s not the email, it’s not the client… it’s me. And I know I need to get my attitude straight before anyone notices.
(Pro tip: When I feel this way, I never answer emails right away. I complain to my husband (if necessary) and let it sit at least two hours. Then I write the most polite and helpful yet firm response back possible.)
It’s one thing to hustle your business into being. Those early days of constant work and never-ending pitching were important to establish your business and get income through the door. But when you step up a level to running a business (instead of having your business run you), you need to step up a level to manage your obligations in a way that leaves you relaxed and open to connecting with clients.
4. If You Don’t Take Time Off… What’s the Point?
Okay, I get it. There’s tons of benefits to running your own business, including making more income (one month I actually tripled what I was taking home from my full-time job) and being selective about who you work with. But many of us also hoped for more time to spend with our families, maintain our homes, or invest in hobbies.
I’d like to request a show of hands: how many of us actually take days off, spend time with family, or pursue hobbies? If your day looks anything like mine, you are either working or thinking about work most of your waking hours. And if you’re having income problems, you may even be swapping sleep for work or worrying.
This is the path most likely to send you back to a full-time job. Because, even if you have to work with and for people you don’t like, work more than 40 hours per week, and make less money… at least you know you’re done with the day when you leave at 5 or 6pm.
Despite making tons of money as a freelancer, sometimes the stress and the “unknown” makes me eye those full-time copywriter jobs a little too long.
I’ve been there. I’ve felt this way. Despite making tons of money as a freelancer, sometimes the stress and the “unknown” makes me eye those full-time copywriter jobs a little too long. But honestly? It’s my own fault! I’m choosing not to do the things I need to do and then I’m surprised when I feel overworked and overstressed.
We’ve all manhandled ourselves into finishing a deadline we really weren’t in the mood for. This is no different. You need to tap into that amazing self-control and cold-hearted decision-making to force yourself to do what you gotta do. In this case, that means scheduling a break or a vacation to do those things that we work for ourselves to achieve in the first place and sticking to it come hell or high water.
If we want to reap the rewards of working as hard as we work, we need to smack ourselves in line from time to time to do the things that have nothing to do with work so that we can stay true to “The Point of It All.”
The Refined Writer Challenge: Taking Time Off
Here’s where you have to put your money where your mouth is. Ignore your hourly billable rate. Ignore the progress you could make on that site if you only worked another 3 hours. It’s time to commit to taking regular time off each week to recharge, refresh, and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.
For me, that means taking off after noon on Fridays to go somewhere I usually don’t go and not work. If you want to join me sometime during the week (maybe even for a whole day off!), tweet me up at @AwYeahSarah with #NotBilling so we can see what you’re up to and how it improves your business.